From New Americans to Civic Leaders

In July 2013, Safia Jama (left) was a new American citizen being honored for her incredible journey at the first annual Red, White and New event. In August 2014, Beena Dahal (right) had her moment on stage as an honored citizen at the second annual event.

Now, both women are civically active and excited about their futures as Americans.

Both Safia and Beena worked hard to gain their citizenship. Beena and her husband studied for their U.S. Citizenship together, with Beena’s husband, a U.S. history and civic buff, often quizzing her on car rides. Safia, too, says she learned many lasting lessons in studying for the test. Before, she wasn’t even aware of the Georgia’ Governor’s name. Now she actively follows local politics and has met her U.S. Representative face to face – and spoken to him about her work resettling refugees.

But for both, being new voters has been a highlight of their life as Americans. Last September, Beena and Safia both traveled with two coworkers to participate in early voting for mid-term elections.

For Beena, this was her first ever election – but it won’t be her last. She says she’s already looking forward to local elections in November, and she and her husband have begun to study the history and views of the current Presidential candidates in planning for March primaries. Beena is even working to help Get out the Vote for friend and Clarkston City Council candidate Birendra Dhakal. She says she’s excited to share her experience as a voter with other new Americans in Clarkston.

Safia, a native of Somalia, voted once in her home country before being forced to flee at a young age. Since then, she’s never held citizenship or been able to vote. Her vote in 2014 represented something she never thought she’d see after the war.

“Something was taken away from me. I thought I would never have that in my life.” Safia is dedicated to using her right to vote from now on. She’s already closely studying candidates for the 2016 Presidential election, and has the date of the election set in her mind.

For both women, citizenship brought a sense of belonging they had never had before – a sense of permanency. Safia, who always described herself as a lifelong nomad, says this is the first time she feels she can make long term plans. She knows she will never have to flee again.

“Now I can have my state,” Beena says, “my place to belong.”