Finding refuge, feeling safe


Nem and Khual are thankful for their new life in America. (Photo by: Tracy Smith/TU Student)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014.  It was over 18 months ago, but Khual and his sister Nem remember that day like it was yesterday.

They remember arriving at JFK Airport in New York with their mother and father.  They remember being surrounded by a sea of white people.  And they remember the black airport employee that said, “Welcome to America.”

That meant a lot to them, especially Khual.

“Our very first meal in America was pizza,” Khual said.  “We ordered from Domino’s.”

In many ways, Khual, 16 and Nem, 13, are like typical American teenagers.  Khaul plays soccer and dreams of owning a fast car.  He likes anime, the popular Japanese animated productions.

Nem loves to drink Frappuccinos from Starbucks.   She watches “The Voice” and “Frozen” is her favorite Disney movie.  She plays badminton for her school and enjoys tennis.

They both reveal new braces when they laugh or smile.  As brother and sister, they argue over which television show to watch.  Yet they both agree that snow days are great because schools are either delayed or closed.

Even so, Khual and Nem are undeniably different than most American teenagers.  Born in the Southeast Asian nation Myanmar (Burma), their lives have been filled with experiences that set them apart.   Khaul and Nem didn’t just arrive in America, they fled here for their safety.

There are an estimated 14.4 million refugees worldwide according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.  Until April 2, 2014, Khaul and Nem were counted among that number.  They are now among the 350 refugees that World Relief has helped to resettle in Baltimore, Maryland in the last 20 months.

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