International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Ambassador Samantha Power’s visit to the Refugee Youth Summer Academy

“I’m coming to meet you first!” 

So said Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the UN, during a visit Monday with students at the IRC’s Refugee Youth Summer Academy (RYSA) in New York. Monday was her first day on the job as U.S. ambassador and for her first trip out of the office, she chose to meet with the young refugees even before she presented her credentials to UN Secretary-General  Ban Ki Moon.  
 
The refugee students, mostly between 10 and 13 years old, had all been forced to flee their homes with their families because of conflict, political oppression or religious persecution.  Newly arrived in the United States, they come from some of the world’s most troubled places: Eritrea, South Sudan, Cuba, Benin and Iran, among others. Their education cycles had been interrupted, most had until now never seen the inside of an American classroom and English is not their first language.  The IRC’s summer academy is focused on preparing them to make that transition to the American public school system. 
 
Power told these students her own immigrant story.  She came to the United States from Ireland when she was 9.  She arrived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the American flag, similar to one worn by a refugee student in the classroom. “Every time you do something new it’s scary,” she told the group. She compared her first day at the UN with their first day at school and all of the trepidation that entails: what to wear, how to impress and that longing to be liked. But she continued, this country would allow them great opportunity. “I’m here to tell you the sky is the limit.” Her story is a case in point. An Irish immigrant arrives in the U.S. at age 9. Thirty three years later she is representing the United States on the world’s stage.  
 
In a conversation a little later with select students in the academy’s “leaders in training” program, she asked if they had any particular information for her that she could take back to the Security Council. Bassirou Kaba, a refugee from Ivory Coast, seizing on the opportunity to speak to someone in a position of significant influence, advocated for better solutions for the children of that nation and asked the Ambassador to find a way to ensure that young people there get the opportunity to know their rights. Power nodded her agreement. She said that if people know what their rights are, they will demand more of their governments to guarantee those rights. “If they don’t know their rights they will stay silent.”
 
And they talked baseball. Ambassador Power asked these new New Yorkers what she needed to know to make a smooth transition to life in New York City. An avowed Red Sox fan she acknowledged that she is starting from a particular disadvantage. Kaba’s advice was simple: make the switch and become a Yankees fan.  Ambassador Power laughed but demurred firmly. While she is a true advocate for peace and conflict resolution, she said, “There are certain lines I will not cross.”  
 
The ambassador said she was impressed by the students she met at the academy. Their conversation was wide-ranging and informed. The students asked tough questions about foreign policy along with more personal ones about how she met President Obama, and why she decided to take this job.
 
She reminded these students that she was not going to be US ambassador to the UN forever, and that younger generations need to prepare for leadership.  
 
“We are going to need another ambassador to the UN,” she said, “and I know that some one of you is capable of representing the United States.”

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