World Refugee Day honors thousands on First Coast

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. --- The First Coast is honoring the tens of thousands of refugees who have created new lives in Jacksonville and neighboring communities. The celebration, "World Refugee Day" kicks of at Southside Baptist Church.

The Celebration is sponsored by Lutheran Social services, just one of three refugee programs in Jacksonville. The motive is to help those uprooted from their homes settle in Jacksonville within a 90-day period. The refugee program teaches refugees about American culture, from language, to emergency contacts to healthcare.

Karen Rieley is the director of the Lutheran Social Services Refugee program.

"We go home at the end of the day knowing that we helped people achieve their dreams," said Rieley.

The program has helped people like Kullah Massaquoi. She was forced to flee her home of Liberia after violence that spawned from the Second Liberian Civil War. Unfortunately, when the rebels hit Liberia, Kullah was forced to run for her life. She would spend her nights hiding in bushes for cover. Massaquoi says she often walked miles just to find food and water.

"I didn't even have water to drink and I couldn't bathe my baby for some days," said Kullah.

Eventually she found herself in Nigeria. After years there, she was transferred to Jacksonville and she was greeted by Lutheran Social Services in 2006. Kullah says she traveled with her baby daughter and a gold chain- that is it.

"It's not always easy because you get familiar with the people you grow up with and you have family back home," said Kullah.

In fact, Kullah has not seen her parents since she left Africa. They ran for their lives during the war and they have never reunited.

"It's hard to believe this," said Kullah.

However, with the help of Lutheran Social Services she has found success. Kullah earned her CNA and worked at a hospice center. She gave birth to her son, now 2-years-old and her daughter is now enrolled at University of North Florida.

"The people at Lutheran Social Services have been wonderful to me," said Kullah. "I am grateful."


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