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A Refugee Once Removed

All of our volunteers at Prosper have different relationships to the refugee crisis. For our strategy advisor Alex Lopoukhine, it's a personal story that motivates him to bring his business development skills to Prosper. Alex lives with his family in California where he works in the travel industry. In today's blog, Alex reflects on his mother's escape to the U.S. during World War II. He proudly shares his family history, encouraging all of us to take action in solidarity with refugees.

"The caption reads "Departure from Europe - 2 1952." They're refugees.

They are my grandmother, grandfather, aunt, uncle, and mother.

This photo was one of my grandmother's few possessions when she arrived in the United States. During World War II, she became a Yugoslavian refugee and survived countless horrors. Her first husband and she were separated and never reunited. She survived a massacre by grace, child in hand, which forever traumatized her. She scaled the Alps, lost all of her hair, slave labored in a concentration camp under a Nazi general, was separated from her daughter for two years when she contracted tuberculosis and was convinced she had died.

Eventually she ended up in an Austrian internment camp - where she spent 8 years of her life. It was there she met my grandfather, and where my mother (the toddler in my grandmother’s arms) was born. They left when my mother was 2. Their visa was to the United States - and that's how I was born an American.

The refugee crisis is more than just upsetting. It's personal, as much as I don't want it to be.

As world leaders gather at the United Nations in New York City to deliberate the outcome of the 65 million displaced people in the world, and while our potential presidents debate what it means to be an American, I want the world to know I exist because of my grandmother's will to survive. I am because of her. I am an American because of her. And I couldn't be more proud of my heritage, my roots, my upbringing.

The next time you consider the word 'refugee,' try to look beyond the typical portrayal and understand these are people just looking at a chance to build a life once robbed.

Let my family's story stand as a testament that if you give an individual that chance, they will exceed your expectations."

Natasha Freidus

Natasha Freidus is a consultant and trainer leveraging new media tools for social change. She currently lives in France where she volunteers with a local refugee solidarity effort.

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