First published on Tahirih Updates

HOUSTON, TX — Two of the stars that shone bright at Tahirih’s 5th Annual Houston Gala, “A Mother’s Life, a Child’s Future,” were not celebrities, but rather living testaments to the American Dream. Renowned philanthropist Laura Arnold, co-founder of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, and internet pioneer Payam Zamani took the stage at the Omni Hotel on September 17 to share their stories.

When Payam Zamani was just 16-years-old, his parents spent their life savings on a smuggler to help him flee religious persecution in Iran and seek refuge in another country. It was a choice “no parent should ever have to make,” he told the crowd of 450 gathered in the ballroom.

“I thought to myself… ‘I was a speck of nothing, refused in my own country and now alone in a vast desert.’”

This was 1987. Today, having put himself through college, Mr. Zamani is a die-hard entrepreneur, and Chairman and CEO of One Planet Ops, Inc., based in California. He sits on Tahirih’s Board of Directors, and has founded several successful technology-based companies.

Had he not been given a pro bono attorney when he reached the U.S. embassy in Pakistan after his harrowing journey at the age of 16, his chances of finding safety and a new home in the United States would have been very slim. His story would have a very different ending.

Still today, in 2016, too many mothers, particularly from Central America, are having to make that unthinkable decision. Too many families are having to send their children across the border alone, on an incredibly dangerous journey fraught with violence, or face having to bury them.

“There is a humanitarian crisis on our border on the same scale as the Syrian refuges crisis,” Laura Arnold said to the audience. “Over 150,000 unaccompanied children, boys and girls, over the last two years alone have fled levels of violence in Central America akin to war.”

To address this crisis, Laura and John Arnold helped Tahirih create the Children’s Border Project, a unique initiative that protects children fleeing extreme violence in Central and South America.

Since its inception in mid-2014, over 400 girls have received legal assistance, and it has educated more than a thousand professionals to create a legal infrastructure that provides these children and their families with the support they are legally entitled to and deserve.

Laura Arnold arrived in the United States from Puerto Rico when she was 10 years old. She knows what it’s like to show up in a new, unfamiliar place, unable to speak the language at first. But she worked hard and thrived, thanks in part to opportunities she found here that she wouldn’t have had elsewhere. She made Houston her home.

“We have determined as a society that helping people in need builds a stronger community and a brighter future for everyone,” Mrs. Arnold said. “It is ingrained in our legal, social, and moral fabric.”

Our commitment to this ideal empowers children to live, to dream, and to achieve.

Although Tahirih serves courageous women and children of all ages, Saturday, September 17 was dedicated to celebrating the youngest fighters, survivors, and heroes, because by elevating their voices and safeguarding their future, we are safeguarding our collective future.