Take Part
World Refugee Day
From Wyclef Jean to Albert Einstein
Rashida Jones
Why It Matters
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1/1715 Famous Refugees
Wyclef Jean
Still don’t know what the name of Wyclef’s band The Fugees means? It’s short for refugees. Wyclef left Haiti when he was 9 years old, but he has remained involved in his homeland, from raising aid for earthquake relief in 2010 to actually running for the Haitian Presidency. [Gallery by Megan Bedard and TakePart.com]
2/1715 Famous Refugees
Albert Einstein
Einstein was visiting America from Germany when Hitler came into power in 1933, so he did not return home. Instead, he accepted a teaching post at Princeton, where he remained until he died in 1955. Though he is best known best for his theory of relativity E=MC², Einstein published more than 300 scientific papers, as well as 150 non-scientific works. And he helped warn FDR about the potential threat of Germany’s nuclear weapons program on the eve of World War II.
3/1715 Famous Refugees
Bob Marley
The man who made reggae known to the world fled to England in 1976 when warring political groups put Jamaica in a state of unrest and there was an assassination attempt on this life. While there, Bob Marley recorded the album Kaya, as well as Exodus, which held a spot on the British album charts for more than a year. Though not a lifelong refugee, Marley was inspired by his brief estrangement from his country to write one of his most famous songs: “One Love.”
4/1715 Famous Refugees
Fabrice Muamba
Rising soccer star Fabrice Muamba suffered cardiac arrest during a game this past March, and though he is still in recovery, he’s committed to making a comeback. He’s no stranger to adversity. In 1994, when Muamba was six, the dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko worsened and the violence of the Rwandan genocide spread to his homeland of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), from which his family fled. A Bolton Wanderers midfielder, Muamba turned down a chance to represent the Congo in international football, preferring to remain eligible for his adopted nation, England, which granted his family asylum in 1999.
5/1715 Famous Refugees
Freddie Mercury
Freddie Mercury became a rock legend as the lead vocalist of Queen. But long before he belted “We Are the Champions,” he fled a violent Zanzibar revolution with his family at the age of 17. Freddie was born Farrokh Bulsara to a Parsi family in Bombay. His father moved their family to Zanzibar so he could continue working as a cashier for the British Colonial Office. When a revolution overthrew the British-backed Sultan of Zanzibar, killing over 20,000 civilians, Freddie’s family was taken in by England, where they settled in Feltham, Middlesex.
6/1715 Famous Refugees
Gloria Estefan
That’s Gloria María Milagrosa Fajardo García de Estefan, to be precise. Before she rocketed to fame, Estefan’s life was less glamorous: her family fled Cuba when Communist Dictator Fidel Castro rose to power. They settled in Miami, where Estefan’s father was recruited by a CIA-funded band of Cuban refugees. After a stint in Vietnam left her father with multiple sclerosis, Estefan was under pressure to care for her family. She turned to music as her outlet. “Music was my escape,” she has said.
7/1715 Famous Refugees
Frédéric Chopin
Chopin dedicated his music to publicizing the Polish plight of the 1830s. As his friends planned an insurrection against the Russians, he worked to make the Polish cause known. During Poland’s Great Emigration, he left Poland and settled in Paris, where he was surrounded by Polish nobility and French aristocrats. Though he longed for his homeland, his musical plan worked: Chopin’s mazurkas, polonaises, and nocturnes awakened French awareness to the Polish struggle and made the folk music of Poland famous.
8/1715 Famous Refugees
Sitting Bull
Political, military, and spiritual Native American leader, Sioux Indian Chief Sitting Bull spent his life fighting for the rights of his people. Four of those years were spent in Canada, where the British government offered him and his people refuge from the aggressively combative U.S. government. But conditions in Canada weren’t rosy either. Barren lands, scarce game, and a paucity of food and clothing led to the demise of many of his people. When he returned to the U.S., Sitting Bull was eventually killed in a shootout with an American police officer.
9/1715 Famous Refugees
Wassily Kandinsky
Russian abstract painter Wassily Kandinsky was touring Europe, promoting his art with fellow artists, when World War I broke out. Caught by surprise, Kandinsky fled to Switzerland, and eventually returned to Russia, where in 1917, he says, he “saw revolution from my own windows.”
10/1715 Famous Refugees
K’naan’s fame exploded in 2010 when his hit “Waving Flag” became the anthem for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. K’naan, whose birth name is Keinan Abdi Warsame, was born into a musically talented family in Mogadishu, Somalia. When the country’s civil war broke out in 1991, he fled with his mother and three siblings to New York, where his father was working. The family was eventually taken in by Canada, settling in Rexdale, where K’naan launched his rap career. More recently, K’naan has been raising awareness for the East African drought.
11/1715 Famous Refugees
Isabel Allende
How did Chile-born author Isabel Allende become the resilient woman she is today? “Often I had no alternative but to work hard in order to survive and protect my family. I was a political exile and then an immigrant. That makes one strong,” Allende has said. When a military coup threw her uncle out of power and Allende began receiving death threats in the early ’70s, the famous Latin American author went into exile. With her name on a military blacklist, she fled to Venezuela. In the mid-’80s, Allende moved to California, where she began the humanitarian work she is also known for.
12/1715 Famous Refugees
Vladimir Nabokov
After the 1917 February Revolution in the Soviet Union, Nabokov’s family fled St. Petersberg (then Petrograd), first to Livadiya, then eventually to Western Europe. His family moved a number of times, finally settling in Berlin, but Nabokov would go on to live in the U.S., where the infamous Lolita was written. After earning enough money to support himself, he returned to Europe, where he lived out his final years.
13/1715 Famous Refugees
Victor Hugo
A French poet, Victor Hugo did not take kindly to those in the French Academy who resisted the “romantic evolution” and tried to block him from their exclusive society. Instead of folding in the face of adversity, Hugo became more political once he was finally elected to the Academy. When Napoleon III took complete power of France, Hugo publicly called him a traitor and relocated to Brussels and eventually Guernsey, where he lived in exile. There he published his political pamphlets, Napoleon le Petit and Histoire d’un Crime.
14/1715 Famous Refugees
Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam was born in London, but her family returned to their native Sri Lanka when she was still a baby. Her early years coincided with the Sri Lankan civil war when her father’s political activism in support of a Tamil homeland drove the family into hiding. As violence escalated, her mother brought the family back to London. M.I.A. started out as a visual artist, filmmaker, and designer before beginning her music career in 2002. Now, M.I.A.’s hard-hitting hip-pop rocks dance floors around the world.
15/1715 Famous Refugees
Sigmund Freud
Freud’s legacies include the practice of psychoanalysis, the often-cited Oedipal complex, his theories on psychosexual development, and his famous tapestried couch. Most of his life was spent in Vienna, as part of the city’s rich pre-Nazi Jewish intellectual community, but Freud was forced to flee from the Third Reich in 1938. His four sisters died in concentration camps.
16/1715 Famous Refugees
Take Part
Most of us can’t imagine what it would be like to find out we had to pack all the belongings we could carry and leave family, friends, and country for an unknowable, unchosen future. For World Refugee Day, let's take a minute to think about what this experience might be like and take a look at these five easy ways to support refugees.
17/1715 Famous Refugees
More Great Reading
How does a refugee from Sudan become a supermodel? What did she overcome? And who helped her along the way? Find out in our Exclusive Q&A With Alek Wek South Sudan's Supermodel Refugee.
Refugee to Royalty
Miss Minnesota shares her inspiring story
By Alison Singh-Gee

Future Productions, LLC

Nitaya Panemalaythong was born in a refugee camp in Thailand after her family had fled their home in neighboring Laos. Earlier this year she was crowned Miss Minnesota USA 2012, and is the first Asian-American to hold this title. The 27-year old talked to TakePart’s Alison Singh-Gee about the extreme conditions refugees face all over the world and the importance of giving a voice to those who were previously silent.

What does being a refugee mean to you?

To me being a refugee is being a survivor. You and your family have been through so much. Our country was at war when my family left. My father and mother were very poor farmers who tilled rice paddies. My father built a boat out of bamboo and my family had to make it down the Mekong River in it. It was very dangerous. If a guard saw you, they could just shoot you. Many families didn’t make it.

What was it like when you first came to America?

In Minnesota, our family didn’t have a car, no connections, money or a phone. To get to our sponsors’ house we had to walk 20 miles—my parents had four small children, and we walked all day to get there. There were so many hardships. When I was in elementary school, it was hard for my parents to find work and food. We had to ask a neighbor if we could take the shoots from his bamboo plants to eat. We would go to the park and look for wild mushrooms. We dug through trashcans for bottles to recycle for money.

Were Americans welcoming? Did you experience any prejudice?

When we arrived in 1986, random strangers sometimes shouted, “Go back to your country, chink!” At the time, there was more prejudice than we see today. But there were Americans from church who were welcoming and friendly. Their kindness was heartwarming.

How did it feel to be crowned the first Asian-American Miss Minnesota? What do you think your success will mean to other refugees?

It’s really, really amazing. I am the first Laotian American ever to step foot on the Miss USA stage. That’s really cool. Even for people who come from a place of war, America gives you the freedom to do what you want. I hope my being crowned will give other refugees hope to do and be more. I want to give people the voice to share their stories, and to reach out to other refugees as well.

What message would you like to send to other refugees?

Keep living the dream. Be proud of yourself for having made it this far. Keep working toward the bigger picture. It can be frustrating— it was for me, coming from nothing in Laos. But look where I am now. I helped my family buy a house, and I continue to help my family financially. I proceeded to the Miss USA pageant. It’s such an honor. I’d like to tell other refugees there’s no limit to what you can do. When you have already fought for survival, you have a drive, and that can get you really far.

    Cause Celeb: Rashida Jones
    by Heather York, TakePart.com

    Rashida Jones in a Role Close to Her Heart
    From Ann Perkins on Parks and Recreation to Karen Filippelli on The Office to Marylin Delpy in The Social Network, Rashida has lent her distinctive voice to a host of memorable characters. Now she gives voice to an organization close to her heart: The International Rescue Committee.
    You began your work as an International Rescue Committee Voice last year. What drew you to the organization?
    I was intrigued by the IRC’s genesis—Albert Einstein’s idea to help refugee artists and intellectuals in the lead up to World War II—and I liked how multifaceted their services are: they deliver aid in 40 countries affected by war or disaster during emergencies and long after—sanitation, relief supplies, education, clean water, medical care, micro-financing, and local training to build skills. Also, they have a strong focus on women and children. I think they’re too humble about their global impact, so I’m proud to be able to brag for them! Several years ago, I thought of quitting acting and going back to school to get another degree in the public sector. The IRC is precisely the type of organization I wanted to work for.
    How did the IRC put you to work first?
    Last summer I went to the Tham Hin refugee camp on the border of Thailand and Myanmar, also known as Burma. I saw firsthand the needs of the Burmese refugees and how the IRC helps. I saw their medical services, which focus on babies, children and pregnant women, and I gained a real appreciation for how critical clean drinking water is to preventing disease. I was surprised by the dignity of these uprooted refugees; many have been there for 20 years! And I was so impressed by the care and personal attention the IRC doctors, volunteers, and staff gave to these families.
    When people in the U.S. think of refugees, they often think of the developing world—that the world’s refugees live abroad. You recently visited an IRC project in San Diego?
    Yes. The IRC helps thousands of refugees resettle in the U.S. each year. Unlike immigrants who choose to come here, these are people forced from their homes by conflict or persecution and given sanctuary here. You can imagine the culture shock! It’s an incredible challenge to be dropped into a strange, new environment following a traumatic exit from your home. The IRC helps refugees get set up with things like food, clothing, housing, jobs, medical assistance, and school registration.

    And they have really innovative programs too! I checked out the IRC’s New Roots Community Garden in San Diego. Refugee families are given plots of land to grow vegetables and fruit, some native to their homes that they can’t find in the States. They’re able to grow healthy, fresh food and even sell some at the local farmers market. I’d never seen such a diverse group of people in one place as I saw in the New Roots garden and farmers market booth! I listened to a Somali woman and a Cambodian man exchange gardening tips. And that, to me, is the crux of the IRC’s multifaceted work.
    Where are the most urgent refugee crises today?
    All refugees flee pretty dire situations and live in difficult conditions. Right now I know IRC aid workers are helping Syrian refugees who’ve escaped to Jordan and thousands of others hit by drought and food shortages in Chad and Mali.Another wave of drought is expected in East Africa, and the IRC has major operations in that region providing water, food, and medical care. The IRC is also raising concern about worsening conditions and displacement in Afghanistan. The needs sometimes seem overwhelming, but I’ve seen how aid saves lives and helps families recover. I‘m determined to do what I can to spotlight these challenges and programs that make an impact.
    How can people get involved in helping the IRC?
    The IRC has a lot of creative ways to get involved, from a personalized iRescue campaign to hosting a fundraising event you create—like a stoop sale, talent show or dinner party. You can also help IRC spread the word about key issues by taking the pledge to support women or using the IRC’s social networking toolkit. My favorites are the Rescue Gifts, things like Clean Water, Community Gardens, A Year of School, Warm Blankets and Maternal Health Care. There are also a lot of ways to volunteer.
    Where will the IRC send you next?
    I’m hoping to see the IRC’s New Roots garden in New York City. But I’ll go wherever they need me!
    Where else can we expect to hear your voice in 2012?
    Celeste and Jesse Forever, a movie I co-wrote with Will McCormack (that we star in), comes out this August. Andy Samberg plays my husband and we had a tremendous cast: Will, Ari Graynor, Emma Roberts, Chris Messina, Elijah Wood. Of all the parts I’ve played, it’s by far the most rewarding to see something you created from nothing come alive.

    Supermodel Alek Wek Says Take Part

    A native of South Sudan, supermodel Alek Wek was forced to flee her country when the civil war broke out. Hear what she has to say.
    Share This

    Supermodel Alek Wek Says Take Part

    A native of South Sudan, supermodel Alek Wek was forced to flee her country when the civil war broke out. Hear what she has to say.
      Where Do They Go?
      Fleeing persecution, millions of refugees must seek asylum in foreign countries. Share our story to show your community what the world’s most critical refugee sites look like. http://bit.ly/Ln86cC
      Pledge to Stand By Refugee Women
      Women in crisis zones confront daily threats to their safety, health, and dignity. Pledge to spread the word about challenges they face and simple solutions to help them survive and thrive.
      Could You Survive as a Refugee?
      Download the UNHCR interactive role-playing mobile app, “My Life as a Refugee,” and experience firsthand the dilemmas and tribulations faced by millions of refugees worldwide.
      The UN Refugee Agency


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