Sayed Has the Chance to go to Canada!

We all watched the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan last year. Regardless of your perspective or politics, we were united in our devastation for the Afghan people.

A year has past. The situation in Afghanistan has continued to deteriorate. At times, I know reading and hearing about global catastrophes and news can make us feel helpless and numb. A privilege many of us have is to be able to remove ourselves from these horrible situations and return to our daily lives.

It is not often that we are given the opportunity to DIRECTLY help someone escape the terrible realities we are fortunate enough to watch unfold behind a screen.

A few years ago, I met Sayed Adiban, a friend and refugee from Afghanistan. He was working with NaTakallam and participated in the “Refugee Voices Series” at Washington & Jefferson College. Sayed graciously spoke with us about his experience as an Afghan refugee in Iran and Indonesia, about the uncertainty of refugee life, and highlighted the common misconception of Afghan refugees as being “dangerous people.” I was humbled by the bravery that Sayed exhibited through reliving these experiences and was grateful that he shared with us such personal stories, outlining the unimaginable hardship of the refugee experience.

Sayed was born into a Sadat family, a small Shiite ethnic group similar to the Hazaras. The Hazaras, also a Shiite ethnic group, have suffered genocide, persecution and discrimination throughout Afghanistan’s history. More recently, the Taliban and other Islamist extremists have massacred Hazaras, killing them on highways, schools and maternity wards. When Sayed was 9, his family was forced to flee to Iran due to Taliban threats. They then spent the next 4 years as refugees in Iran, where they had no rights, couldn’t go to school and had to settle for whatever job they could get in order to survive. When Sayed was 13, Iranian authorities deported his family back to Afghanistan.

When he returned, the Taliban were still in power, but a few months later NATO troops drove them out. Life was still difficult, but he worked, studied and became the first person in his family to go to university, studying French language and literature. Since he was learning French, he got a year-long contract as an interpreter for French soldiers who were training Afghan troops. He knew the job was dangerous and that it would make him a big target for extremists, but he wanted to help rebuild his country. After his contract ended, he got a job working for AFRANE, an NGO focusing on education. He also translated for a French photographer and developed a love for photography. Eventually, the Taliban took notice of Sayed’s work with Westerners:

“In January 2013, my family and I received threats from the Taliban. At this time, my work with ISAF was already finished and I was still working with a French association, AFRANE, in Kabul. I did a visa application for interpreters in the French embassy in Kabul and finished all the requirements in February 2013. I was asked to wait for the visa. In August 2013, me and my family received more death threats from the Taliban, which I reported to my director. I was in a dangerous situation and I was incredibly scared. I waited for almost two more months, living in fear, but hoping to get a French visa. Eventually, I lost hope.”

If you followed the news in Afghanistan, you probably heard of interpreters being abandoned by Western troops. This was also the case during NATO’s mission in Afghanistan and what happened to Sayed.

Sayed has since spent 9 years as a refugee in Indonesia. He has no right to work, marriage, travel within the country, or formal education. Despite all odds, Sayed speaks fluent English, French, Pashto and Indonesian, understands Arabic and Urdu. He is a talented translator, teacher, volunteer and friend.


Sayed now FINALLY has the chance to live the life he deserves, that we all deserve as human beings. There is a NEW opportunity for Sayed to relocate to Canada, given his status as a UNHCR refugee.

In Canada, groups composed of five private citizens and community organizations can sponsor refugees in order to bring them to Canada. These groups are in charge of raising the money necessary to sponsor the refugee and guiding them as they adapt to life in Canada. In order to sponsor a single refugee, a group must gather $16,500 CAD to support them during their first year. That is around 11,600 EUR, 13,000 USD and 10,000 GBP. You might be wondering, what is this money used for? $16,500 CAD is considered the minimum amount of money an individual needs in Canada to have a basic standard of living for one year (paying rent, food, clothing, transportation, etc.).

If you want to support Sayed’s dream of resettlement, please donate, share his story, and spread awareness of what’s happening on his side of the world. All donated funds will be held by the platform until the time comes to transfer them to a Canadian group that can sponsor Sayed. All donated funds, apart from payment processing fees, will go towards Sayed’s sponsorship. If for some reason, the sponsorship does not work out, the money will be returned to the donors. Please see the link to donate below:

For more information on Sayed’s story and the work he did with Washington & Jefferson College, please read here:…/sayed-adiban-from…/

Collectively as a society we need to do more to ensure that all humans are treated with dignity and respect, and that they are granted the opportunity to contribute to society instead of being trapped in a Catch-22.

Sayed’s story inspired me, but also opened my eyes to the problems that my generation needs to address. I hope that his story inspires you to think more critically, be more empathetic, and find ways more ways that you can benefit others.

If you cannot donate, please continue to share Sayed’s story on social media platforms, at your university club meetings, at work, and with anyone you think is able to donate. This is an incredible opportunity for Sayed to relocate to Canada and you can directly alter the course of an extraordinary human being’s life.

Fanar Ayad – From Iraq to Kurdistan to Jordan

Recently my college hosted the second installment of the “Refugee Voices” series, featuring the ambitious and motivated Fanar Ayad. Born in Iraq, Fanar and her family were forced to flee her home in Baghdad due to their Christianity and the growing unrest due to Al-Qaeda presence in her town. Against all odds, Fanar has since attended and graduated from high school and university in Kurdistan and Jordan, respectively. I was humbled by her immense passion and drive to receive an education and astonished by her bravery as she told the W&J community about her life as a refugee.

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Yvonne Mwale – From Zambia to Germany

This past semester, I was in an African music class and did a presentation on the Zambian musician, Yvonne Mwale. After doing some preliminary research, I quickly realized that Yvonne was sharing an incredible life story through her music, and creating some utterly moving pieces that touched me both emotionally and spiritually. I reached out to her via social media to see if she was interested in speaking with me so I could learn more, and have since created a podcast that features our interview and some of her songs.

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Sayed Adiban – From Afghanistan to Iran to Indonesia

As a college student studying International Relations, I have learned a great deal about various international conflicts and their history. However, I have not had the chance to speak with those who were actually affected by these conflicts and learn about the personal ramifications that these historical events have had. Through an organization called “NaTakallam” and with the help of the W&J Diversity & Leadership Office, I was able to bring Sayed Adiban to campus “virtually” through a new program called “Refugee Voices,” which seeks to increase intercultural awareness on campus. Sayed spoke with us about his experience as an Afghan refugee in Iran and Indonesia, about the uncertainty of refugee life, and highlighted the common misconception of Afghan refugees as being “dangerous people.” I was humbled by the bravery that Sayed exhibited through reliving these experiences and was grateful that he shared with us such personal stories, outlining the unimaginable hardship of the refugee experience. 

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Mukena Kasongo “Deogracias” – From the Democratic Republic of Congo to the United States

As a mentor to first-year students at my college last Fall, I was lucky enough to have Mukena Kasongo “Deogracias” as one of my students. She was charming and inquisitive, and impressively fluent in French, English, Swahili, and Lingala. Now that we are in an African Music course together, we took the time to speak about her immigration story from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the barriers that she has overcome to be a successful and inspirational college student. 

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Eugenia Forteza – From France to Argentina to the United States

Singer, actor, model, and entrepreneur, Eugenia Forteza is a beautiful and charming young Argentinian-French woman living in New York City. Although she is a super busy and an extremely accomplished artist, Eugenia Forteza took time out of her day to share with me her story of immigration to the United States from Argentina, and spoke about the powerful multicultural aspect of opera in her life. Described as a “total diva on stage,” by Mario Arevalo, I was delighted and humbled that Eugenia shared her warm personality and enthusiasm for music with me.

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Walter Angus Li – From Guyana to the United States

A forward on Walter Angus Li’s story by his son, Steven Li.

As a child of an immigrant, learning about my parent’s life when they were young is a fascinating topic. From the cultural differences to the varying lifestyle they grew up in, you get to learn that life can be harder than you think, or it can be easier than you think. Being able to travel and see where my parents grew up is an eye-opening experience that many people do not get the chance to have. Understanding that they had a different childhood and being able to see the struggles that they had growing up makes me appreciate all the hard work that they have accomplished in their life.

Walter, his wife Seerani, and his son Steven Li
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Tasha Mwanakalando – From Zambia to the United States

When I first arrived on Washington & Jefferson Campus in 2018, I almost immediately knew who Tasha Mwanakalando was. Everyone on campus regarded her with respect, and just from a few conversations with her, I knew that she was a truly genuine and caring person (with the most style I had ever seen). Coming from Lusaka, Zambia, Tasha provided me with an interesting perspective on American customs I hadn’t thought about before, and explained to me how she is addressing the current political climate Americans find themselves.

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Aziegbemi “Okis” Okisamen – From Nigeria to the United States

Aziegbemi “Okis” Okisamen is currently a graduate student studying applied mathematics at IUP. Coming from the South of Nigeria, he shared with me some interesting aspects of American educational culture that I had not thought about before, as well as his perspective regarding the work ethic at Pennsylvania’s company, Sheetz. 

Meeting with Okis while socially distanced in Indiana, PA
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Jean-Yves Boulard – From France to the United States

Growing up, my family referred to the always smiling and always generous Jean-Yves Boulard as “the bread man.” I have fond memories of stepping into his bakery, begging my parents to let me have an extra sticky bun and choosing which baguette we would eat at dinner.

Now a college student, I was delighted to sit down with him and learn about his experience coming from France to the United States. We discussed French perceptions of America, his life-long love for learning, and the complexity of navigating different languages and discovering subconscious taboos when migrating to a new country. Truly a fascinating man of many talents, Jean-Yves described his story to me as having three threads; his professional path from teacher to baker, the switch from his native culture and language to a host one, and the story of his relationship starting in one country and language and deepening in another, all which “intertwine, reverberate, and influence one another.” What struck me most was when he remarked that “the fascinating aspect of the succession is that I could not have been a baker without having read all the philosophy and literature I did” prior.

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From Pakistan to the United States – Huma Affan

A forward on Huma Affan’s story by her daughter, Nabeeha Affan.

“I think it often surprises people how different growing up is when your parents are immigrants. Because I was born in the United States and have lived here my entire life, I often find it difficult to imagine my parents life in Pakistan. As children of immigrants, we hope our parents understand that we may have different values from them. And, as our parents, they hope that these values do not intrude on the culture and traditions that have been passed down for generations. The emergence of advanced technologies as well as the difference in where we were raised has contributed to a great generational divide between children of immigrants and their parents. Growing up with this divide is often strenuous, especially when you are a minority. However, we also grow up knowing that our parents sacrificed so much for us and that they love us despite these differences.”

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From Colombia to Spain to the United States – Juan Couso

Juan Couso was truly the most genuine person I met at W&J campus, graduating this past May 2020. Before I even knew Juan, he was instantly kind and caring towards me. We trained to be first year student mentors together, and I soon realized that Juan possessed a rare gift of making anyone feel loved and appreciated instantaneously. Throughout the school year, he would always ask me how I was doing, offer me a hug if I was having a rough day, and say “you’ve got this.” Juan has overcome racial stereotypes, the difficulties of cultural assimilation, and is still figuring out the broad spectrum of his migrant identity. However, his inspirational story of migrating to the United States is one of resilience, adaptability, and triumph. In Juan’s own words, “I want to tell people about my experiences. I’m an immigrant too. I was able to graduate from college and high school. If I can do it, you can do it.”

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From India to the United States – Dr. Prashanth Bharadwaj

Dr. Prashanth Bharadwaj is a professor of management and Dean’s Associate in the Eberly College of Business and IT at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He first came to the United States in 1988 to attend graduate school but stayed because of the economic and educational opportunities he was granted. Although he has lived in the United States for three decades, he still retains close connections to India and even helps American students to discover his beautiful country through study abroad options in the winter.

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From Egypt to the United States – Raneen Nassar

While working in Cape Cod during the summer of 2019, I met the beautiful and vivacious Raneen Nassar. When I asked her to partake in my Oral History Project this Spring, I had no idea that she was about to share with me an intense migration story and divulge her personal journey to grappling with her Arab heritage. Not only did Raneen live through the Arab Spring, manage complex family dynamics, and navigate the American foster care system, but she has also shown an unwavering determination to establish what her own identity is in the United States as a young Egyptian-American woman.

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From Morocco to Spain – Nara

The coast of Spain sits in the horizon, visible from a beach in Tangier, Morocco

This March of 2020, a majority of Americans are practicing social distancing by staying in our homes with Wifi and stocked pantries. Yet, we continuously complain as if social distancing is not actually a privilege. In times like these we should instead be grateful that we have a roof over our heads and a family to support us.

Back in June of 2019, I came into contact with Nara, an 18 year old Moroccan girl who currently resides in Sevilla, Spain. However, she had called Spain her home for little more than a year when I met her, and during our conversation she proceeded to tell me an amazing story about her choice to migrate to Europe.

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From India to The Gambia – Muhammad Rafiq

The smallest country in Africa and almost entirely surrounded by Senegal, The Gambia hosts many rich cultures and diverse ecosystems. While visiting this past January for a class, I found the time to speak with several individuals about their lives in The Gambia, particularly focusing on what made migrants choose to call “The Smiling Coast” their new home.

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