Refugees are incredible people who must leave everything they ever knew and held so dear. They are forced out of their homeland because of unsafe living environments brought about by war, political upheaval, or other threatening conditions. Families flee for their safety in hopes of seeing another day. Refugees are longing for a sense of belonging and relief of living in freedom. Every opportunity refugees receive from loving and welcoming supporters provides them with the glimmer of hope they had only dreamed about.
"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was in prison and you came to visit me . . . Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."
Last February, I had the great opportunity of flying to Phoenix, Arizona to meet with refugees from all around the world. I did not know what to expect once I got there. To be honest, I really did not know what a refugee was. I soon began to understand what being a refugee meant and became empathetic of their riveting circumstances. I left knowing nothing, but I returned with a special place in my heart for refugees.
The group I traveled with enjoyed this experience together and gained much insight from the numerous presentations and information provided to us. The non-profit refugee resettlement programs in the city work directly with refugees, helping them gain everyday skills and knowledge to live successfully in the United States. Churches and community members spend time with the new arrivals of refugees to make sure they feel welcomed.
On one of the days, we were invited to a “Welcome to America” picnic with Iraqi and Afghani refugees. Our group decided we wanted to introduce the refugee children to face painting. As the kids arrived, we were showing them pictures of what we could paint. One little girl, who was only three-years-old, was less than thrilled with our efforts. Her face held a timid look, but she warmed up to the idea. As I painted a kitty nose and whiskers on her face, her big, brown eyes looked up at me, and in that moment we became friends. When I had completed her first face-painting experience, she thought it was her turn to reciprocate the favor. And so she did, by the time lunch was served, I was covered in pink and black face paint. This little girl, who had been through so much in her three short years of life, still had the innocence every toddler should have. She did not understand the importance of this picnic, but I did. This picnic resembled the freedom and leisure everyone should be able to access. The picnic symbolized strangers meeting from different placing and leaving as friends.
Another evening of the trip was spent in Mesa, Arizona with a group of Vietnamese refugees. We gathered for our evening meal and carried on with light conversation. We joked about the weather being drastically different for us Michiganders as we had just left below-zero temperatures and three feet of snow compared to the sunny weather of Arizona. They wanted to know all about how our schooling was going and what our hopes and dreams were for the future. As our meal was coming to a close, one gentleman from the table excused himself briefly, and returned with something to say. What he said gave me chills and left tears running down my cheek. He had paid for everyone’s dinner, and continued to say this was his way of thanking us [Americans] for welcoming him and his family in this country. He was forever grateful for the opportunity this country allowed him to have of becoming an entrepreneur, and if it had not been for kind people, his family would have never seen their American Dream. The night was brought to a close as we sat around a table after dinner listening to their stories when they fled Vietnam in the 1960s. They each held our undivided attention for hours and no one flinched.
Refugees come to this country having educational backgrounds and honorable positions in their home country. What people do not understand is that they are earning everything they ever receive once in America. They are not given anything for free. Their education has to be supplemented to be validated and worth something here. Refugees want to work and uphold a meaningful status here, and are more than willing to work jobs that do not comply with their prior training. Doctors and politicians have fled their home countries only to find themselves being janitors and maintenance workers. They are not taking jobs from any person; they are filling the position and level of job no one else wants at all times of the late night and early morning, and thankful for it. It does not matter to them that they are not living like royalty; it only matters to them that they, along with their family, are safe and have the security of tomorrow.
The refugee crisis is a serious topic of conversation. That trip last year changed my perspective, and I think John Green says it best, so I am going to leave it up to him to further describe the inexplicable trueness of the matter.
It saddens me to think of the millions of people living year of their life in fear or in a refugee camp. I wish everyone could have heard the information and stories I heard during that life-changing week. Refugees overcome so many obstacles in their life, and many of them, no person should ever have to encounter. Living in fear is not how anyone should have to live.
"I remember as a child throughout the hunger, the fear, the cold, the unknown, each day wondering where we would lay our head to rest the next evening. I had to think of that line I had heard in church about the birds having their nests and the foxes their dens and burrows, but where is a child of man to lay down. And later when you come to refugee camps--and some people spend decades and much of their lives in refugee camps--you are living outside of space and of time, you have no roots, you have no past, you don't know whether you have a future. You have no rights, you have no voice, you have nowhere to participate in, you are not a citizen, you have no paper, sometimes you haven't even got your name, and you have to pinch yourself to reassure yourself that yes, I am alive, I am me. I am a human being, I am a person. Do I count in this world? I don't know, I'll wait until tomorrow."
Refugees now hold a special place in my heart, and I think of them often. They forever made an impact on me, and I have a great appreciation of their courage, strength, and bravery. Some have found victory, and others are striving for such a thing they have only heard about, but never attained. Regardless of the stage of life refugees are in, I wholeheartedly hope for their safety and success on their road to refuge.
©Inquisitive Perspectives 2016