Headshot depicting Medard Ngueita in a red sweater over a collared shirt against a beige background.

From Refugee to Advocate: Medard Ngueita, World Relief Seattle’s New Executive Director

by Agueda Pacheco Flores

In 2006, Medard Ngueita left the Republic of Chad, a country in Africa that was experiencing political turmoil at the time and thousands were displaced. Alongside his family, Ngueita found himself in the U.S. with asylum but little knowledge of his new home. That’s when he connected with World Relief Seattle.

The organization has helped refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants resettle in Western Washington since 1979. The organization is a branch of World Relief, a global organization that partners with churches all over the world to support people impacted by mass displacement, poverty, disasters, and all kinds of oppression. The local branch has offices in Kent and recently opened a new office in Bellingham, with another office planned for the future in Olympia. 

Now, the local branch is led by the very same person who more than 10 years ago looked to World Relief for a helping hand. Ngueita succeeds Chitra Hanstad, who led the organization for the last five years at the start of the Trump administration, which throttled immigration and refugee asylum policies, and the beginning of a global pandemic. Ngueita has worked at World Relief since 2012, where he’s had a variety of roles and responsibilities, including leading the refugee resettlement program. 

As someone with lived experience as an asylum seeker, Ngueita says he hopes his experience can support and empower people building new lives in the U.S. 

“To now be the executive director,” Ngueita ponders over Zoom, “I wanted to be able to tell my own story, but also want to be able to be an encourager to others who are coming into our community.”

The South Seattle Emerald caught up with Ngueita to talk about how the organization helped him, what his vision for World Relief is, and where he thinks the country stands on immigration.

South Seattle Emerald: You’ve worked alongside Chita Hanstad for five years and are now succeeding her; what’s that like? 

Medard Ngueita: I have been sharing with people that stepping in this position after Chitra is really intimidating because she is a great leader. She is a people’s person and down to earth and believes immigrants and refugees are the community builders and should be rooted and empowered. She’s been investing in this organization with many great programs that she was able to build over the last couple of years, even though those were tough years. 

I see it as a great challenge to come after someone who has been a great leader, but also a great privilege because she laid down so many great foundations that I can build on as we pursue and continue this work.

SSE: How did you get to World Relief? 

M.N.: My involvement with World Relief goes back to 2007, right after asylum was granted to my family. We were looking for an organization that can support us, that can help us understand our new community, that can help us integrate. World Relief was that organization from the beginning. 

It’s where I learned my English, going to the ESL class, where I went for job classes; it’s the organization that helped me put together my first resume and helped me find my very first job. In 2012, I decided to join World Relief, but this time around as an employee because I believe in the mission.

SSE: So you oversaw the refugee program recently when Afghans were fleeing during the insurgency? 

M.N.: Yes, definitely. The initial resettlement and placement program is the one that helps with the relocation of Afghans. That is the program I used to oversee and I continue to because I’m still working on hiring a new resettlement director. So I’m kind of holding two jobs right now: being the executive director but also still overseeing that department of resettlement. 

SSE: What do you have planned for World Relief Seattle as its new leader? 

M.N.: I think that we, as an organization, are in a season of strengthening. We have built so many great programs and we have been working with so many people. It is now time for us to go deep into what we’re doing. Go deep into those programs, get more expertise in them, evaluate our programs to make sure that they are having the intended impact for which they were created. 

Investing in our staff. We have great employees working here, so we want to make sure that we provide some margin for them to do their job at their best. 

The third area of focus is our relationships. We believe in a world that can be changed only through collaboration. We have churches, individual donors, foundations, volunteers, refugees, and immigrants. We want to make sure that those relationships are deepened, meaningful, transformative relationships that we build with people in the community. 

So in brief: Strengthen our staff to strengthen our programs and strengthen our relationships. 

SSE: Immigration continues to be a huge issue and faced many ideological challenges under the former administration. Where do you think the U.S. is right now as far as immigration?

M.N.: There is a lot of work that needs to be done. Some people think of immigration or new people coming into our country as a political thing. People get so into the political part of things that they forget that this country altogether is a country of immigrants. 

I think the United States needs to be grateful for all the immigrants, refugees, and immigrants with whatever status that they have. They are the ones who build this country. It is time to acknowledge, stand with those refugees and immigrants who are in our community because they are a force of our community. 

I think that a path forward for immigrants who are in the country to be legal and be accepted in all the areas of their potential and capabilities is a way forward. The United States needs to continue to welcome refugees and immigrants in this country. Not just by bringing people over, but making people feel welcome and creating opportunities for them. We are all citizens of the world and the world is everywhere.

It is not just boundaries that people draw on the map. We shouldn’t be thinking just in terms of those lines, but in terms of the world as one nation and that we all belong and that we should all be able to live and be part of whichever community we are in.

Agueda Pacheco Flores is a journalist focusing on Latinx culture and Mexican American identity. Originally from Querétaro, Mexico, Pacheco Flores is inspired by her own bicultural upbringing as an undocumented immigrant and proud Washingtonian.

📸 Featured image courtesy of World Relief Seattle.

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