Our Special Guest Speakers


Former Soviet Union Refugee Dinner Discussion  


Mariya Baskind 

Graphic Designer  


Mariya is a young Russian refugee who immigrated to the U.S. in March 2009. She was persecuted while living in Russia because she is Jewish.  Mariya was attacked several times at synagogue and was harassed for wearing a necklace with a star of David on it. “There is no freedom there.”  Since arriving in the U.S., Mariya occasionally attends synagogue and is learning more about her own religion through independent study, something that was challenging to do in Russia. Now she is a graphic designer at a travel agency, and hopes attend business school in the future. 


Yasha Moz 

Hillel Counselor 


Yasha was born and raised in Ekaterinburg, Russia. He was actively involved in Jewish Renaissance in post-communist Russia first as a Jewish camp counselor and then through his local Hillel center where he coordinated numerous programs and eventually became the youngest ever Hillel Director. Yasha moved to US with his family in 2006 under a refugee status. Since then he is working at the International Division at Hillel’s headquarters in Chinatown, DC. Yasha also regularly volunteers at the Education Center Shalom – a Sunday school for children of Russian-speaking immigrants in Rockville, MD where he is conducting Jewish Holidays celebrations and leading a teen program for school’s alumni. Yasha holds a Bachelor Degree in International Relations from Urals State University. 



World Refugee Fundraiser Celebraton 2009


Mark Snowiss

International Affairs Specialist and Journalist 


From 2000 to 2003, Mark worked in post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other agencies involved in the effort to stabilize, rebuild and democratize the country. He has direct experience with minority/refugee protection, rule of law and media affairs. Mark also spent significant time in Eastern Europe before, during and after the 1989 revolutions swept communist governments from power in the region. He holds an MA in Balkan Studies from the Central European University and studied under Dr. Ivo Banac (Yale), a leading expert on Yugoslav nationalism. Mark speaks Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian and Hungarian and has worked as a reporter/writer for a variety of media outlets in Los Angeles, CA; Budapest, Hungary; and Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He is currently a news writer, web editor and news coverage consultant with the Voice of America and lives in Washington, DC. 


Taameem Al-Maliki

Case Manager

International Rescue Committee

Taameem arrived in the DC area from Iraq in September 2007. She began working for the IRC as a case manager in December of 2007 and has served hundreds of refugee and asylee clients. Taameem has the unique view of being a refugee herself, helping refugees while in Jordan, and the point of view of a case manager here in the United States.

Iraqi Refugees Dinner Discussion


Zahra Alkabi


Save Refugees 


Zahra Albaki is a social worker from Baghdad, Iraq and the founder and director of Save Refugees. She left Iraq in 2001 to seek refuge in Jordan with her two daughters. Because she was an Iraqi refugee, she was denied a work permit. Instead, she worked as a volunteer with many international and national organizations in 2003 when the war began in Iraq. She became more involved with helping Iraqi refugees, working as an independent social worker and as a translator for many U.S. organizations and international media journalists in Jordan reporting on the Iraqi refugee situation. She also worked as an English teacher for refugees who were accepted for the resettlement programs through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). She now resides in Portland, Oregon. 


Merrill Smith

Director of International Planning and Analysis

U.S. Committee for Refugees & Immigrants


Merrill Smith has been editor of the World Refugee Survey since the 2003 edition and is also active in the campaign to end refugee warehousing.  He was Washington Representative for Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service from 2000-02 and has a long history of advocacy on Haitian refugee, human rights, and trade issues for Church World Service, the UN, and Haiti Advocacy.  He holds a BA in linguistics from Columbia University, a JD in law from Vanderbilt Law School, the Diplôme in international human rights law from the International Institute of Human Rights in Strasbourg, and an LLM in international legal studies from NYU Law School. Born in Germany, he has also lived in Haiti, speaks a fair bit of Haitian Creole, and is literate in French.


Asylum Denied Dinner Discussion


David Ngaruri Kenney

Attorney at the Office of the Montogmery County State's Attorney, Maryland


In 1992, Kenney (at the time named David Wachira Ngaruri and nicknamed "Jeff") led a peaceful farmer's boycott to protest certain exploitive agricultural policies that Moi's government had imposed on him and his fellow tea farmers. In response, the security police nearly executed him, tortured him, and put him in solitary confinement for months. When he was finally released, he was subjected to police surveillance and controls. He had no future in Kenya, and he was told that if he engaged in political acts, he would be rearrested. With the help of several amazingly inventive U.S. Peace Corps volunteers, he was able to flee to the United Sates, where eventually he sought asylum.  Asylum Denied: A Refugee’s Struggle for Safety in America is Kenney’s amazing biography. Triumphing over his struggles, Kenney is now a U.S. citizen with a law degree from Catholic University and is currently a lawyer at the Office of the Montgomery County State’s Attorney in Maryland. 

Philip G. Shrag

Director of the Center for Applied Legal Studies

Georgetown University


Professor Schrag is a professor of law at Georgetown University. He teaches Civil Procedure and directs the Center for Applied Legal Studies, in which students represent refugees from persecution who are seeking asylum in the United States. He is also the Director of the Public Interest Law Scholars Program, through which selected law students who plan careers as public interest lawyers receive scholarship grants and special academic enrichment and guidance in that field. Before joining the Law Center faculty in 1981, he was assistant counsel to the NAACP Legal Defense Educational Fund, Consumer Advocate of the City of New York, a professor at Columbia University Law School, and Deputy General Counsel of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, from which he received a Meritorious Honor Award in 1981.

Professor Schrag has also had a distinguished and varied career in civic service, which has included positions as a delegate to the District of Columbia Statehood Constitutional Convention in 1982, an editor and consultant on consumer protection during the Carter-Mondale transition, a consultant to the New York State Consumer Protection Board, a consultant to the Governor's Advisory Council of Puerto Rico, an advisor to the Committee of Chinese Legal Educators, and an Academic Specialist for the United States Information Agency in the Czech Republic and Hungary. In addition, he drafted New York City's Consumer Protection Act of 1969.

He is also a prolific author, having written dozens of articles on consumer law, nuclear arms control, political asylum, and various other topics for both law journals and popular publications. He is the author of thirteen books, including Asylum Denied (with David Ngarurih Kenney) (Univ of California Press 2008) and the innovative professional responsibility textbook Ethical Problems in the Practice of Law (with Professor Lisa G. Lerman) (Aspen Publishers, 2d ed. 2008). In 2008, he received the Association of American Law Schools' Deborah L. Rhode award for advancing public service opportunities in law schools through scholarship, service and leadership, and Lexis/Nexis' Daniel Levy Memorial Award for Outstanding Achievement in Immigration Law.


An Ethiopian Experience


Chris Flaherty

Producer & Director

Migration of Beauty


Chris Flaherty is a local producer who was born and grew up in Washington D.C. and has strong roots in the area. Migration of Beauty is his first major independent documentary. He spent two years researching and befriending the witness’s involved in the historic event covered in the film. His other film projects also focus on the pursuit human rights and democracy. 


Since he acquired a super 8 mm movie camera at the age of 10 Chris has been learning to define his view of humanity on film. After high school he joined the U.S. Navy and served as a nuclear engineer on an aircraft carrier. While in the Navy, he used movie cameras to keep in “touch” with his artistic inclination to understand the world around him. Years later, with the advent of low cost video editing software he was finally able to pursue his dream of making a full length documentary feature films.


Chris’s approach to documentaries is to find stories that have global significance not widely covered in the main stream media. Although some issues tend to make us a little uncomfortable, he believes that every good story can help tell us something about ourselves. “Nothing makes us more uncomfortable than honestly exploring our humanity.”


His other passions include pursing his “appreciation for diversity” philosophy, learning languages and spending time with his family. He lives in Rockville Maryland with his wife and daughter.


Abdulaziz Kamus

Community Organizer

Service Employees International Union 

Founder, African Resource Center 


Abdulaziz Kamus, founder of the African Resource Center, was born in Ethiopia and is an adamant community organizer in the Washington D.C. area. He received his Masters of Industrial Management degree from Plzen Technical Institute, Plzen, Czech Republic. He studied Executive Non Profit Management at the Georgetown University, and he completed the “First Step” training programs at the Foundation Center in Washington, DC.

Mr. Kamus has over sixteen years of experience in refuges resettlement programs in the United States. In 1987, he started his profession as a job developer with the International Rescue Committee and assisted over a thousand refugees in direct job placement services. He played a key role in bringing African refugees to the main stream America job market. He also participated in the formation of the first Ethiopian Community Based Organizations in New York City.

In 1993 he joined the New York Association for New Americans in the historic moment of the organization by resettling over 50,000 refugees from the former Soviet Union. At Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New York City, he worked with "Welfare to Work" program and assisted hundreds of disfranchised New York residents in assisting them to be self-sufficient. He coordinated the African community to participate in the employment and job placement programs.

In 2001 he joined Ethiopian Community Development Council (ECDC) in Washington, DC as a Program Manager. He assisted over a thousand District residents in job development and skills training programs. He resettled the "Sudanese Lost Boys", Somali Bantus, Bosnian, Columbian, Eritrean, Ethiopian, Liberian, Sera Leonian, Congolese, Pakistani, refugees in the Washington Metropolitan area.


He was instrumental in forming the Language Access Act (LAA) coalition to advocate on behalf of the African community. Mayor Anthony Williams signed LAA into law on April 21, 2004, making Amharic the first African languages to be the official languages of DC government. Moreover, he worked with Councilmember Vincent Orange, Sr. drafting the bill and creating the Office and Commission on the African Affairs in the District of Columbia. Mr. Kamus advocated for fair wages and legal protection for the domestic workers in the Montgomery County, MD.


Mr. Kamus was able to organize diverse group of taxicab drivers and succeeded in passing a legislation through Councilmember Jim Graham an “Emergency Non-resident Taxicab Drivers Act of 2007” allowing over 4,000 taxicab drivers to work in the District of Columbia. Currently, he is organizing Prince George’s County taxicab drivers in partnership with CASA de Maryland and Center for Community Change.


In 2008, he coordinated  the 25th Anniversary of the Ethiopian Soccer Federation in North America (ESFNA) at the RFK Stadium. He was a board member of the South Parkchester Condominium, the Georgia Avenue Family Collaborative and the National Capital Immigrant Coalition, Fair Immigration Reform Movement, Muslim Community Center, Governor O’Maly’s Education Transition Team, Mayor Fenty’s Office and Commission on African Affairs Transition Team, District of Columbia Board of Education Joint Advisory Board. In 2007, he joined the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 32BJ as a Community Organizer.


Juan Carlos Ruiz

National Director of Organizing 

Labor Council for Latin American Advancement 


Juan Carlos Ruiz was born in Peru and arrived in the United States in 1989.  He was detained and charged with possession of using false documents which he had used to flee his country and enter the US. With the help of a pro bono attorney, he was released and granted political asylum in 1992.


Juan Carlos is a shining example of the American Dream.  From his struggles of not being able to speak English or finding his way around the U.S., through hard work, he eventually turned the original $20 in his pocket into a million dollar sales business. Of course, there were many bridges to build and cross to find that kind of success. The business world was a lucrative challenge for Juan Carlos. However, his heart was always with helping people who had similar struggles becoming a respected resident in this great country. His passion lies in community organizing, building campaigns, developing leaders, fighting for justice and working with all communities.


Juan Carlos began his organizing career in Milwaukee, WI, working on issues such as affordable housing, gang prevention and intervention, fighting against crime, and closing down 100 drug homes. He grew into statewide community organizing by leading the campaign for lead free homes in Milwaukee. This campaign brought the paint industry to their knees! For his efforts he was awarded the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation National Community Health Leadership Award which came with a $100,000 grant.


Juan Carlos worked as a trainer for the Midwest Academy, training hundreds of organizers across the country. He recently developed the community organizing department at Casa de Maryland, growing the staff from 3 to 14 organizers and increasing the department's budget to a half million dollars.


Perhaps one of Juan Carlos biggest accomplishments was as the coordinator for National Capital Immigration Committee. With the coalition, he worked to defeat the Sensenbrenner bill HR 4437 and organize the biggest rally ever in the history of the immigrant community in Washington DC. He also helped coordinated efforts in 132 cities across the United States on April 10th.


Following his stated commitment to "Ya marchamos ahora votamos" Juan Carlos coordinated the Latino and Latina vote in the election of the junior senator from Virginia, Jim Webb, providing the majority for the Democratic party and recently worked to increase the immigrant vote in Virginia.



A Sudanese Experience


Sunday Taabu

Consular and Social and Community Affairs Officer

Government of Southern Sudan 


Ms. Taabu is the Consular and Social and Community Affairs Officer with the Government of Southern Sudan Mission in Washington, DC. In 2006, she was called upon to join hands in the establishment of the GOSS Mission. Ms. Taabu was raised a Roman Catholic and won a scholarship to study at Brock University in Canada. She also holds a BA in Global Studies from Portland State University and began her Master of Public Administration studies at the University of Seattle.


Although she normally does not speak about her education nor display her certificates, there is something very special about it that merits mention in sharing her refugee experience. She dropped out of school many times and was almost homeless but even at those worst moments, did not give up hope. Not long ago, the Sudanese community in the US lost two young people who completed their studies from mental health issues developed from their personal refugee experiences. Refugees are going through a great deal, and even those with education, shelter, and food can remain victims of the mental and emotional anguish they endured. What can be done to address this issue is her concern.


Kathare (KJ) Mundit


Kathare came to the United States with her family as a refugee in 1998 at the age of 15. At the age of five, she accompanied her parents and six siblings across the boarder to Ethiopia to seek asylum after both her home and village were burnt down. During her escape to Ethiopia, she witnessed many tragic events. Kathare has since earned a BA degree in Business Administration from the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore.


The Beautiful Country (A Vietnamese Experience) 


Phuong M. Do

Project Director, Dan Than Corps

National Alliance of Vietnamese American Service Agencies


Phuong is currently Project Director of the Dan Than Corps program at the National Alliance of Vietnamese American Service Agencies (NAVASA). Phuong and her family left Laos shortly after the US withdraw from Vietnam in 1975. Her family was employed by the French and followed them to Laos during the late 50s, towards the end of occupation in “Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.” She was born and grew up in Laos. Her family was resettled in Denver, Colorado where she grew up. She spent a year working with Vietnamese refugees in 1991. Thereafter, she spent over six years working at the national level and with ethnically diverse immigrant groups addressing leadership development needs.


Her work with immigrants and refugees and her own refugee experience inspired her to examine the impact of displacement on ethnic/cultural identity, national allegiance, and homeland issues through visual representation. She has devoted the last eight years exploring these issues through photography. Phuong holds a Master in Social Work, a Master in Photography, and a recent Fulbright recipient to Vietnam. Her photographic work is currently part of a 3 year museum traveling show called “Changing Identity: Recent Works by Women Artists from Vietnam.”


Tram Nguyen

Emergency Preparedness and Response Project Director

Boat People SOS


Tram is currently Boat People SOS (BPSOS) Emergency Preparedness and Response Project Director. She has over 5 years of disaster relief experience. Immediately after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, she was dispatched to Houston, Texas to coordinate BPSOS’ emergency disaster response. For the first three months, she managed BPSOS’ Houston disaster relief and recovery center in Hong Kong 4 City Mall. Relying mainly on volunteers, this ad hoc center assisted over 2,000 Vietnamese evacuee families. Since then, Tram has helped to secure several major grants for BPSOS’ ongoing relief efforts, which has resulted in a multi-million dollar Disaster Relief and Recovery Program that includes comprehensive case management. Tram's family are also refugees from Vietnam.



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