THE DIOP FAMILY
Nominating Organization: African Services Committee
Nominating Organization: African Services Committee
UPDATE: WE ARE CURRENTLY FUNDING THE FINAL DIOP FAMILY FLIGHT FOR EL HADJ, AICHA'S SON. Travel for El Hadj was delayed for medical reasons. Now his visa has been approved and he is finally able to come to the U.S. to join his sisters and see his mother after over 11 years apart.
My name is Aicha Diop and I am from Rosso, Mauritania. In 2003, I came to the U.S. after being a refugee in Senegal for over 14 years, where my family was forced into exile. I was finally granted asylum after waiting a decade and, at last, am now able to bring my children here to New York City live with me. I am seeking funding to be reunited with my four children - Valerie, Lidy, Sophia, and Elhadj - after over 11 years of separation.
When I was in 7th grade, my dad told me that since my mother was sick I could not continue my education. I needed to take care of the cooking to feed the family while they worked in the fields. I only received 6 years of education.
One morning in 1989, my dad woke up early to go to the fields, as it was customary, and my mom was preparing fondé [a kind of porridge], when we suddenly saw a group of soldiers approaching. As our houses were usually fenced, they came knocking at the front door. My mom then called my dad who then went to open the door. He found gun-toting soldiers standing at the door. They asked for his identification paper. He asked them to wait so that he could go back into the house and bring his identification paper. When he went back into the house, he said to my mom, “Things are not looking good today. Gather the children and all of you come stand [with me].” He then went back to show them his paper identification and the man in front looked at it, took it and tore it apart. He then said, “You are not of here. You must leave our country!”
They pointed their guns on my father, pushing him. He tried to resist, holding at the gun pushing the gun away from him and asking what he did wrong. They shot him in the stomach and he fell. They then rounded us up inside the house and took us to a truck that was outside on the street and drove away to a warehouse. There, we found many other families, some wounded, some afflicted. They took us to the river and forced us to cross into Senegal. They would overload tiny canoes with people and push them [into the water].
I spent 14 years in Senegal as a refugee. During that time it was very difficult to find any work but eventually I was able to find a job harvesting tomatoes. One day, I ran into a dignitary who drove in to purchase tomatoes. I greeted him and he asked what I was doing there. I told him I would like to have someone help my husband go to the United States since we were refugees. I would then pay them over time from the money I earned harvesting tomatoes. Apparently moved by my sight, he then asked, “Do you have problems in Mauritania?”. “Yes, my entire family and I, we are among those who had problems in Mauritania”, I replied. Then he said, “I will be back next week”. The following week he asked,“Would you, you yourself, like to go to the United States?” Then I said, “I am a woman. I would love to see my husband go. However, if he cannot, I would go. It is all the same. These days, both men and women can earn a living”.
He then told me “I spoke with someone, a trader, who could take you with him as though you were his wife. Would that be fine with you?” I then told him that, at that point, all I needed was help.
When we arrived in New York, the trader took care of everything. He was the one who knew about all that needed to be done. I was just standing there since I did not speak the language. He was the one who would present all the needed papers and find me my first place to stay. A week after we found accommodations, he said to me, “Give me back all the papers I gave you earlier.” “Are you going to take all papers with you?” I asked. He said, “Yes, I will take the papers with me”. He then left me here. I learned that he had spoken with the apartment owner and had told them, "Let her stay for a month, and then you can kick her out.” He took my passport with him.
One day I was sitting in front of the house dressed in my African clothes when a man passed by and greeted me. I returned the greeting and he asked, “Are you new here?” “Yes, I am new,” I replied. “Where are you from?” he asked. “Mauritania,” I replied. He then introduced me to some other people from my country. One man told me, “Since you just arrived here, I will take you to someone who helps us with the paperwork.” He then took me to that person who then put into writing everything that I have been explaining to you and sent it out. Within a month afterwards, I was summoned and I appeared.
My papers were in poor condition because my mother used to carry them with her in her purse. Since she used to eat kola nuts too often, that caused the papers to be stained and stick together. Then I was sent to the Newark Asylum Office. From the asylum office, the judge sent my case to New York City, to 26 Federal Plaza. I then appeared in front of the judge downtown and she would repeat that such and such piece of paper is missing. She would then give me an appointment for no sooner than two years. That is why it took ten years for my papers to be granted, which I finally received September 23, 2014.
During my time here in the U.S., one of my children, Amie, passed away. I wanted to go back home. I went to my lawyer to explain to him that I wanted to go back because my child passed away and he said that if I left, I would not be able to come back. I would then have my case canceled. It would be as though I deported myself. So I was forced to stay because I still feared returning back.
I used to braid hair to pay my rent and send some money to my children - I work hard to send them money to pay for school. Then I worked as a janitor, cleaning a gym, and now I clean residences. I have been employed since I was granted my Work Permit, although my salary is not that much.
I would like to have my children come to this country so that they could help themselves. Since they have some education, they can go to school here first to learn the language and then help themselves. I have four children - Valérie, Lidy, Sophia, and El Hadj - they are 30, 28, 26, and 24 years old.
Also, I have been sick almost since I landed here. In 2008, I came down with diabetes which caused me to lose kidney function. I go to the hospital regularly to undergo dialysis - sometimes I get too exhausted to be able to work. I was told that I needed to undergo surgery for a transplant. The surgery has not happened because I need a donor. I am still on the waiting list. According to the physicians, if my children came here, that would help me find a good match for my transplant.
Often times, I am depressed which is even harder since all my relatives are over there. I am alone here trying my best, without anybody to help me out. As always, when one is new to a place where they have no relatives or acquaintances, one feels alienated.
My dream is to be a woman in New York. To live in New York. I love New York. I would like to be a good woman in New York.
I hope that you can help bring my four children to the United States. After 11 years apart, I am so eager to be reunited with them and finally be able to live together as a family here in New York City.
THE AHMED FAMILY
We were inspired by Aicha's story and her incredible resilience in the face of extreme adversity. We've been longtime supporters of immigrant issues (Leshika having migrated to the U.S. from Sri Lanka) and have recognized that the toll taken on families and relationships by separation is often overlooked. Hello Vuelo is doing excellent work to bring loved ones back together, and we're so excited for Aicha to see her children again after so many years.
THE AHMED FAMILY HAS DONATED $1,250 TO SUPPORT HELLO VUELO!
ELIZABETH OTT AND MEGAN BAIER
Aicha's journey to America & goal to reunite with her children after 11 years is truly inspirational. Aicha's recent health struggles & need for a kidney transplant struck close to home for me as my dad was able to donate a kidney to his brother, prolonging his life by 15 years. I am moved by both the length of this family's journey for reunion as well as the sudden urgency for this reunion given Aicha's deteriorating health. I am so excited to help bring this wonderful family back together in the U.S.
FUNDRAISING GOAL OF $1,250 ACCOMPLISHED!