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Ahmad Shah

Civic Leadership Award

Community leader, translator and former Afghan refugee

I am originally from Afghanistan, and when I was 7 years old, Afghanistan was invaded by the Soviet Union, and my family had to flee to Pakistan. We lived in a refugee camp for years until we finally arrived in the United States. Before coming to the U.S., I worked with the U.S. Army for nearly a decade, which was one of the reasons for my journey here. We resettled in Minnesota in June of 2015, and since then, I've been living here with my beautiful family of eight. I'm now a proud U.S. citizen.

Growing up as a former refugee in the U.S. was incredibly challenging. I had to work tirelessly to provide for my family. Finding a job and a home, especially for a large family, was no easy feat. Securing housing that could accommodate eight people was quite a task, but thankfully, we found a suitable place. My job was in security, which helped me support my family, especially after being unemployed for two years. While it was a temporary position, it got us through some tough times. 

There are numerous stereotypes about refugees, and it's disheartening. For instance, some assume we're here to take their jobs, which is simply not true. I've also noticed that every refugee who arrives here is highly qualified, but sadly, people sometimes underestimate their worth. Unfortunately, refugees often face negative perceptions. I always remind myself that this situation could easily have been mine.

Empowering refugees in the United States requires a comprehensive approach that addresses their diverse needs and challenges. It is crucial to provide them with access to quality education and vocational training programs. This equips refugees with the skills and knowledge needed to secure stable employment and become self-sufficient contributors to society. Additionally, simplifying the resettlement process and reducing bureaucratic barriers can empower refugees to rebuild their lives more swiftly. To me, success requires believing in your ability to achieve anything and consistently telling yourself, "I can do it." Never settle for less, and always strive for your best.

One piece of advice I would offer to refugees is to always work hard and never give up. It's essential not to rely solely on assistance but to put in the effort to improve yourself and provide for your family. Stay true to your values and be honest about your goals and aspirations. Remember that resilience and determination can lead to success, even in the face of adversity. Your journey might be challenging, but with hard work and unwavering commitment, you can build a better future for yourself and your loved ones.

Ahmead Shah
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