I have always been drawn to supporting refugee communities because my father once fled civil war and ethnic persecution in Sri Lanka. I reached out to Mayor Joyce Craig’s office in the spring of 2022 with a proposal for the City of Manchester to formally recognize World Refugee Day to raise greater awareness about the struggles that refugees face, celebrate their contributions to New Hampshire, and recognize the crucial work of refugee support organizations. The Mayor’s Office accepted the proposal, and I submitted an initial draft of the proclamation to formally recognize the day (attached is an image of the text of the final proclamation as presented by the Mayor’s office).
To further commemorate the day, I began planning a physical celebration. The objective of this event was to bring in members of as many communities as possible, and, to do so, I reached out to and collaborated with several refugee support organizations in the area. The organizational process was challenging, yet incredibly rewarding. I spent hours in meetings with community leaders brainstorming the best ways to engage members of the community in the event. I also had to line up musical performers and speakers and was in communication with prospective food vendors.
The overall goal of the World Refugee Day celebration was to welcome refugees to New Hampshire, celebrate their contributions to the Manchester community, and raise awareness among the broader community about the struggles which they face. The celebration was a huge success, and we hosted attendees who originally hailed from all over the world, including Afghanistan, Bhutan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Côte d’Ivoire, and Rwanda.
After I opened the event with some remarks sharing the significance of the day, Anabel Moreno-Mendez, the Director of Community Engagement of the Mayor’s office, presented the proclamation formally recognizing World Refugee Day.
State senator and gubernatorial candidate Dr. Tom Sherman also attended the event and shared some remarks about the need to better support and streamline the resettlement process. Following Dr. Shermans’ remarks, we heard from immigrant rights activist Grace Kindeke about the work that still needs to be done to be a society that is just and welcoming towards those fleeing conflict and seeking opportunity.
After the speaking program, the event featured performances by Nepali classical musicians Harimaya Adhikari and Prem Sagar Khatiwada as well as by Afropop artist Martin Toe. Toe, himself, was once a refugee from Côte d’Ivoire, and his music often centers around themes of social justice.
Overall, attendees had a fantastic time with the speakers, food, and music. One of my favorite moments was seeing people from so many different backgrounds not just meeting each other but coming together in dance.
I would like to give a special thank you to Courtney Perron and the Center for New Americans for providing such a wonderful venue to host the event.
I would also like to thank Clement Kigugu of Overcomers Refugee Services, Rick Minard of Building Community in New Hampshire, Geraldine Kirega of Spark the Dream, and Mary Georges of Victory Women of Vision, for spreading awareness about this event and their commitment to supporting refugees and immigrants who resettle in the region.