From Victim of Abuse to Leader and Mentor: One Tenacious Immigrant’s ‘Circle of Change’

20231108 sofie and shum at oath ceremony (1)

Our client stories tell hard truths about the reasons people of all ages from around the world flee their home countries.  Although their circumstances can be quite different, their stories always have two common elements.  First and foremost, our clients are tremendously resilient and highly resolved.  Secondly, because they received expert immigration legal services, they’ve been able to pursue a legal pathway to remain in the United States.  

Shumdahan T. B. Saleh (“Shum”) is especially tenacious, and his immigration story has a happy ending.  Like many clients, however, the details are gritty.   

As a child living in the military dictatorship in Eritrea, Shum witnessed kidnapping and physical abuse. He also saw his father and sister be taken from their homes and forced to join the Eritrean military regime. Shum was heartbroken by the horrifying brutality, and he sought a way out.   

Shum fled Eritrea initially to the nearby country of Sudan, hoping for stability and safety.  There he was taken by individuals impersonating police who took him to a secluded location and restrained and beat him for three days. Shum was able to escape through a window in the house.  

A year later, Shum moved to Egypt and connected with the Eritrean community there. They helped Shum apply for refugee status with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). 

Throughout his time in Egypt, Shum became well known in his community for helping people navigate the refugee process with UNHCR, connecting people to resources and teaching people safety precautions to defend themselves. From this early age, Shum displayed a passion and desire to serve his community and peers.  

Shum entered the United States as an Unaccompanied Refugee Minor (URM) in September 2018. Enrolled in Bethany Christian Services’ URM foster care program, he was settled in Grand Rapids. Shum continued to serve his community by working with Bethany Christian Services as a Youth Specialist.  

Shum went to the ILJ-MI office in Grand Rapids to seek citizenship where DOJ Accredited Representative Sofia Cuidon was steadfast in her efforts to help him. “Sofie solved my problems! I was eager to be done with my citizenship. She was deeply passionate about assisting me. I really appreciate the work. [Once I got the interview with immigration services], I realized I forgot some documents. Sofie was very prepared and offered great support. If she were not there, I would not have had the interview, the officer would have turned me away.” 

Shum was finally able to take his oath of citizenship on November 8 of this year and was then able to visit family in Canada.  Additionally, Shum serves his community by interpreting for Bethany Christian Services clients in Tigrinya. He continues to support his siblings that are refugees in Canada and Uganda, and his family still in Eritrea. Recently, Shum has become a leader and mentor for students in the foster care system. He completed a “Circle of Change” leadership training and is also studying Social Work at Western Michigan University. Despite the tumultuous journey Shum has taken to achieve a sense of safety and security and to obtain citizenship, he sees the needs of others as a priority and continues his efforts to serve his community through his education.  



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