Anjelina Nadai Lohalith is many things: She’s a mother. She’s an Olympic athlete. And she’s a refugee.

“We just want people to know that refugees are just normal people, like anyone else,” the Olympian told Motherly in an exclusive interview.

When Lohalith was a child, she and her aunt fled their war-torn home country of South Sudan. They traveled to the Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya, where Lohalith took up running.

She was one of ten athletes to represent the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team at Rio in 2016. While Lohalith didn’t advance in the women’s 1500 m event, she was proud to represent the refugee community and hopeful that her running journey would continue.

“Even though I was the last, I believe that next time I will be in front of them,” she said to the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.

She never gave up hope—and now Lohalith is ready to compete again, this time during the Tokyo Olympics.

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UNHCR/Benjamin Loyseau

In 2017, Lohalith competed in the IAAF World Championships in London as part of the first-ever World Athletics refugee team, where she recorded a new personal best record (4:33.54).

She then took on a new challenge: motherhood.

“I am proud to be a mother but it is not always that easy,” she told Motherly with a laugh. She explained how following the birth of her son, she returned to training for the Olympics—with the support of loved ones.

“I am happy for those people who are always behind me,” she said.

Lohalith says that her young son is one of the many people who support and encourage her Olympic dreams.

“He loves running, since when he was young. He always comes and runs with me,” she said. “I’m sure one day he will be a sport person like me,” she added with a smile.

Lohalith believes that sports have the power to unite global communities.

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UNHCR/Benjamin Loyseau

“You can change the life of many people [with sports]. It helps somebody to focus, to think ahead, to think big, to dream big,” she said.

She hopes that the Refugee Olympic Team’s performance in Tokyo this summer will inspire people from around the world.

“Many people, especially those people who don’t have the same experience to us, they don’t know much about refugees,” she said. “They think that . . . they have a negative attitude towards refugees. When you introduce yourself as a refugee, they get a look on their face. But for those people who are refugees, they have the same experience as us, they understand. They have advice, they encourage us, and they are so calming,” she said.

“We have that hope that others see we are just the same people. We are normal people like them.”

“It’s not my wish or my colleagues or these people, it’s not their wish to be displaced. This thing can happen to anyone,” she added.

To mark the UN’s International Day of Sport for Development and Peace on April 6th, UNHCR has released “The Journey,” a moving video that shows the dramatized story of a refugee who is forced to flee her home amid violence. After she eventually reaches safety, the woman begins running toward a new goal: an Olympic medal.

The Journey | UNHCR in partnership with the IOC and IPC.

It’s a powerful story and officials hope that it will raise awareness for all the challenges that refugees face.

“The story of ‘The Journey’ is similar to my own and that of my fellow refugee athletes,” says Rose Nathike Lokonyen, member of the Refugee Olympic Team Rio 2016. “I’m training hard in the hope to get to Tokyo. I want to help people everywhere better understand the lives of refugees and the power sport can have to change lives. I hope people will support to the Refugee Olympic and Paralympic Teams.”

Of her fellow Olympic teammates, Lohalith says, “We are people who are focusing. No matter the hardship we have, we focus and we really want to fight for the Olympics. We are training hard. We just want people to know that refugees are just normal people, like anyone else.”

You can learn more about the resilient members of the Refugee Olympic Team here.

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