Making Refugees Feel at Home: Why I Created the Tiyya Foundation

By Meymuna Hussein, Antioch University Los Angeles

According to the United Nations, a refugee is a person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted on account of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of their nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail him/herself of the protection of that country.

As a refugee from Ethiopia with family members working in refugee resettlement, I grew up very educated about its processes — and its problems. As a social entrepreneur, I watched refugee resettlement projects from an objective point of view and found huge gaps that needed to be filled.

One problem that I witnessed was the lack of public discussion or education about refugees. With so many refugees arriving every day from all across the world, I could not understand why the average person didn’t know. I wanted to create awareness.

Small Budget + Big Ambition = Tiyya

In Fall 2009, I started the MAOM program here at Antioch University Los Angeles. By the end of February 2010, my professor motivated me to do something about my concerns.

With a small budget and a big ambition, I created Tiyya Locals. In the Oromo language of Ethiopia, “tiyya” is a term of endearment. An easy translation would be “my love” or “my dear.”

To raise funds to support the refugees, Tiyya Locals started by selling anti-sweatshop t-shirts, which I promoted using social media. You can still find us on Facebook with currently over 1,000 friends and regular requests daily.

By August 2010, my t-shirt adventure had turned into a nonprofit organization: The Tiyya Foundation!

Nonstop Education

The Tiyya Foundation works alongside the East African Community Center, Micah’s Way and the International Rescue Committee, Glendale to help refugees from ALL backgrounds to settle in the California region. We do not discriminate on the basis of religion, ethnicity, tribes or nationalities. Our goal is to help raise awareness about the experiences that many refugees go through to arrive in the US safely.

Our 501c3 status is currently pending. During the waiting period, I’ve been working to market our organization and create brand awareness.

Every single day has provided one learning opportunity after another. Since it’s a brand new operation with no money for employees, I have worked about 60 hours a week to keep it afloat. To avoid overhead at our beginning stages, my mother and I have operated The Tiyya Foundation from our home. Future goals include an office that can provide services such as job training, ESL and self-development.

One important factor that I’ve learned is the beauty of the human spirit. We’ve met volunteers who want to be part of something larger and to create a supportive community. Because of this great attribute, I’ve met fascinating people that have taken the time out of their busy schedules to visit and mentor local families.

Want to Get Involved?

If you would like to get involved or attend any of our poetry nights, dinner parties and mixers, please visit the Tiyya Foundation website.  If you have any basic necessities such as a warm blanket or cleaning supplies or a book, feel free to contact us directly at tiyya.inc@gmail.com.

Meymuna Hussein is the co-founder of the Tiyya Foundation and a student in the M.A. in Organizational Management program at Antioch University Los Angeles. She received her B.A. in Social Sciences, with an emphasis on Multicultural Studies, at the University of California, Irvine.



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