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By Miriam Raftery

Photos by Nat Roberts and Miriam Raftery

Hear our radio coverage of this event for KNSJ:

December 29, 2014 (City Heights) – At the Nile Sisters’ 2nd annual community celebration, Portraits of Success, local refugees and immigrants were honored for their achievements and heard inspirational and motivational stories.

“Keep dreaming, keep believing in yourselves,” urged keynote speaker Mark Kabban, a CNN hero and founder of Youth and Leaders Living Actively (YALLA).

Kabban recalled growing up as a refugee from Beirut. “I always had time to dream about what I would become," he recalls. 

But life was hard at times,  he said. “I got bullied a lot for being different, looking different.  I didn’t have the nice clothes, the nice shoes…I felt really isolated.”

Then a football scout helped him get a college scholarship.  Kabban recalls how a counselor and even his high school football coach didn’t believe him at first and accused him of lying. “That really hurt me,” he recalls.

Kabban says he has learned to follow the “rule of 20.” He explains, “For every 20 people you meet in life there will be one person who believes in you.”   Keep those who doubt you far away, and listen to the one person who believes in you, he advises.

That advice helped him again when he began YALLA, despite naysayers who told him he was too young and naïve.  “The one person who listened to me, I listened to them and I believed them,” he says.

“I know that the Nile Sisters are those one in 20 who believe in you…I believe in you…Please pursue your purpose and pursue your happiness.”

Also at the Portraits of Success event, awards were presented to refugee students who completed Nile Sisters’ Back-to-Back Skill Development Project in three categories:   California certified nursing assistasnts, California family child-care home licensees, and obtaining California drivers’ licenses.

“Nile Sisters is making a true difference in the community,” said executive director Elizabeth Lou, who praised the efforts of others who have helped the organization achieve success.  She asked for help to sustain Nile Sisters including donations and volunteers, such as translators and people to help refugees with challenging tasks such as buying a car.

Nile Sisters also received awards from State Senator Ben Hueso's office and Councilwoman Marti Emerald's office for its efforts on behalf of local refugees and immigrants.

The event also included sale of African artwork, an auction of a work by spray-paint artist Ray Ferrer, door prize drawings, and an a cappella performance by Frequency, a vocal group from the  University of California, San Diego.  The event was held December 8th at Price Charities in City Heights.

For more information on Nile Sisters, a 501c3 nonprofit dedicated to helping local refugees, visit



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