Their stories may differ in detail and geography, but the bottom line is still the same.
They are all refugees now living in the Quad-Cities. And they love it.
More than 200 refugees and volunteers attended World Refugee Day on Saturday at Black Hawk State Historic Site, Rock Island. Activities included a Walk for Freedom for those who made the journey out of harm's way, in memory of those who lost their lives trying, and to pray for those still in danger.
A cultural festival followed to celebrate while introducing refugees to Quad-City locals.
“This is International Refugee Day and this is to celebrate World Refugee Day here,” said Kelly Stewart, event coordinator for World Relief, Moline, the organization that facilitated the move of most refugees in attendance to the Quad-Cities.
Stewart said, originally, they were supposed to receive about 225 refugees in 2017. However, because of the executive order from President Trump placing more restrictions on immigration, Stewart said they have only received about 100 thus far.
Tathaynaw Lawch, 18, graduated from Rock Island High School in 2016 and now is attending Scott Community College, Bettendorf.
“I came here six years ago with my family,” she said.
Her family is from Myanmar, but moved to a refugee camp in Thailand before she was born. She spent the first nine years of her life there, before they moved to the United States nine years ago. Three years later, they moved to the Quad-Cities.
“They do not have the opportunities there like here,” she said. “It is hard to find words how I feel, but they do not have high education over there. Here, we have more opportunity.”
She was among five girls who performed a traditional Karen culture dance during the event.
Norge Ross Exposito and his wife, Katiusca Cespedes Cespedes, have been married 15 years, have two boys and lived in Cuba until three and a half years ago, when they moved here.
They have to wait two more years before they can apply for U.S. citizenship, at which point they also would be able to try to get relatives into this country.
“This is our dream,” Ross Exposito said. “For us, America is paradise. We are very happy every day.
“Here, we are treated like humans,” Cespedes said. “And in Cuba, we were not. We are very happy here. We feel very happy and calm all the time.”
Autumn Gross of Moline, is a volunteer for World Relief and helps in many ways, including serving as interpreter for Spanish-speaking refugees.
“The reason why I do it is because I love meeting all the different people from cultures and learning who they are.”
Muna Abdi is from Mogadishu, Somalia, but spent seven years in a refugee camp in Ethiopia before arriving in November 2015 in the Quad-Cities.
She is 27, has four children and now lives in Moline. She was in the refugee camp with her husband when three of her children were born. She developed a giant cell tumor in her leg. And because she also was pregnant at the time, it helped expedite her exit from the camp to the United States, she said.
She also said her father was murdered and her sister died delivering a baby because there was no doctor or medicine available.
But Abdi received surgery at University Hospitals, Iowa City, upon her arrival, to remedy her leg issue, and now enjoys her new life very much.
“Good. Beautiful. Smile. Living here is no problem,” she said.