When Walter Lam moved to San Diego from Uganda in 1986, his biggest cultural barrier was food. “I saw meat inside of two breads, something I’d never seen before, a hamburger! Now I like it, but at first, it took me a while to taste it,” Lam laughed.
Lam is now CEO and founder of Alliance for African Assistance (AAA), a non-profit that annually helps 950 refugees from countries like Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Congo and Tanzania escape war, torture or economic hardship. Over the years, AAA has helped resettle more than 12,700 refugees.
“These people come with a bag in their hands, nothing else. We meet them at the airport, take them to the homes we have prepared, and then set the adjustment period for them to become self-sufficient as soon as possible,” Lam said. AAA provides the refugees with housing, health screenings and health care, rent, transportation, enrolling children in school, learning English and translating, job assistance and training.
On Monday, June 20, more than 100 people came together to celebrate their success stories at an International Refugee Day breakfast at La Jolla Presbyterian Church on Draper Avenue. During the event, 18-year-old Kaw Maeywa received a “Rising Star of the Year” award. Hailing from Thailand, Maeywa said his parents moved to San Diego in 2007 to provide him with an education. “It is a lot harder over there and every day is a struggle to get through. Now it’s a lot easier, and education is reachable. You just have to strike for it,” Maeywa said.
He graduated from high school this year, and next year plans to attend Cal State Los Angeles. Although his favorite subjects are art and math, Maeywa has not decided upon a major, but is thinking about criminal justice.
Lam said AAA got its start at La Jolla Presbyterian Church. “From a tiny car garage, we have grown and we have three sites in San Diego, and offices Italy, London and Uganda,” he said. “Most of the furniture and clothing we give refugees to start their new lives comes from members of La Jolla Presbyterian church. It’s a very supportive community.”
Lam pointed out that the refugees who come to San Diego, undergo a thorough process of scrutiny. “These people are so vetted for about two years before they are allowed to come to the United States. It’s a safe immigration program, and we are blessed that the City of San Diego is very welcoming, and the State of California is very welcoming,” he said.
AAA also runs a sponsorship program for children in Uganda. For $25 a month, sponsors pay for a child’s education fees, uniforms, supplies, food and medical care. The organization sets up a correspondence between the child and sponsor, and at the end of the school year, the sponsor receives the student’s report card.
The sponsored students are usually orphans who’ve lost their parents to violence or disease. If you are interested in sponsoring a child, call (619) 286-9052, ext. 300 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
In 2015, according to the United Nations, 65 million people were uprooted from their homes — 21.3 million refugees, 3.2 million people in the process of seeking asylum, and 40.8 million displaced within their own countries.
Learn more about AAA at alliance-for-africa.org