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World Refugee Day 2024

It's #WorldRefugeeDay! 🎉 This day is an opportunity for us to celebrate the strength and courage of refugees around the world and highlight their stories. Right now, more people than any other time in recorded history have been forced to flee their homes because of war, persecution, or violence. I feel like I've written that same sentence for the last three years, and unfortunately it's still true. These individuals are desperately seeking refuge in another country or community, not because they want to, but because they have no other choice. Over 40% of those that are fleeing are under the age of 18, and UPN is honored to have the opportunity to serve just a tiny fraction of those children and youth (and their families) that end up finding refuge here in Nashville.  


Today we are highlighting one of our StreetLeaders, Sarah, and her father, Igor. Sarah is our StreetLeader Captain and started working with us in the Spring of 2023. She is a rising Senior at Valor Collegiate Prep, on the volleyball team, and serves in the kids ministry at her church. Some of her favorite things to do are hanging out with friends and family and meeting new people. She is a delight to have on our team - a leader in so many ways both with our students and among her peers, so willing to help with whatever is needed, the first to sign up for our trekker experiences, full of insight and wisdom beyond her years, and always has a hug for everyone. 🤗 It's been wonderful to get to know Igor as well since Sarah started working for us, and we're grateful that he was willing to share some of their story of leaving Venezuela and finding refuge in the US. 


Tell us about your life in Venezuela and the circumstances around you deciding to leave? 

Igor: We had always had the opportunity to live comfortably without having to worry about basic things. But little by little the situation changed, eventually reaching the point of not having electricity at certain times of the day, having rationed water only a few days a week, not getting food easily- all due to the political, social and economic situation of the country. Then things only worsened, and we were not able to produce enough money with our work to cover basic needs. All of this led many people to start a life committing crimes and young people were starting to be recruited. These criminal groups were supported in many cases by the government, allowing them to commit robberies, kidnappings, and murders because they also benefitted from it. All Venezuelans directly or indirectly were affected by the growing increase of insecurity. In short, life became more difficult and the danger we faced was one of the many reasons why at the end of 2018 we made the hard decision to leave our home and belongings abandoned, to take the risk and move to America. 


What were some of the challenges you and your family faced when you first arrived to the US? 

Igor: At first it was hard to arrive in a country where we did not have any legal conditions to start working, we did not know the customs, we did not speak the language, and I think that one of the people who was most affected by all this change was our daughter because she left from the school where she had spent a large part of her childhood and left many friends, in addition to being the only one who was required to learn the language as soon as possible. 


Sarah: We moved to the US when I was 11. While language was one of my biggest struggles, not feeling at home was my real problem. Being so far away from everyone who raised me, having to start over with no place or people to call home was the hardest part of moving. As an only child, I spent a lot of my childhood with adults and kids from the block, but here my parents were always working and I couldn’t communicate with my neighbors because of the language barrier.


How have you seen God working in your life through this journey? 

Igor: In all our setbacks and triumphs we have always gone hand in hand with God because we have always had Him in our prayers, I believe that faith kept us firm on the right path and we have managed to achieve our goals. 

Sarah: I've seen God work in my life through the opportunities I've been given, whether it is through the little things- like having access to showers and food, or meeting people who want the best for me and are willing to help me figure out the future that God has planned for me. 


What are you grateful for about being in this country?

Igor: I feel extremely grateful for the opportunities [the US] has given us; in the work field, they have allowed me to demonstrate the potential and knowledge that I brought from my country, leading me to climb little by little in the different companies in which I have worked, and for my daughter because she has shown that she is an excellent student, with very good behavior, a very good athlete, good companion, and for some time now a young woman capable of having empathy and collaborating with that noble organization to which she belongs [UPN]. In addition I cannot stop saying that she is a better daughter than anything else.


What do you love about being a StreetLeader?

Sarah: For five years, I felt like I didn’t belong in a group until I joined UPN. Here, I feel like I can be myself and learn more about God without feeling any shame to ask questions. I love being a StreetLeader because I get to learn more about myself while I also get to learn about many different cultures. I’ve always loved being around kids and UrbanPromise allows me to interact with them in a fun and constructive way. 


Five years from now, what do you hope to be doing? 

Sarah: I would love to be finishing college as an education major.


What do you want people to know about Venezuela? 

Igor: Venezuela continues to be a great country with incredible and beautiful landscapes, very happy, talkative and hard-working people, but unfortunately with governments that for more than 24 years have not known how to manage the natural and economic resources we have. 


What do you want people to know about refugees that are coming here to seek a better life?

Igor: All of us who leave our countries do so because circumstances forced us to. If our countries did not have these political, economic and social problems, I could assure you that we would not have to do so. Coming to the US was the most sensible thing we could do. It is a place where with the effort of work one can live peacefully; you just have to adapt and take advantage of the opportunities that a new beginning gives you.

One of my favorite things that I've heard Sarah talk about is when we were having a discussion about hope during one of our Thursday discipleship nights. She said that hope is something she wished she had more of in those first few years after moving here. She wished she could tell herself then what she knows now- that things would get better; that she would find friends; that she would find community; that everything would be okay. Then she said that was what was really special about being at UPN- that she gets to help give that hope she wishes she had to kids that are in a similar situation as she was. 


This World Refugee Day, will you consider making a donation to UPN? Your gift can help transform the lives of even more displaced youth like Sarah, offering them not only a community that is filled with the hope of Christ, but also giving them the opportunity to mentor and lead younger students so they can offer that same hope to them. There is no better hope we can have.

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