IOM Goes to Hollywood
A photo from one of The Good Lie scenes. © 2014 Warner Bros Ent. © 2014 Alcon Entertainment. All Rights Reserved.
By Niurka Pineiro
The Good Lie, Starring Academy Award Winner Reese Witherspoon, Hits Theaters in the United States on October 3rd.
‘Miracles are made by people who refuse to stop believing’, a line I’ve borrowed from the Good Lie’s website, but which could certainly be mine and undoubtedly my parents’.
As a political refugee from Cuba who arrived in the United States clutching my mother’s hand and in awe over the “smoke” that came out of my mouth with each breath as we disembarked from the Ozark Airlines flight in Rockford, Illinois on a bitter cold January day in 1966, I am anxiously looking forward to the October 3rd release of The Good Lie.
Resettlement is a sometimes unrecognized yet compelling instrument and symbol of international solidarity and burden sharing to find a durable solution for refugees who are unable to return to their country of origin for fear of continued persecution and do not have the option to stay in their country of asylum.
Founded in 1951 to assist in the resettlement of Europeans displaced in the aftermath of World War II, IOM has provided essential services in support of refugee resettlement operations for over six decades. In the last decade alone, IOM has organized resettlement movements of 892,243 refugees from 186 locations around the world.
The film, starring Academy Award winner Reese Witherspoon, tells the story of a group of Sudanese refugees given the chance, like me, to resettle in America and start the best part of our lives. The group, part of the so-called Lost Boys of Sudan, arrives in Kansas holding their IOM bags, where they are met by Ms. Witherspoon who plays an employment agency counselor.
The Lost Boys of Sudan is the name given to the group of over 20,000 mainly boys, but also girls, of the Nuer and Dinka ethnic groups who were displaced and separated from their parents during their long trek to escape the civil war in their country. The name Lost Boys of Sudan was used by aid workers in the camps in northwest Ethiopia and Kenya where the boys found refuge.
Sasha Chanoff, founder of RefugePoint an NGO based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was an IOM colleague from 1999 until 2003. I wanted to know his reaction to the movie because he worked in IOM’s U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program (USARP) in Kenya.
Sasha recalled: “When I first met the Lost Boys and Girls, I didn’t imagine that they would one day become some of the most inspiring U.S. citizens in our country. Yet they have.”
He knows this story intimately, he taught many of these boys about life in their soon-to be country. “I first flew to Kakuma camp in northwestern Kenya in 1999 to teach cultural orientation classes when 3,600 Lost Boys and Girls were given a chance to resettle to America. The Good Lie highlights how they didn’t have any idea what to expect: How to turn on a light, or shop in a supermarket, or what winter could be like. To give them a sense of how cold it could be in America’s Midwest, I asked them to pass around a large chunk of ice, an idea that has been adapted as a scene in the movie,” he adds.
Their, My, Our American Dream
Watching the film’s promotional trailer, many of my own memories come to the surface: Our first morning in America my mother asked me to go with her to the A&P supermarket. It was a lovely day with bright sunshine and not a cloud in the sky, and so my mother decided she didn’t need a coat, ‘it looks warm outside’, she surmised. Well, we quickly learned that sunny and bright does not mean warm, and that there were many, many things we needed to learn about our new country.
Thank you mom and dad for the sacrifices you made so that I could be free and grow up to become the person I am today. Thank you Ms. Reese Witherspoon for taking part in this movie. Thank you to its director Philippe Falardeau, the producers and all involved for telling a story that breaks away from the archetypical Hollywood sex and violence storylines. Thank you all for telling the story of how our country was built with the hard work, dedication and allegiance of all the refugees who arrive every day and make this great land their own.