Cuban Refugee Crisis: A Story

Cuban Refugee Crisis: A Story

They traveled a total of 7,406 miles; 1,963 by plane and 5,443 by bus/on foot. They have practically nothing. Yet after all that, they have never been more grateful to be where they are now -- In this blog post, we share the experience of one of our dearest Cuban families. Many aren't aware of the Cuban Refugee Crisis, and that they go through horrendous obstacles just to make it to safety. Become self-aware of what's happening in the countries around you, and stand with us as we help these families gain a better life.

Employing the Unemployable

Lighthouse Charities has been working really hard preparing a space for their newest program that will bring many unemployed refugees into employment. They have partnered with the Division of Welfare and Supportive Services to create a program that will count towards the hours needed for refugees to keep their benefits.  

The first 1-2 years are the most difficult for refugees as they face many barriers with language, cultural differences, transportation, lack of education, and more. For this reason, we have created an innovative program that will employ the unemployable in order to prepare them for better jobs in the future. 

And all they would have to do is cut towels... yes, you heard that right!


We have the benefit of living in the Entertainment Capital of the World where we are surrounded by hotels and casinos. Maybe you've wondered how they cycle through all their hotel products such as soaps, bedding, AND towels. 

This will not only provide paying jobs for refugees, but also provide a way for them to gain job skills and experiences. We have learned that many of our refugees lack basic knowledge of very simple things such as how to use a spray bottle, how to use a mop, how to clock in for work, etc. These are all things that have often been deprived of them their entire lives while living in a third world country, and because many of them spend at least half, if not all, their lives in a refugee camp where living conditions are so poor, many die every day from starvation and disease.

And yet, MANY of our refugees come with college degrees or some other form of higher education. We have helped refugees who were doctors, judges, pilots, and engineers in their own countries. We know refugees here who speak multiple languages, who did translation work for the US military, who were professors at Universities, and teachers in the refugee camps. We met a refugee from Africa who received a Masters Degree in Accounting, but is working at McDonald's in order to keep food on the table. Imagine how difficult it must be for them to leave all that behind, and start over with so little. 

We hope to create an online Job Section on our website where refugees can create their own "Job Profile" with their listed experiences, skills, and education in order to make contacts with potential employers. 

We also hope to utilize this program to give our community more service opportunities. For example, if you come across a job profile where a refugee was a doctor in his own country and you just so happen to be a working doctor here in the States, and you think to yourself, "you know, I could easily help this person sign-up for the right classes at school and I could show him the step-by-step process on how he could become a doctor here in the states," would you do it if you had the time? 

College students, would you be willing to make friends with a refugee preparing to graduate high school, and help them sign-up/study for the SAT/ACT, or give them a tour of the CSN/UNLV campuses, or help them fill out their FAFSA? 

These are all skills that we Americans know so well, but we might not know how difficult it is for our local refugees to find out how to do these things. 

If you have any questions or are interested in serving within this capacity OR if you are a potential employer, please contact Charity at for more info.

Jeremiah came in everyday for months to do volunteer work in our facility in order to have something to put on his resume. He is working hard to earn enough money to bring his kids to America for a better life.

A little Cuban boy

We met a little boy from Cuba, whose family just arrived here in the states a month ago. He is 4 years old, and is as sweet as can be. His mother told us their story, and we would like to share it with you. They traveled on plane, bus, and foot through 10 different countries to get here. It took them a month and a half. Venezuela, Panama, Colombia, Costa Rica... just to name a few.

Some of these countries are extremely dangerous in certain areas, and when you're carrying a small child on foot or by bus, you can only imagine how terrifying it must have been. She said they were in constant danger, and only God was their protection. They slept on buses, and wherever they could find. All she had with her was a backpack full of food.

From what we know, families will put away money for years to save enough for a plane ticket. They are willing to risk their lives for a better place of living, for them and their families. What we hope to learn from this story is to never judge others at first sight. When this family came into our facility to get clothing and hygiene items, we didn't have a clue what they had been through until she shared her story with us at the end of their visit. 

The Drama Behind This Beautiful Picture

Beautiful Picture, right?  You won't believe what happened just before this shot was taken...

I'll start by telling you that a few weeks ago our founder and CEO, Cindy, was approached by a professional photographer about our work with refugees.  She has had her photos published in National Geographic and is currently working on a project about refugees for her website.  She asked us if we could bring a few refugee families to her to get their pictures taken.  In exchange, she would give us the rights to the photos and give an 8x10 copy to the families.  Since most refugees have no family pictures, we thought this was a great idea.

So two weeks ago, after we took Ibraham and Susanna to church, Cindy loaded the family up in her car (which she had only owned for a few weeks at the time) and started driving them to get their pictures taken.  They had to drive all the way from E Charleston/Lamb to Mountains Edge, a 45 minute drive.  Like many refugees, this family had only been in a car on the way to and from the airport when they first left the refugee camp.  As you can imagine, the long ride began to make the children feel a bit car sick.

Notice the pretty blue dress that the 3 year old (Leah) is wearing?

Notice the pretty blue dress that the 3 year old (Leah) is wearing?

About 1 mile from their destination, still dressed in their Sunday best, the little girl (Leah) vomited all over herself and one of the volunteers sitting next to her (it was in poor Lisa's hair).  There weren't many stores in that area, but luckily they came across a Walgreens.  As soon as Cindy pulled into the parking lot, the young boy (Amose) vomited as well.  Both Amose and Leah had projectile vomited, but at least Amose missed his clothes and only got the carpet in the car.

Cindy immediately got out of the car, took Leah's clothes off (don't worry, she's only 3), and carried her into the Walgreens in her underwear hoping to find something for her to wear.  Luckily this Walgreens just happened to have a tourist section and had a small pink Las Vegas tee shirt in it.  

Cindy bought the shirt, attempted to clean a bit of the vomit off the carpet, and rushed to the photo shoot.

 Unless it's pointed out to you, you don't even notice that Leah isn't wearing any pants in the picture. You have to give the family and the photographer credit for getting such a beautiful picture after such a chaotic ride.  And to all of you future volunteers: Don't worry, getting vomit in your hair only happens every so often ;).


Gifts From God

Amose, Lorraine (one of our volunteers), Susanna, Ibraham, and Leah.

Amose, Lorraine (one of our volunteers), Susanna, Ibraham, and Leah.

They day we met Susanna and Ibraham, he threw his arms up to praise God and said that we were gifts from God sent to his family. But in reality, we thank God for sending this family to us.  Never have we heard them complain about anything in their lives.  At the end of the day when we go home, we realize that all of our petty problems are meaningless and that we should be grateful for everything we have.

A few weeks ago Ibraham and Susanna asked us if we would take them to church.  So we met up with them on Sunday and all went to church together.  It was really a beautiful experience to sit with this family in church.  Susanna, although deaf and mute, knew she was in a place of worship the moment she walked in the door and even sat down and bowed her head in prayer.  She sat reverently during the service, had a smile on her face, and gracefully dealt with the many families that tried to communicate with her after.  What was really interesting and amazing is that even though this family lacked food, clothing, education, medical care, and opportunities most of their lives, they still have so much hope and know that God is there and has blessed them. Susanna lost her hearing at the age of 7 due to illness and lack of medical attention. Ibraham has had to deal with the stress of not being able to provide or protect his family from extreme hardship.  As a family in a refugee camp they were given only one shirt and one pair of pants each (with no concern over size or gender) and were forced to survive on tiny rations of food that in no way satisfy their nutritional needs.  Despite all of this,  they recognized pictures of Christ, knew who he was, and their testimonies of him and his love for them are strong and unwavering.  Though lost and forgotten by the world, they knew that they would never be lost to God.


From Doctor to Steel Worker

Recently we were contacted by the good people over at Hunt Steel to tell us they had job openings and would be willing to hire refugees.  They said that they just wanted guys who needed the money to support their families and were willing to work hard.  So we brought 5 men to them for interviews.  These men were all similar in that they were refugees, had families to support, and were willing to work hard to do so.  But there was also something interesting and different about all of them: their work experience.

In the group of 5 we had a doctor, a reporter, a teacher, a construction worker, and a hotel janitor.

One of the amazing things we've seen when working with refugees is that they are always happy.  They are grateful for everything they have.  They are grateful for the opportunity to find a job and support their family, even if it is dramatically different work than they are used to.  I admire them for this.



Interview With Rwandan Refugee- Part 2

Kiziba Refugee Camp huts

Kiziba Refugee Camp huts

This is a continuation of a conversation I had with a 19 year old refugee from Rwanda.  He spent his entire life in the Kiziba Refugee camp.  In yesterday’s post we talked about the food they ate in the camp (or lack thereof). This post will talk about the conditions in the camp. I had to re-word and paraphrase his answers to make them more readable since he is still learning English.

Me:  Where did you go to the bathroom in the camp?

Emile:  There was one refugee that had some money, I don’t know where he got it, but he had some money and he paid some guys to build a bathroom.  It was a hole about 3 feet wide and very deep.  There were timbers stacked around to sit on.  But it was very dangerous.  Many people would fall in the hole and die, especially babies and little kids.  It was by the grace of God that we did not fall in.

M:  What about when it rained?  Did the hole fill up with water and flood?

E:  Sometimes. But it was very dangerous after it rained because it would break down and soften the timbers and then more kids would fall in and die.

M:  What about other bathrooms?

E: No other bathrooms. That was it.  Going to the bathroom was very dangerous.

**After this he asked me about my family and I told him that I had a baby sister that died of SIDS when she was 5 weeks old.  He asked what SIDS was and I explained that it is when a baby dies suddenly and the doctors don’t know why. This was his response:

E: I am so sorry.  That is just like in the camp.  Lots of kids died before they turned 6 years old.  We don’t know why. 

**Among other things, this broke my heart.  Obviously these kids didn’t die of SIDS.  Most likely they died of malnurishment, Malaria, and other diseases caused by the poor living conditions.  How sad and fearful it must have been for these parents to know that it is very likely that their child won’t make it past 6 and they don’t understand why.

We changed the subject.

M: What did you do all day in the camp? 

E: I went to school.  When I was not at school sometimes I would play soccer.  I also went to get the firewood.  Getting firewood was very dangerous.  I would have to leave the camp and go into the woods.  But there are bad guys with machetes in the woods.  If they found you, they would kill you.  I was always very scared when I got the firewood.

refugee boy carrying firewood on his head

refugee boy carrying firewood on his head

M: What did your parents do?

E: Nothing. My parents just sat around.  My mother would worry about us.  She worried what we would eat.

M: They just sat around? Did they make anything? Did they do crafts?

E: (shocked) No! What would they make?  There is no chance to learn to make anything. We could not afford to buy anything to make things with.  They just sat around …. Sometimes they would sit on hills.

This was were the boys played soccer. Emile said it was very hard to play on and would hurt when you fell.

This was were the boys played soccer. Emile said it was very hard to play on and would hurt when you fell.

M: Tell me about your Dad.  How did he die?

E:  He died in November of 2013.  His father, my grandfather, lived outside of the camp and raised cows.  He was a rancher.  When he died, he gave the cows to my father.  So my father left the camp to go sell the cows so we could have some money.  Cows are very valuable there.  My father was killed because he had cows.  They killed him for his cows.  My brother, Innocent, found out that our father had died a few days later.  I was out getting firewood then.  When I came home, Innocent told me to sit down because he had to tell me something.  He said, “Emile, our father is dead.”  I didn’t believe him.  I remember taking the wood off my head and placing it on the ground.  He told me again.  I cried for a long time.  It was very hard for my family.  I hate cows now.  If there were no cows, my father would still be alive….

**I changed the subject.

M: Were there toys in the camp?

E: No toys.  One time a group came and gave out some dolls.  But otherwise there were no toys.

M:  Emile, was there something that you saw in town that you always wanted but never had?

E:  One of the boys at my school had bike.  I always wanted a bike.  One day he let me ride it.  That was a great day.  And now I have a bike here.  So I don’t want anything.  (He pauses for a minute)  You know Katie, it is really amazing here.  One day in the camp a man came driving a car.  We thought, “That man must be rich because he has a car!”   And today I got to drive in your car with you.  It is just amazing.

**I had to show him how to open the handle to get out of the car.

M: One last question: The camp is all you have ever known, do you miss it?

E: I miss my family there.  My friends and tribe in the camp are my family.  Many of them are still there.  I miss them.  But no, I do not miss the camp.  It was awful.  I am glad to be here in America.


Interview with a Rwandan Refugee- Part 1

Left to Right: Emile, Jolie, Cindy, Eugene, Freddy, Me (Katie), Jacqueline

Left to Right: Emile, Jolie, Cindy, Eugene, Freddy, Me (Katie), Jacqueline

This is one of our favorite refugee families.  The family consists of Mama Eugene, Jolie, Emile (19), Innocent, Kamariza, Jacqueline (11, not pictured), and Freddy (7, not pictured).  The family is originally from Sudan, but spent the last 20 years in a refugee camp in Rwanda.  They youngest three children were born in the camp and had never left it until coming to Las Vegas in September.  Innocent and Kamariza moved to Kentucky back in January because a fellow tribesman from the refugee camp was living there and told them they could find work.  They only recently found work there in March.  Emile was able to get a job here at McDonald’s a few weeks ago.  However, he was only given 20 hours a week at about $9 an hour, and as you can imagine, this was not enough to support his family of 5.  So two weeks ago Emile told us that they would be moving to Kentucky on April 1st to be with Innocent and Kamariza.  He said that it will be easier for them to live with the income of 3 people instead of 1.  It was very sad for us to hear that they were leaving, but we understood the reasoning and are happy that the family will be together again.

Before they left, I took Emile out to dinner. He wanted to go to a place that had cheeseburgers.  He said he tried cheeseburgers at McDonald’s and knows he likes them, but if we go somewhere else he might not like the food and then he would “not be able to swallow it”.  So I took him to In-N-Out since the cheeseburgers are better there.  I ordered him a cheeseburger, fries, and a strawberry shake.  He had tried fries before, but he had never had a shake.  He was really worried that he wouldn’t like the shake.  I asked him if he likes strawberries and he said “yes”.  So I said, “this is just strawberries mixed with milk and ice cream”.  “But the strawberries I have tried are red.  This is pink”, he said.  I explained that the juice changes color when it is mixed with the milk and ice cream.   It’s funny how many things you never expect to have to explain to someone, but when a person spends their entire life in a refugee camp, having very limited life experiences, it comes with the territory. Anyway, Emile did end up liking the shake and the cheeseburger.  He thought I was crazy when he saw me dip french fries in ketchup, but after trying that as well, he understood why.

While we were eating I thought I would take the time to ask him a few questions about his experience in the refugee camp.  This is how that conversation went:

**I have modified his answers to be more readable since he is still learning English.

Me: What did you eat in the camp?

Emile: Every month the World Food Organization would come and give us food for the month.  My family [of 8 people] got 25kg (about 55lbs) of beans, 50kg (110lbs) of corn, one bottle of cooking oil, and salt.   

Bags of corn and beans at the Kiziba Refugee Camp

Bags of corn and beans at the Kiziba Refugee Camp

M: That’s it?!

E: That’s it.  That is for the whole month.

M: What about meat?

E: You can forget about meat. No meat. 

M: Fruit?!

E: No fruit.  Fruit is too expensive.

M: So that’s all you ever ate?  Did you trade any of that to get other food?

E: We only ate half of that.  We sold the other half to pay for my school and school uniforms.  The school said we would learn better if we had uniforms, so we had to sell our food to buy those.

Sometimes we would trade some food for Taro and [something like a Potato].

Refugee boy in school uniform pushing firewood "bike"

Refugee boy in school uniform pushing firewood "bike"

M: So that’s all you ever ate? Corn, beans, taro and potatoes?

E: One time some kids from school gave me some fruit.  So I went home and gave it to Freddy.  Freddy told me, “Emile thank you so much!”  He was very grateful.


You can read the rest of this conversation (including what the camp looked like, what they did all day, what dangers and trials they faced, etc.)  tomorrow in our next blog post.

Mama Eugene

Meet Mama Ugene, Jolie 24, Emile 18, Freddy, Innocent 23, Kamariza 20, Jacqueline 11, They arrived here just 2 weeks ago from Africa, they lived in a refugee camp for 20 yrs most of the kids were born in the camp except Innocent who is in the center and Jolie standing with Mama, He told us they lived in Rwanda until they were run out because they did not look or speak like the other tribe there, Dad was killed after he left the camp to find a better life for his family. "Life is difficult for us" Innocent told me, he is now responsible for his family and it is his job to now care for his Mama and siblings. Innocent is what his African name sounds like in English, most of the kids come with new American names so they will fit in, they lose so much when they come, he says sometimes their entire identity. Innocent asked us if we have heard of New Hampshire Institute, he was able to complete the 1st year of business school in the camp and is very anxious to finish getting a degree in Business, My daughter Ariel and I were so amazed how polite and soft spoken they all were, I describe it almost like listening to a melody as they spoke, they were truly amazed we were only there to help their family, he asked for my number and address and told us he would love to come pay us a visit, and return the kindness I laughed and said I live far, but far to me is probably nothing compared to where his feet have walked, Innocent helped us translate just moments earlier in another home, this is how we found them. We were able to learn much about this family, daughter Jolie is very ill, and has a disease she has not yet been able to get medical help here and is in desperate need of assistance, she gets dizzy spells and cannot stand long, Innocent told us conditions in the camp were poor and lack of food and nutrition has made her sickness much worse. We told the girls we have a dance group and asked them if they love to dance, Kamariza squealed with excitement! she loves to dance and cannot wait to dance with the other girls. as we prepared to leave they told us they must escort us to our cars, Innocent told us they always escort the women in the camp to keep them safe, they bid us a safe journey and waved us all the way out the gate, this was a very humbling and testimony building experience for us yesterday, no matter the trials, no matter the journey, love is what matters, Just Love!


I really enjoyed my evening spending time with some of my special friends, Jolie lived in a refugee camp for 23 yrs with her family and she is very ill, the doctors have told her it is from malnutrition and there is nothing they can do to help her, I took a trip to the health food store to find her some supplements to help her feel better, she is very weak and has dizzy spells if she stands for more than 10 min, I was also taught how to make one of their favorite meals, potatoes, red onions and a food that resembled a potato but I couldn't quite identify and they did not know the English word for it. Visiting these families has been such a beautiful thing for me, I am told by Jolie that God sent me to her family, but the truth is God sent them to me.... #lighthousecharities #love #ILOVETOSERVE#DOCTORFRIENDSCANYOUHELP

First Day

FIRST DAY! I can't help myself guys, I love to journal about the families, I felt like Mom does on the first day of school sending your kids away, I actually shed a few tears of worry, I prepped them before we left the house: made sure they were dressed correctly, had their ID, Made sure they packed a lunch (yesterday they were told they would have a lunch break they did not know what this was) Ibriham learned about spray bottles today and the contraption we call a mop! They were so happy to have a job! I am sure Lorayne had trouble getting them to go home after their shift was over lol You can follow Ibriham and Innocents story on our Lighthouse Charities page!