One man’s inspirational journey from refugee to valedictorian to MIT.
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Abishkar Chhetri was born and raised in a refugee camp in Eastern Nepal, where living conditions were less than ideal.

An inside look at one of the many refugee camps in Nepal. Image via Jesuit Refuge Service/YouTube.


His family lived in a bamboo house, food and water were scarce, and he had to trek three miles just to get to school, which then presented its own set of challenges. The floors were dusty, there wasn’t any proper furniture, and all the kids had to sit on the floor squished together.

But despite all that, Abishkar’s desire to learn never wavered.

His parents decided to move to Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, so that they could provide Abishkar and his sister, Amisha, with a better life and education.

In ancient times, Kathmandu was in the middle of the trade route connecting India and Tibet, giving birth to a fusion of art and culture. Image via Sharada Prasad/Flickr.

At 7 years old, Abishkar was clearly thriving. He described the experience to MIT News as "a new world for me — a place where I can be curious, and finally study without worrying about what I’m going to eat."

It seemed like the start of an exciting new way of life. But sadly, it didn’t last. The family hit some financial trouble and were forced to return to the refugee camp where they started after only a few years. It was back to square one.

Yet somehow, it was a blessing in disguise.

In their return, they learned about the U.S. resettlement program. And with the help of the International Rescue Committee, they were soon relocated to Decatur, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta.

Abishkar was now 13 and began attending Druid Hills High School. The quality of living was much better, but a new set of challenges arose.

Druid Hills High School is known for its highly competitive academics. Image via Titaniumjjp/Wikimedia Commons.

"I was in a state of disillusionment. I felt lonely. The language barrier was turning out to be a big hurdle, and I almost felt like all of the hopes and aspirations would be left unfulfilled," Abishkar told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "But I knew I had to make the most of the opportunity here. My parents had made big sacrifices for me and my sister’s education, so I had to do everything I could to make them happy."

Undeterred, Abishkar put in the work and persevered.

In fact, he got really smart about his process. While he was still trying to grasp the English language, he put a lot of effort into making sure he excelled at math. It was an ingenious way to build momentum and confidence in his abilities.

Solving math like it's his business. GIF via "The Hangover."

Through some self-teaching, Abishkar's English eventually caught up. He watched countless history documentaries and YouTube videos on class subjects and even listened to audiobooks to improve his skills as much as possible. His classmates took notice, nicknaming him "workaholic" for all the extra hours he put in.

But his teacher and mentor, Alexandra Salivia, paints the picture a little differently. "The thing that sets him apart is his determination, self-discipline and resilience, and he doesn’t just do it for a while but he does it with consistency," she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Abishkar was named valedictorian and offered a full scholarship at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

MIT's Great Dome looks even greater at night. Image via Eric Baetscher/Wikimedia Commons.

It’s a testament to the tireless work ethic he displayed, not just in high school, but all throughout his life. And while the uncertainty of what lies ahead is now more exciting than it is unnerving, Abishkar knows one thing to be true. He wants to help people, plain and simple.

"If you have a goal, follow your heart," he concluded to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "And be thankful for what you have. Recognize what you have and make the most of your opportunities."

Abishkar is a shining example of the great things anyone — including refugees — can do if we allow them the opportunity to succeed.

The faces of the future! Image via the International Organization for Migration/YouTube.

Unfortunately, stories like his — of which there are many — aren’t often the ones we hear. The topic of refugees is still a polarizing one in America, and sometimes it's easy to forget that there are real people at the heart of the issue.

A survey in Colorado found that after four years of life in the U.S., most refugees were "happy, productive, and integrating" members of society. Research like this and stories like Abishkar’s show that if we provide refugees with the support they need, they can go on to do amazing things that have the potential to give a lot back to the communities they live in.

Can you imagine seeing that kind of progress across the entire country? Sounds like the American dream, if you ask me.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

This article originally appeared on 06.28.21


After Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed Black man, was pursued and shot by three white residents while jogging through a Georgia suburb, Ellen and Patrick Miller* of San Diego hung a Black Lives Matter flag in front of their house. It was a small gesture, but something tangible they could do.

Like many people, they wanted to both support the BLM movement and bring awareness about racism to members of their community. Despite residing in a part of the county notoriously rumored to be marred by white supremacists and their beliefs, their neighbors didn't say much about it—at first.

Recently, though, during a short window when both Ellen and Patrick were out of the house, someone sliced the flag in two and left the remains in their yard.

via Paula Fitzgibbons

They were upset, but not surprised.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."