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  • Cheryl Behrent & Mariah Scheuermann

Soleil's Flight for Freedom

This Sarah’s resident’s story details how her community and family continued to rally for her as she left her home country and came to Sarah’s. For her safety and privacy, we respectfully call her “Soleil.”

Hand holding pencil to paper.

Soleil remembers her childhood fondly. She reminisces, “I had a good family, and the community I lived in was very good. We lived together, played together, it was safe so we almost always were outside. You could think freely and were surrounded with love.” She enjoyed religious and educational freedom as she attended church and was very involved in school activities. She began pursuing her creative interests in extracurricular activities, especially in literature.

These interests would prove to be life-long and central to Soleil’s identity. After graduation, Soleil started working with the arts, writing poems, short and long stories, and acting on stage both at the community theater. Her dedication and talent was enough to transform her hobbies into a career as a professional actress and published writer. Her personal life was just as fulfilling as her professional life as Soleil married and had kids. Her upbringing greatly influenced the way she would lead her own family: prioritizing healthy relationships and communication. She fostered the same love for creative pursuits in her children.

No matter how thoughtfully Soleil had built her life, she couldn’t control the shifts in the political landscape that started affecting her and her community. The government began closing in on the foundational freedoms that Soleil had constructed her life around. Her once respected career became controversial as her writing was scrutinized for evidence of her stance against the government. Others in her community were likewise surveillanced. Underlying this investigation of the arts were also sexist beliefs, despite the government’s explicit appearance of standing for gender equality.

Soleil soon discovered the consequences of not appeasing the government. She realized they had sent someone to follow her and started to attack her. Then Soleil got sick and she needed to seek treatment. The government restricted her from leaving the city. She would need the support of the doctors who were in charge at the hospital to leave. Those with the most authority conspired or were controlled by the government, and continued to tell her to stay and get treatment in her home city. Her primary doctor, who she had a closer relationship with, expressed his worry about the inadequacy of the treatments available to her, and implored her to consider leaving the country.

Soleil slowly began her preparations to leave the country, taking care not to raise suspicion. Her friends helped her raise the money for a visa little by little so the bank didn’t notice and report her to authorities. Though Soleil was careful, within two days the media and government knew about her getting a visa. Thankfully, everything was finalized and Soleil was on her way to the US before she could suffer any consequences.

In the US, Soleil’s friends and cousins who were already in the country helped with a lot. Soleil was fortunate to have these connections, as many of Sarah’s residents arrived in the country truly alone. One of her cousins in Minnesota took her in as she began the medical treatment she needed. She was able to get health insurance here through the Center for Victims of Torture. Friends and family who had already gone through the process guided Soleil through applying for asylum to stay in the US.

Though her cousin was happy to take her in, they didn’t have the space or resources to sustain the care Soleil needed for an extended period of time. A friend mentioned Sarah’s, and with the support of Center for Victims of Torture, Soleil was accepted to stay as a resident. Soleil was able to live at Sarah’s independently, safely and comfortably.

Soleil describes Sarah’s: “I felt peace. I stayed at Sarah’s two years without a job and would try to work but have to stop because of illness. No where else could I get food and live without paying. It feels like home at Sarah’s, and if I need something I only need to ask. When I tried to find a job, Sarah’s helped me. Sarah’s gives rides, free bus tickets, food, service, everything.”

Soleil was able to start writing once again, finally having the peace of mind that Sarah’s was handling all of the basic necessities of her health and safety. Though her health and treatment for her condition will likely be life-long, Soleil was able to start comfortably working and saving money to bring her family to the US.

Sarah’s supported Soleil through the immigration process and helped set her up with a home ownership program. Many residents choose the path of buying over renting for a multitude of reasons. Like Soleil, many have families that are too large to realistically and legally fit in an affordable rented apartment, especially in the metro. Beyond the necessities, having a place to call their own is a source of empowerment, and is proof of their accomplishments in establishing a life in the US. Home ownership programs are the only way most residents are able to afford buying a house, but there are still high parameters regarding how long they’ve been working, income, and credit that they must meet.

With time and effort, Soleil was accepted into a program and bought a house. When asked her final thoughts, Soleil says “I am not sure how to say how very special Sarah’s is in my life.” Since moving out of Sarah’s and successfully bringing her family to the US, Soleil stays connected with staff and residents, as she knows Sarah’s will always be her home.

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