Last October, in response to the worldwide refugee crisis and general encouragement from my faith, my family and I signed on as volunteers with the Refugee Services of Texas. We were assigned to furnish an apartment for the status of refugees household of four, pick them up at the airport, bring them to their new home, offer them their first banquet, and stay in contact with them.
These are 10 things I learned from the experience so far.
1. Helping people is rarely glamorous.
Its very easy to see a romanticized meeting at the airport, something youd see in a movie. The household walks out into the reception area. They insure us comprising our “Welcome to Texas! ” sign and smile brightly. We shake hands. Then embrace. Everyones eyes are misty.
But the truth is they trudged through the security doors. They were tired, hungry, and disorient. They were concerned about their little sons straying off and didnt know where their luggage “wouldve been”. Their English is about as good as my Arabic. Which is to say , not. Our drive to their apartment was mostly silent due to the language barrier, airplane lag, and the general awkwardness of being in a vehicle with complete strangers.
2. Helping people is rarely convenient.
Its nice to be helpful. Charitable. Magnanimous, even. Its another thing to give up got a couple of perfectly good weekends to expend sweating in an apartment where the air conditioning hasnt been turned on, assembling book shelves and bed frames with Allen wrenches and hex keys.
Its not the Peace Corps, but its also not writing a check to charity and getting a feel-good bumper sticker in return.
3. Most Americans cant begin see what most refugees have been through.
The family we were assigned to help was coming from Syria. Actually, they were coming from a Jordanian refugee camp, where theyd been living for two years. Two times . In a tent.
Originally, they’re from Homs, Syria. Id never heard of this city, so I googled it. Homs is a 4,000 -year-old city that until very recently had a population of more than half thousands and thousands of and was a major industrial center. In 2011, it became a stronghold of the opposition parties armies in the countrys civil campaign. Homs was under siege for three years. It had now been been almost completely destroyed, with thousands dead. The population is a third of what it was a decade ago. This is the equivalent of Austin, Memphis, Baltimore, or Charlotte being reduced to rubble, the population decimated by our own military.
I detected myself asking, “Where would you go? Where could you take young children? “
4. Most Americans are unbelievably generous.
The Refugee Service of Texas gave us a listing of what this family would need upon arrival. It included everything from mattresses and chairs to cleaning supplyings and deodorant. My wife created a registry at Walmart, and we posted it on Facebook. Within a period, 80% of its consideration of this agenda item were purchased by generous friends from across the United States and even a handful from overseas. By the conclusion of its week, everything had been purchased, and friends were asking if they could continue to make donations in other styles. Most are good people who want to help. They only need to know how.
5. Most Americans dont know the difference between refugees and immigrants.
In our current political climate, refugees and immigrants are frequently disorient or lumped together for expediency. More often, both are simply labeled “foreigners.” And not in a good way.
Heres a simple truth be taken into consideration: Immigrants come to this country of their own accord hoping to make a better life for themselves. Refugees flee from their homelands to any country that they are able to take them because their lives are in danger for religious or political reasons. An immigrant hopes to move into your home. A refugee shows up on your doorstep bleeding.
6. Technology is amazing.
Although the wife and mother of the family is fairly conversant in English, her husband and I communicate with Google Translate. I type in an English convict, the app renders it in Arabic, and I present him my screen. He types in something in Arabic, its rendered in English, and he presents his screen to me. Its very “Star Trek.”
Today, we tend to liken refugees with Syria because of the civil campaign because were told ISIS will exploit the refugee camps. But leave theory and politics aside for a second, and consider the fact that there are persecuted Christians in the Democratic Republic of Congo currently seeking refuge. There are hundreds of thousands of refugees from countries nowhere near the 7 listed on the presidents current travel ban. While many refugees come from Afghanistan and Somalia, there are also refugees from places like Vietnam, Eritrea, and China who are tired, poor, and hankering to breathe free.
10. Fear and ignorance breed apathy and inaction.
After posting updated information on Facebook about our refugee household, Ive received comments about the need for our country to be safe, for our borders to be secure. I dont argue that, but these are stock answers. Ive perceived a swelling refugee villainization birthed from understandings that are over-simplistic at best and ignorant of facts at the worst.
When we can rationalize not helping others because of a cliche, it gives us granted permission to do nothing. When we hastily claim we are for safety, we should ask ourselves if we arent truly saying we are in favor of not leaving our solace zones and doing the hard work of being useful.
Refugees are human beings. Treating them as such is a necessity.
When we took the family to their new apartment, they had friends waiting for them. They were other households theyd known from the Jordanian refugee camp where theyd spent the past two years. They were former denizens of a crippled and shattered metropoli. The ladies kissed each other. The men kissed hugged each other before kneeling to hug the kids. We got to see “their childrens” literally jump for joy.
We didnt understand their language, but we understood a little better what it mean for people to have hope.
This tale first appeared on Medium and is reprinted here with permission . em>
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