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Hero 2006: Leslye Boban

Refugee aid worker


Refugees. Rape. War. Genocide. Sexual exploitation. Child labor. Human trafficking. Political persecution. Torn families. Combat injuries. Homelessness. Add "prejudice" to the list of traumas Leslye Boban battles against everyday. As a resettlement director with the International Rescue Committee's Boise office, Boban works as one link in a chain of rescuers that usher refugees from war zones to modest apartments in Boise neighborhoods.

"Refugees are so vulnerable and at the mercy of so many people," says Boban, a Peace Corps veteran. "I just couldn't get a desk job when I got back to the U.S."

In a roundabout way, soybeans got Boban into her work that reuniting war-torn families and ensuring that refugees have basic supplies like toothbrushes when they arrive in Boise.

Her Peace Corp days in Zaire put Boban in a mud hut at night and in the fields cultivating soybeans by day. The people she served had nothing, she recalls. Yet a stranger gave her food and shelter when she was stranded in an electrical storm.

"Whatever they had, they were willing to share," she says. "In their time of poverty and death and distress they had such heart and a joy for living. I learned a lot about living."

In the soybean fields and later in the midst of Rwanda's genocide, Boban always saw the refugees. Now she hassles United Nations officials and ambassadors to deliver refugees from harm's way. Once they arrive in Boise, Boban and IRC staffers help them learn the basics of living in a new culture. And she often teaches Boiseans about living as a refugee.

"They are not running here asking for handouts," she says. "Refugees are amazing. They are so resilient, and they have such courage and strength."