Khao Noodle Shop and Be Kinder Coffee owners join Dallas walk for refugees

In recognition of International Human Rights Day on December 10th, Refugee Services of Texas is organizing a 35-mile walk from Fort Worth to Dallas, starting at Trinity River Trails Gateway Park and ending with a solemn ceremony at Trammell Crow Park.

The walk is led by Sadra Najafi, an Iranian who recently relocated to Dallas after nine years on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, where he waited under harsh conditions in an immigration detention center to enter Australia.

Refugee Services of Texas secured Najafi US refugee status earlier this year. He is one of 15,000 asylum seekers and human trafficking survivors whom the Social Welfare Office has relocated since it was founded in 1978.

Chris Kelley, a spokesman for RST, says Najafi left Iran after being harassed and physically attacked by local authorities for his Christian beliefs and the installation of satellite dishes. Converting from Islam to any other religion and owning a satellite dish are illegal in Iran.

When leaving the country permanently became Najafi’s only security option, he paid for an Australian visa application but found months later that he had been defrauded and forced him to take the boat to Indonesia and then Australia with other asylum seekers.

Najafi says of his time on Manus Island: “If there is a hell on earth, it was like that.”

The aim of the walk is to draw attention to the world population of displaced persons, estimated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees at 79.5 million, as well as the historically low number of refugees currently admitted to the United States

The perception of refugees as poor, illiterate and likely criminal is annoying for Najafi. “While I was in custody, one thing annoyed me that I was told I was too good to be here. I’ve never felt better, I’ve felt worse, ”he says.

Sadra Najafi is an Iranian refugee who recently relocated to Dallas after nine years on Manus Island.(Texas Refugee Services)

Najafi is accompanied by RST staff and chef Donny Sirisavath from the Khao Noodle Shop in East Dallas. Sirisavath says he is joining because his parents were forced out of war-torn Laos, and the walk is also a way for him to celebrate Khao’s two-year anniversary.

“I am taking this walk to understand the pain they are in [my parents] had to endure while fleeing their homeland. Besides, I only want to do something for myself that is meaningful and expedient. It’s for myself too, ”says Sirisavath.

Donny Sirisavath (left) prepares a Khao spoon at the Khao Noodle Shop in Dallas in June 2020.  A year after it was named one of the best new restaurants in the country, life has changed drastically for Sirisavath.

The walk will feature live updates from Najafi and Sirisivath on RST’s Facebook and Instagram pages throughout the day sharing their personal immigration stories as well as their progress. Fans can join the end of the walk at 5:30 pm at Trammell Crow Park, where West African drum and dancer ensemble Bandan Koro will perform live.

Jane Gow, owner of Be Kinder Coffee, serves coffee, soda, and baked goods. Gow plans to expand their online store to sell cereal and biscotti made by refugees at farmers markets and grocery stores. She’s also raising funds for a cafe with a large kitchen due to open in the Dallas area late next year. Gow says she will be offering free refreshments at the celebration on Thursday because “As a refugee, I would like to take this opportunity myself to raise awareness of our mission and cause.”

At 6:30 pm, Refugee Services of Texas CEO Russell Smith will join forces with Bill Holston, North Texas CEO, Human Rights Initiative, to host a Zoom Talk on the importance of International Human Rights Day.

The celebration ends at 7:30 p.m. with a live stream performance by hip-hop artist David Shabani.

Of Najafi, Smith says: “Sadra is the perfect example of a refugee who has gone through what no human should ever endure – persecution for religious beliefs that force him to flee his homeland.”

Najafi said he agreed to lead the walk because “a lot of my friends are back in PNG and are still waiting to come to America. Many of them have been waiting for eight years. I do this for my friends and for anyone going through the same thing. “

Those who wish to fund Najafi’s Walk and Refugee Services of Texas can send SUPPORTRST to 44321 or purchase from RST’s Amazon wish list.

Additionally, those who are in Fort Worth on December 10th can shop at the BreveCo Craft Coffee Bar, which donates 15% of daily sales to RST, as does Taqueria San Andres. In Dallas, Khao Noodle Shop will donate 15% of sales.

BreveCo Coffee and Khao Noodle also serve as drop-off points for new winter coats and gift cards from Walmart and other grocery stores. Union Coffee in Dallas and Old Navy in Flower Mound are also accepting donations that day.

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