The New American Center through the Eyes of a Refugee
By Evangeline Shepard
April 26, 2011
Zuruf Basher has lived in three different countries and came to America as a refugee. He was born in Sudan and lived there for about six years until war forced his family to go to Ethiopia. Because his family knew America would give Basher a better chance to receive a good education, they sent him with his step-mother and brother to Lynn in 2005.
It was difficult at first for Basher to find other Ethiopians or Sudanese in Lynn. One day in 2006, though, he saw a man sitting down at in the Lynn Commons. Basher had a strong feeling this man was from some part of Africa, and as he rode by, the man called out to him.
“Come here,” the man said in Arabic, and Basher excitedly went over and talked to him. The man turned out to be James Modi, the director of the Southern Sudanese Solidarity Organization (SSSO), part of the New American Center (NAC) in Lynn. He told Basher all about the various and free programs that were offered to refugee youth like him.
Basher wanted to learn better English in order to improve in school, so he decided he had nothing to lose and attended the after-school programs at the NAC.
“To be honest, I did not like NAC at first because I was shy,” Basher said, “But I remembered that I was not going there because I knew people, I was going to get assistance with my English speaking and writing. I started making friends later, and then I really felt at home at the New American Center.”
Before Basher came to the US, he always thought that there were only white Americans living there. He really enjoyed the diversity that existed at NAC. While he was there he met Russians and Bosnians, other Sudanese and Ethiopians, Latin Americans, and others.
“I liked everything about NAC in general,” Basher said. “I liked meeting new people, but I also liked learning things about computers. In Ethiopia I was too young to take a computer training class, and there were volunteers at NAC that come to teach us how to do many different things.”
The NAC helped Basher excel at high school and he graduated in 2009. He is now a sophomore at North Shore Community College and studies liberal arts. In his spare time, he works at the SSSO as a case worker. Modi, who he met that day in the Commons, is now his boss.
At SSSO, Basher mainly serves as a translator for Arabic-speaking refugees. Basher and Modi have developed a strong and almost father-son bond over the years, and he encourages Basher always to keep his mind on education. In the small tribe Basher comes from, very few are educated, and Basher feels lucky to be one of those few.
“In the small tribe I am from, there aren’t many people that have gone to school,” Basher said, “I am blessed that I listened to my father to get educated and let my step-mother bring us to America!”