They came from all over the world-Sudan, Cambodia and Palestine, but they all had the same objective. They wanted to live free.
Peng C. Huang came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the communist regime in 1979. He came with his wife and five young children.
“My dream was to get out of that regime and to have all my kids have an education. That’s my dream,” Huang said. “If I stayed in Cambodia, there’s no way they could have that education. That why I say get out of the country.”
After being driven from his home by the communists to the countryside and being forced into farm labor, Huang decided that he needed to get out, not only for his sake, but for the sake of his children’s future.
“[I went] not because I don’t like my country, but because my country doesn’t like me,” Huang said.
Huang trekked through the jungle for four days to Thailand to escape the communists.
“After the communists came, everything belonged to the communists. Your house is not your house anymore so they could do whatever they want. I had my house in the city.my house somebody took. It’s not my house anymore,” Huang said.
Huang came to the United States through the United Nations refugee program. He chose the United States because he knew his children would receive a good education and there were no communist influences.
“As soon as I get into this country, I feel very happy to be here and thankful that I get out of the mess that I had in Cambodia,” Huang said. “Four years in the communists is like a hundred years.it’s very long.four years seems not too long, but for us, the life that you have with the communists is very long. I was very thankful to get out of that and very grateful to get here.”
Michael Kutch escaped the war-torn African country of Sudan when he was five years old. He left during the civil war between the Sudanese and the Islamic government in 1989 when his village was attacked.
He walked from Sudan to Ethiopia, an estimated 600-mile trek equivalent to walking from Cabrini to Myrtle Beach, S.C. After three months of walking, Kutch and other members of his village who has escaped the attack arrived at a refugee camp.
“I walked across the desert – and we had to cross the Sahara Desert,” Kutch said. “It was hot, windy, almost nothing to eat; [you could] barely see anything moving.”
Kutch moved around to several other refugee camps in Ethiopia, Sudan and Kenya, where he attended secondary school.
“Before, when I was young, I had to grow up with those flashbacks; with those memories of people dying, people being shot, people being attacked by crocodiles crossing rivers and being scared, being terrified of having to deal with the shooting and the bombing,” Kutch said.
Kutch came to the United States in 2000 when he was 14 years old through a United Nations program in conjunction with Lutheran Children and Family Services.
“Looking at these tall buildings, cars, and lights, you know everything’s moving, Kutch said. “I thought it was a different planet.”
He was sponsored by the program, given a place to live and attended high school, where he was involved with Amnesty International. He now lives in an apartment with his brothers and a cousin who attends Chestnut Hill College. He is part of a UN program, called Global Education Motivators, that brings the mission of the UN into the classroom. He also speaks to children of all ages about the conflict in Sudan and ways to work for peace.
“It has strengthened me in a way, as far as my current life and has taught me to really overcome the little things in life, but by no means is it something that children should go through.they are innocent,” Kutch said. “I always tell the kids that you will be the leaders of tomorrow and that they will impact the global peace.”
Ghada Ayoub left her native Palestine because the Israeli occupation made it impossible to live a normal life.
“The occupation led me to look for a different kind of life,” Ayoub said. “It was very, very hard. It was a place where you couldn’t even travel from one area to another. An area that can take you maybe 10 minutes to travel might end up taking you a day to travel because of all the checkpoints and all the restrictions and conditions that you go through.”
She attended university in Lebanon because she was prohibited to do so in her own country.
“After that, I wanted to come to a land that was about giving me freedom, freedom of everything,” Ayoub said. “Freedom of language, speech, religion; and when I lived under the occupation their was no freedom.”
After she was married, she came to the United States with her husband in 1974. Because he was already a United States citizen, she was able to receive her green card without much trouble. When Ayoub left Palestine, she forfeited her ID card and now she can never return as a citizen.
“Although my birth certificate says I was born in Jerusalem, and my high school graduation was in Jerusalem, I am not allowed to go and live as a Palestinian in Jerusalem. I am being replaced by an Israeli that came, was not born in Jerusalem. but immigrated,” Ayoub said. “They could be from the US, they could be from Russia, they could be from any of the Arab countries. That person has more right to live in that country that I do.”
“Think of somebody just walking in at any time and saying that doesn’t belong to you anymore and [they say] you have to get out and live under my occupation, under my conditions,” Ayoub said.
Ayoub received her master’s degree in education from Cabrini and is currently an elementary education teacher.
According to Ayoub, the United States was her saving grace. “It’s a great place to be,” she said. “You want to be in heaven, come to America.”