A Painful Blessing: Life as a Refugee and Emory Student

“I agreed to speak [at World Refugee Day] because I would like to convey a different message in the media about Syrian refugees than the narrative currently being shared,” says Farah Al Chammas. “I simply would like to share my story and how coming to America has been a painful blessing that I will forever be thankful for. I am thankful for my experience, which was a lot easier than going through a refugee camp. I am thankful for my privilege.”

Farah, a Syrian under asylum in the United States, was one of the three speakers at the Coalition of Refugee Service Agencies (CRSA) World Refugee Day Celebration on June 17 in Clarkston. Throughout her speech and interview, she emphasized that, although her experience was painful, it was still a blessing. Even her college decision was a blessing, according to Farah:

“God chose Emory for me somehow… I didn’t even know where Emory was, but it is the best thing that has happened to me,” she says. “Emory is hard; it’s a lot of work, but even being an Emory student is a privilege.”

Farah doesn’t just recognize this privilege; she claims that really, “This privilege is really a responsibility to do what I can” – including raising awareness and sharing her story.

“Longview, Texas, is a small town with no refugees or even immigrants that I knew,” Farah says of her home-away-from-home. Going to Emory was “the first time I walked into a room full of refugees.” When a friend shared an excel document on Facebook, listing newly arrived refugee families and their immediate needs, Farah wanted to help.

“It was exactly what my family was going through a few years ago.”

In order to help these families, Farah started a club at Emory called Refugee Revive. Although the biggest challenge has been working through some of the logistical issues, she maintains that working with the club and the volunteers is a wonderful experience.

Recently, inspired by a non-profit in Australia, the club hosted a Rations Challenge. In this challenge, students paid $10 to receive a box of rations – what the average refugee would eat in a camp. This particular challenge was adapted slightly to fit the needs of a college student; for example, instead of uncooked rice, there were other types of grains.

The point of this challenge was to put students in the mindset of a refugee and help them realize just how difficult life can be in a camp. After all, as Farah puts it, “Refugees don’t choose their circumstances, but you have to pick yourself up and move on.”

Farah is in the process of finishing her memoir, and with the profits she would like start a shared kitchen for refugees in Clarkston and the Atlanta area. Looking ahead past college, she is passionate about childhood obesity and nutrition, and she is considering a career in pediatric endocrinology.

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