Interviews & Articles
UNICEF USA presents Children Uprooted: The Journey to Dallas
Recently, thousands of children and their families have fled extreme violence and poverty in the countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras and migrated North to seek shelter. UNICEF is the world's largest humanitarian organization for children and is committed to children before, during, and after their migratory journey to a refuge.
This event will include local North Texas artist Weeda Hamdan's collection, titled "Uprooted," as well as a panel conversation to highlight the root causes for departure for children in the Northern Triangle, the journey North and its impacts on children, and the City of Dallas' response to the crisis.
Featured panelists include Eitan Peled, Child Migration & Protection Program Manager, UNICEF USA; Liz Cedillo-Pereira, Esq, Director, City of Dallas Office of Welcoming Communities and Immigrant Affairs; Mary Elizabeth (Liz) Cedillo-Pereira, Director of the City of Dallas Office of Welcoming Communities and Immigrant Affairs established in March 2017; Bill Holston, J.D., Executive Director, Human Rights Initiative of North Texas and will be moderated by Amy Miller, Director of Education, World Affairs Council Dallas/ Fort Worth.
The Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture
Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Liberia to Lebanese parents until my early teens, then moved to Lebanon in 1982 where we were faced with war, only to leave for Gran Canaries-Spain, then return to Lebanon, and now live here in Texas. I have never felt that I am from one single place. I am from everywhere!
When did you first learn about UNICEF?
My knowledge of UNICEF began when I was in Lebanon in 1982 during the Israeli invasion. I would see UNICEF vehicles driving to provide humanitarian support to victims across town, as a matter of fact, UNICEF's presence and support are still very prominent to this day.
What story from your past drives you to support UNICEF's work for children today?
I believe in UNICEF's efforts because I have seen it firsthand during the many wars, invasions, and civil wars in Lebanon. The war crises had left us displaced; in the beginning, we hid under small stairways for months, and when that became too dangerous because of even closer shelling, we moved with our immediate family members to live in my grandparent's underground shed/bunker for quite some time while battles raged over our heads.
It was pitch-black darkness around me, family members propped against each other, and the cold concrete walls; tired of playing cards and losing hope of possibly sleeping at home that night, I started sketching blindly, visualizing hope. Despite our despair and distress, I was elated with my new drawing discoveries, which became a soothing escape. But that didn't last long because our bunkers became a prime target, and stealthily escaping to safer grounds implied a solo flight to each family unit. We all strayed and dispersed in various directions seeking refuge and shelter. Some of my cousins, with their infants and young children, crawled treacherous mountain heights, stumped over corpses at night, heading towards the East and dodging gunfire during the day. While others fled West only to be rescued by UNICEF's emergency response team, who cared for the injured, fed the hungry, and provided them with safe transportation to friends who opened their homes to support the displaced.
Why do you think it is important for individuals in North Texas to know what is going on globally with children?
I think it's essential for North Texans to know what is going on globally with children because children are the future of our world as a whole. We can't think of isolating ourselves from the rest of the world because of distance, the world is flat and hence super interconnected, and what goes around on other continents affect everyone directly.
The only way we can elevate the cycle of poverty to improve economies is by providing health care, sanitation, nutrition, social protection, and education. Without these, unprotected and vulnerable children can easily slip into forced exploitation by armed groups, terrorism, or early marriages. Displaced children are victims, and it's our job to protect their rights; the sooner we invest in them, the quicker we prevent irreversible damage to their future and the ability to reach their full potential.
People with opportunities have much to lose and should act responsibly, on the other hand, those with no options have little, if any, to lose, and thus can end up belonging to the wrong group.
Why are you a UNITER (a supporter of UNICEF's work with the world's children)?
I am a UNITER because I lived through the complexities and turbulence of war as I was growing up in Lebanon. Despite being internally displaced in my own country, I was very fortunate to have been able to travel away from the war for a few years to see what the world had to offer. There's no going back once an opportunity arises, and I have been truly blessed to be given so much help that I feel it's only fitting to fill someone else's bucket with hope and dreams. I have become an artist after discovering my passion for art during the shelter in the bunkers, and just as the process of sketching gave me an escape during my childhood, I decided in October 2017 to paint that feeling forward for underprivileged children so they, too, can change their story. My way of paying it forward is by donating all my paintings to Education Unbound (EdU), which my husband, Maan, and I founded in October 2017 here in the US. EdU's objective is to invest in underprivileged children's education so they have equal opportunities. To mirror our work in the US, we founded another non-profit in Lebanon, Tatweer Baladna, whose purpose is to provide quality and customized education to refugee children streaming from tormented neighboring countries.
My latest project is called UpRooted to raise awareness in societies about the complexities of the migration process and the difficulties refugee children face. By building awareness, I expect to raise funds through these art pieces to provide educational programs to refugee children wherever they are.