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Bobbie Kalman's Message 2016

by Crabtree Books | Sep 07, 2016

Dear Librarians and Teachers,


Sixty years ago this fall, I was a refugee from the Hungarian Revolution. Approximately 200,000 of us escaped into Austria in 1956. Our trip across the border was scary and took the whole night. Dogs barked, and flares were shot into the sky by guards to find and arrest refugees. Thankfully, most of us made it, and when we arrived at the Austrian border, we were treated with kindness. 

Refugee Child Bobbie Kalman Germany

My family is about to board a bus in Vienna, which took us to a ship in Germany. I am in the front row on the left.

Today, there are more than 65 million refugees throughout the world, and their stories are horrendous compared to mine. For example, Syrians fleeing their country's civil war often have to cross ocean waters on overcrowded rubber dinghies. Many drown. When they reach land, they must walk days and nights to reach shelter, which is usually a camp. Not many are able to start new lives right away, mainly because very few countries are accepting refugees. 

Syrian Child Refugees

These Syrian child refugees are on the ocean in a dinghy. They are very scared, but their journey has just begun!

After their escape from a war or disaster, refugees, especially children, often feel frightened, sad, or angry. They might have nightmares and not tell their parents or other adults about them. For 25 years after my escape, I had nightmares every night, but I didn't want to burden my parents with my problems. In the past, people seldom shared their feelings. Post-traumatic stress disorder had not yet become a diagnosis. I was amazed that my aunts and cousins knew nothing about my family's refugee days until they read my memoir Refugee Child. After the book was published, many Hungarian readers wrote and thanked me for giving them the vehicle for sharing their own refugee stories with their families and friends. 




Many refugees today are women and girls who need to get away from violence. Girls in Africa and Central America are often forced to marry at very early ages and stop going to school. Thousands around the world are kidnapped, brutalized, and murdered. Malala Yousafzai, a young girl in Pakistan, stood up for the right of girls to get an education and was shot and nearly died. He Named Me Malala is a documentary that tells her brave story (See more about Malala).  



Malala was shot for promoting education for girls.




Teenaged girls in some African countries are forced to quit school and marry young.

The human rights of girls are being defended through programs such as Because I am a Girl. These kinds of initiatives promote projects to improve opportunities for girls in education, medical care, legal rights, and other areas. Another program called Kiva helps women around the world start their own businesses by receiving loans from people who want to help them succeed.

Being a refugee and an immigrant made me work hard to achieve my dreams. Being a girl/woman did not prevent me from achieving my goals of getting the education or career I wanted. No one shot me for going to school. No one forced me to get married. I will forever be grateful to our family, who gave us a home and a reason to dream about a fabulous life. Looking back over the last 60 years, I realize that I became the strong person I am because of having been a refugee.

Bobbie Kalman