Thursday, April 14, 2011


On its 90th, International Institute honors 4 who made it 

Omar Bah, erstwhile News Editor, Daily Observer, Banjul    

PROVIDENCE — A former West African journalist who was forced into exile, a Cambodian survivor of the Khmer Rouge holocaust, a member of Sri Lanka’s Tamil ethnic minority who became a Rhode Island business owner, and state Rep. Grace Diaz, the first Dominican-American woman elected to state office in this country, were honored for their achievements Wednesday at the International Institute of Rhode Island’s 90th annual luncheon. 

The “Pathway to the American Dream” luncheon at the Rhode Island Convention Center raised $130,000 for the International Institute, the state’s largest immigration agency. IIRI provides such services as refugee resettlement, ESL classes, skills development and legal immigration, citizenship and interpretation help.

All four honorees were IIRI alumni who were helped to resettle in this country, learn English and become citizens. They went on to become college graduates, business owners, homeowners and community leaders. Besides Diaz, the other honorees were Omar Bah, Kanagratnam Sageen and Thao Te.

Diaz, like the other three achievement-award recipients, said that learning English at the International Institute 20 years ago “went a long way to open doors and change my life in this beautiful state.” The agency assisted her in the legal process of becoming a citizen, and in bringing her four children, and later her mother, to the United States.
“After I became a legislator in 2004,” Diaz said, “I began working with International Institute to make it easier for other immigrants.”
Sageen, who grew up in Sri Lanka, came to the United States through a diversity lottery” visa in 1996, learned English at the Institute, obtained his citizenship and a college degree, bought his own business in East Providence, and then, a home.
Te, 61, a Cambodian, lost many family members to the Khmer Rouge genocide, and she and her children escaped to Thailand; the IIRI resettled them here in 1980. Her late husband established Apsara restaurant in the Elmwood section of Providence. Now a U.S. citizen, Te operates the restaurant.
William Shuey, executive director of the International Institute 
of Rhode Island, spoke of “our reason for existence, 
which is the immigrant 
and refugee community here in Rhode Island.”

The Providence Journal / Sandor Bodo
Bah, who worked as a journalist in his home country of Gambia before he was forced into exile for writing against the dictatorship, came to Rhode Island as a refugee in 2007. He has obtained a bachelor’s degree and is studying for his master’s degree. He serves on several community agencies’ boards and is a founding member of the Refugee Advocacy Group.
IIRI executive director William Shuey said the luncheon recognized both the agency’s 90th birthday and “our reason for existence, which is the immigrant and refugee community here in Rhode Island.” Through immigration and refugee resettlement, “we integrate the best of our own traditions and the best of those traditions brought to these shores from the four corners of the world.”Source - The Providence Journal 

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