From Darfur to Martha's Vineyard

One family's 1,000-mile trek from Darfur to St. Louis to Martha's Vineyard.

November 21, 2010, 6:25 PM

Nov. 21, 2010— -- Lana and Munawar Kabashi of Darfur remember the killers -- Arab militias called the Janjaweed -- riding into their village on horseback and shooting, burning, and destroying the homes and massacring the villagers.

In the confusion, they were separated from their five year old daughter Muna, but managed to escape with two other daughters and their first-born son Mustafa.

As they fled the genocide in Darfur, 3-month-old Mustafa died of starvation. But their nightmare was just beginning.

In 2005, the Janjaweed found them and captured the father, Munawar, imprisoning and torturing him for nearly a year before he escaped and found his family again.

Thus began a biblical trek to safety. They made their way across Sudan to Kenya, fleeing from one refugee camp to another. Over the next few years they had two more children.

In 2007 they arrived at a sprawling refugee camp in Kenya called Kakuma, but the children grew sick and once again they felt threatened.

Finally, in desperation, they fled again, ending up in the urban slum areas of Nairobi.

It was in Nairobi that the refugee organization RefugePoint (formerly Mapendo International) heard about the Kabashi family from another refugee.

"He said this family is really desperate," says Sasha Chanoff, executive director and founder of RefugePoint. "They're sick. They don't have any blankets. They don't' have any mattresses. They don't have any food."

Lana Kabashi was also pregnant at the time.

The RefugePoint staff sent an urgent request for money to help the family, and within days, their prayers were answered. In a chance meeting on a train, Chanoff sat next to Kristi Maynard of Martha's Vineyard.

"When I met Kristi, she said I can't believe I'm meeting you now," Chanoff says. "I've been thinking about Darfur and what's been happening there for years. ... And now here you are in front of me telling me that I can do something to help one family."

Maynard did more than that. She was so moved by the struggles of the Kabashi family and other refugees she immediately wrote a $10,000 check to RefugePoint.

"I received a photograph of [the family] holding my photograph when they were still back in Nairobi, and I have been smiling ever since," Maynard says.

Maynard's check was more than enough to bring the Kabashi family to the United States. In August 2009, they packed up their few belongings and flew to St. Louis, where the International Institute of St. Louis helped them find a small apartment and helped Munawar look for a job.

Maynard flew from Martha's Vineyard to meet the family, bringing them clothes and toys for the children.

Asked what it was like the first time she met the Kabashi family, Maynard replied: "It felt equivalent to when the doctor gave me my son in my arms for the first time."

One month later, on Sept. 18, 2009, Lana gave birth to a baby boy named Hakim, which means "wise" and sometimes refers to "doctor" in Arabic.

He is one of the first Darfuri refugees to be born in the United States -- the family's first American citizen.

This past August, Kristi and Gary Maynard, along with their children Kinsman and Clara, hosted the Kabashi family at their farm in Martha's Vineyard.

For a week, the children lived on the Maynard's idyllic farm, riding ponies, playing in the ocean, swimming in a pool -- all for the first time.

It is a lifestyle the Kabashis could never have imagined during their 1,000-mile trek from Sudan to Kenya to Nairobi.

But at a fundraiser held under a tent on their last night on the Vineyard, Maynard told the guests that it was she, not the Kabashis, who had benefited the most.

"They've had quite a long trek from Darfur to Nairobi to St. Louis to Martha's Vineyard, and now here with you," she said. "I was lucky to meet Sasha on the train two years ago. I was lucky to have the means to gather my friends and to support RefugePoint. And I was especially lucky to have the Kabashi family come into my life. I'd like to share the joy and the love that they have brought to me, in the hopes that all of you will feel as lucky as I do."

That night, Kristi Maynard helped raise more than $100,000 for RefugePoint, which will help save dozens of families.

Relocation to the United States costs RefugePoint about $2,500 per family, or $500 per person.

In the past six years RefugePoint has helped more than 13,000 refugees to access the U.S. and other government resettlement programs in order to save the lives of those who live in danger and destitution.

For more information go to RefugePoint International.

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