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Shayesta gives a speech at a banquet for recent high school graduates.

My family’s transition to the United States was a matter of deciding between death and survival, it was about choosing between history and future and during this transition we all had to pay a steep price by being detached from our home in Afghanistan and by starting from zero.

– Shayesta, who spoke at a recent banquet for Migration and Refugee Services student graduates


What does United States of America citizenship mean to you?  To young refugees involved with Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services, U.S. citizenship has a variety of meanings, including; survival, literacy, safety, participating in community and civic activities, education (especially for girls) and obeying laws.  For Shayesta, a refugee from Afghanistan, the USA means “You Start Again.”

Pope Francis has said that young people “have a greater sensitivity toward injustice” and encourages them to “be the first to seek to bring good, do not grow accustomed to evil, but defeat it with good.” An essay winner, Khatera, and another student and blogger, Shayesta, have seen the world’s injustices and exploitation first-hand; but, they trust that starting again as U.S. citizens gives them the opportunity to pursue the adage “liberty and justice for all.”

Khatera, the winner of the essay contest, receives an award for funds toward college.

Khatera believes American citizens have “no excuse” to not be a volunteer in their communities or involved in civic activities.  In her essay, Khatera said, “There a bunch of volunteer opportunities that everyone can sign-up for.  We can start from our own little place that we live, by taking care of our neighborhood to keep our environment clean and safe.”   Additionally, she wrote, “Good and active citizens are always looking for a good society and perform their responsibilities for their communities.”

Shayesta emphasized, “Resettlement and adjusting to a new community is not easy, and going through an identity change is not easy, learning a new language is not easy, accepting a new culture and way of life is not easy and yet despite all these challenges I all have an optimistic view of my future.”

The Catholic Church, according to Pope Francis, should “encourage the generosity which is typical of the young and help them to work actively in building a better world.”  Khatera and Shayesta are, according to Shayesta, “simply trying to start again because we believe in the core values of America.”

Reviewing what these two girls have written from a Catholic perspective reminds us all to view our citizenship as a privilege and Catholic teaching calls us to use these privileges to fight for justice, to see others as our brothers and sisters and respect the Earth as our common home.


As a program of Catholic Charities, Migration and Refugee Services offers a comprehensive array of resettlement services, provides financial assistance to refugees, and assists them in obtaining the necessary skills to promote early sustainable economic self-sufficiency.