Racing for Refugees

Kelly Cohen-Mazurowski | October 23, 2014

Refugees from Central African Republic and Sudan get ready to race Photo: Aby Rao

Refugees from Central African Republic and Sudan get ready to race Photo: Aby Rao

The Race Home is amazing. I’ve been walking around saying that for the last two months now—to runners at local running groups, to church groups, to youngsters studying for their bar mitzvahs, to anybody who will listen. The Race Home is CWS’s third annual 5K in Durham, North Carolina, that brings together community members and refugees from Burma, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo to run for refugee family reunification.

Often when refugees flee their homes they’re separated from their spouses and small children. Some families are separated when a parent flees to a neighboring country, not wanting to risk bringing a spouse or children into a potentially dangerous future. Other times, very young or sick individuals are unable to make the journey.  In many cases separation is not a choice: the family’s village is attacked, and everyone scatters.

In these situations and many others, CWS is able to provide assistance in restoring what has been torn apart –by helping refugees and asylees to bring family members to join them in the United States.  Whereas a private attorney might charge clients $2,000 or more to apply to bring their family members to the U.S., CWS is able to ask only $100 and sometimes waives this minimal fee. The Race Home makes this low-cost option for family reunification possible.

It’s a wonderful thing that The Race Home makes family reunification possible for refugees here in our area, but it’s not what makes this race truly amazing. The amazing thing about The Race Home is that it gives everyone a chance to shine.

This year's second place winner from Somalia. Photo: Aby Rao

This year’s second place winner from Somalia. Photo: Aby Rao

At this year’s race we had men, women, boys, and girls from around the world, across life experiences, and in a variety of languages together to run, walk and celebrate.  Somali women in long colorful scarves walked together with community members from Canada and Korea. Sudanese men from villages in Darfur kept pace with local triathletes from Chapel Hill. This year our second place finisher was a thirteen-year-old boy from Somalia.

You should have seen the look of triumph on his face as he crossed the finish line and high fived his friends. So often refugees are seen as weaker than, as needing help. But when he crossed that finish line, this young man gave all of us a new picture of refugees in our community—refugees are brave, strong, capable people who are ready to thrive here in their new homeland.

Kelly Cohen-Mazurowski is CWS’s Community Resource Coordinator in Durham, NC.