alex d rogers | photography

The portraits below are part of an exhibition curated by Louise E. Shaw for the David J. Sencer CDC Museum entitled Resettling in America: Georgia’s Refugee Communities. The exhibition uses documentary photography, personal testimonies, and artwork to explore the challenges of resettlement and the resiliency of refugees living in metropolitan Atlanta as they build new lives, identities, and a sense of community.

[Faces of CDC]

Abraham Deng Ater, MPH, Health Research Analyst

Country of Origin: South Sudan

CDC since 2012

Between 2001 and 2002, thousands of Sudanese “Lost Boys” were resettled across 38 U.S. states. Abraham was one of them. He arrived in Tucson, Arizona in 2001, after spending 14 years in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya. Abraham published a memoir My Lost Childhood that reflects on the suffering he endured in the late 1980s, when Sudan’s Islamic government began to systematically torture and kill Southern Sudanese families, burn their villages, and enslave young boys and girls. His escape from persecution and subsequent sojourn to freedom was long; he walked for thousands of miles naked, barefoot, and ailing from starvation, dehydration, and disease. Many boys perished along the way.

Today, Abraham is an Atlanta-based public health researcher in the Global HIV/AIDS Division, and is co-founder of United Vision for Change, a private foundation dedicated to building schools and health clinics in rural towns of South Sudan. His long-range plans involve returning to East Africa to work in clinics, to organize health workshops, and to empower local health workers to improve community health. In tribute to those who helped him along his own arduous journey, making a difference in the lives of children and refugee camp dwellers is paramount. Abraham is happily married with two children.

Haji Munye Shamun, Janitorial Services Technician

Country of Origin: Somalia

CDC since 2007

A civil war that began in 1991 forced Haji and thousands of other Somalis to flee their homes, heading to internal relief camps and refugee camps across the border in neighboring Kenya. By some estimates, more than 500,000 Somalis died of disease, starvation, or violence due to the protracted war of the 1990s-2000s. As a survivor, Haji overcame tremendous odds that stoked an ambition to build a stable foundation for his family. 

While living on a refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya from 1998-2007 – the world’s largest refugee camp complex – Haji was employed in security and sanitation with the International Rescue Committee, a humanitarian aid and community development agency.

World Relief, a refugee resettlement agency, facilitated Haji’s family’s arrival to the U.S. in 2007. Haji obtained his current position at the CDC that same year, and undertook an occupational skills development program at Goodwill Industries, where he successfully completed training courses for custodial management and security guard certification in 2008. Now, a U.S. citizen, husband, and proud father of ten children, Haji boasts a 17-year career in custodial services.

James Yai, Janitorial Services Technician

Country of Origin: South Sudan

CDC since 2015

One of thousands of “Lost Boys” resettled from Sudan in 2001, James was torn from his family at an early age. Determined to avoid conscription as a child soldier in the war between North and South Sudan, James walked for months across three countries seeking safe haven. After nine years at Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp, James traveled halfway across the globe to Clarkston, Georgia, where he settled into a flat with five other Lost Boys. While juggling multiple jobs, James started working toward an undergraduate degree in counseling and human services. He became a U.S. citizen in 2007.

Informed by his own life experiences as a child of war, James is now pursuing a master’s degree in social work to help children process the psychological and social effects of trauma resulting from war, poverty, or abandonment. He is passionate about his vocation, noting: “So many children are alone and need someone to talk to. Being someone that people are comfortable talking to is a skill.” When not at work or at school, James enjoys relaxing with friends – debating African politics at his favorite pub or playing a round of dominoes.

James has not yet been able to return to Sudan to reconnect with the family he was forced to abandon in 1987. Still, James remains hopeful of someday reuniting with kin and forging scattered ties.

Aun Lor, PhD, MPH, Health Scientist

Country of Origin: Cambodia

CDC since 1997

He survived the Killing Fields of Cambodia as a young boy. But the torture and terror of the brutal civil war and its bloody aftermath inspired CDC staffer Aun Lor to work for a better world. In Aun’s own words: “As a child of war, I lived through four years under the murderous Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. I was unfortunate to have seen and experienced the cruelty that humanity is capable of inflicting upon itself. I escaped with my life but at the price of losing five members of my family. I have experienced the hardship and uncertainty of living in an overcrowded refugee camp. 

I have seen the terror caused by the millions of landmines scattered throughout Cambodia. I have experienced the social injustice that is tearing apart the fabric of humanity. I share these experiences because despite the injustice that I have endured I see hope… I am reminded that within every human being there is a sense of humanity, that no matter how hopeless a situation may seem, there is hope. As public health people we must hold onto that hope.”

Integral to his work at CDC, Aun maintains the principle that health should be considered a basic human right, not a privilege of those who can afford it. As founder and co-chair of the CDC Health and Human Rights Workgroup, he helps keep such ideals in front of CDC.

Dyna Houl, Technology Services Executive

Country of Origin: Cambodia

CDC since 1992

Arriving in 1981 at the age of 6, Dyna grew up just outside of Atlanta in Decatur, Georgia with her parents and six siblings. An American family sponsored Dyna’s entire household for the first years of resettlement, sharing their home and providing economic and emotional support. Dyna feels very fortunate to have had such a solid safety net and relationship with another family; the bonds created eased Dyna’s transition, and filled her childhood with fond memories.

When Dyna looks back on her life now, she credits her parents for their hard work and sacrifice. Her mother’s resolve held the family together, and Dyna’s father provided for the family. Though he spoke no English when he arrived in America, Dyna’s father earned a position as an assistant nurse at Grady Hospital in downtown Atlanta, applying his Cambodian medical training and fluency in French to help ensure quality medical care for French-speaking refugees and immigrants.

Dyna excelled at school from the outset, and eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in information technology. Today, the IT executive has three daughters that she and her husband, also a Cambodian-American, are determined to keep connected to their heritage. Dyna hopes one day to visit Cambodia again to begin creating new memories.

[re:loom | weaving a better life]

re:loom is a social enterprise that assists homeless, low-income, and refugee adults in metro Atlanta by addressing obstacles to employment. With on-the-job training, re:loom employees become craftsmen and women apprenticed in the art of loom weaving.

Weavehouse is the name of the worksite for re:loom, where volunteers cut up and prepare
donated fabric to be recycled and woven. Weavers use floor looms to transform these fabric pieces into colorful handmade rugs and fashion accessories for sale.

With a stable salary, 100% healthcare coverage, and opportunities to engage in the operation of the Weavehouse, refugee and non-refugee employees gain a financial foundation, leadership skills, and a sense of purpose and accomplishment.

Personal stories of the re:loom weavers

Dibya Rupa Khanal, Age 47

Country of Origin: Bhutan

Dibya came to the U.S. from Bhutan seeking a better life for herself and her family. She has been a re:loom weaver for four years, an opportunity offered to her through a local refugee-serving agency. Dibya is a self-taught weaver who learned the crafts of sewing and weaving as a young woman by observing other women in her home community. She enjoys the complex intricacy of patterned weaving, but mostly creates straight-weave products that can be produced at a higher volume in less time. For Hindu festival season or weddings, however, Dibya prides herself as a keeper of Nepali-Bhutanese traditions, creating for her family and friends finely-woven textiles with sacred meaning

Lakh Maya Khanal, Age 31

Country of Origin: Nepal

Born in Jhapa, Nepal, Lakh began sewing traditional Nepali dress clothing and dhaka topi hats in her late teenage years under the tutelage of her sister-in-law, Dibya. Expert in knitting and crocheting, Lakh earned money as a young bride in Bhutan making wool blankets, among other income-generating ventures. Thanks to assistance from a refugee resettlement agency in Clarkston, Lakh has worked at re:loom for more than four years, where she has been able to apply her weaving talents and knowledge in a new context. By successfully adapting a home-country
practice of tree-assisted weaving to the use of table and floor looms at re:loom, Lakh has also secured economic self-sufficiency and a sense of personal empowerment as a permanent resident of the U.S.

Damber Pulami, Age 45

Country of Origin: Bhutan

Damber began weaving as a child in Bhutan, learning textile making from his mother and bamboo basketry from his father. He further refined his skills through a UNHCR refugee camp training program. In 2009, Damber traveled with 20 close relatives to the U.S. While his immediate family landed in Georgia, his extended family was sent to New York and
South Dakota. Damber scored his first American job as a temporary employee at FedEx. Later, he learned of a chance to weave textiles at re:loom, where he has worked for several years, becoming a master weaver and mentor to other artisans. For side income, Damber weaves and sells hand-made baskets using salvaged tree products

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