Solace for Refugees - An Open Letter
By Stephanie Elaine Cavanaugh - http://stephaniecavanaugh.com
In today’s political climate, the refugee crisis is front and center of attention to nearly everyone in America and the world over. If you live in the United States and were previously not so aware of the global refugee crisis, now you are. Thank you election year 2016. The recent headlines about refugee resettlement, good, bad and ugly - if nothing else, they have brought a stronger awareness to the general public.
Regardless of your political affiliations, I ask you this: How can we, as human beings, see another human being suffering and not do our best to reach out and help ease that suffering? How can we, as human beings, judge another based on which piece of dirt they were born on? How can we, as human beings look away with blind eyes? To see another forced from not only their home, but also their country and all they’ve ever known. Too often, they are separated from their loved ones, their homes destroyed in war, forced to leave with only the clothes on their backs - for if they stay, it will cost them their lives. And too many times, still, they lose their lives, trying to escape war and find safe haven, even washing up on shore.
Then, many escape their country only to find themselves in refugee camps. Living in a tent for sometimes five years or more. These are people like you and I. They once had beautiful lives, hopes, dreams, desires, jobs, families, loved ones, laughter, happiness. Then it was all ripped apart in the casualties of war.
How can we see this and not help? How can we speak of excuses? Let me say this. It is not about politics. It is not about citizenship. It is not about money. And for those with fears of a terrorist sneaking in, have you looked at what a refugee has to go through to get here? Have you looked at the intense screening and years of processing it takes? No, this is not about any of those things. We are all of one world. A small world. And we are global citizens. This is about doing not the easy thing, but the right thing. This is about humanity.
According to The UN Refugee Agency, there are 21.3 million refugees worldwide (2015). Of these refugees, more than half are children, under the age of 18 years old.
But how many people hear these stories and while they may feel sad about it … still in their mind they are stories about other people. People they don’t know. They feel sad for a moment and then brush it away and go about their lives as if it were just a bad dream they had. How many people really imagine - what if it were me?
What if I were born in a country in the midst of war? So often people fail to open their eyes and their hearts until whatever tragedy in some way touches them personally. Sometimes I imagine what it would feel like to be a refugee, to leave everything I’ve ever known, with nothing but the clothes I’m wearing. I imagine what it would feel like to be separated from my loved ones, by either death or distance. I imagine what it would feel like to be forced to leave my country because of war and unrest and move to a new country. A country whose language I don’t know. One with different religions and a whole new culture. A place whose people are sometimes welcoming but also sometimes, very unwelcoming. How would I feel? My first thoughts are feelings such as fear (of the unknown), sadness (for what has been lost), hope (for a brighter future) … but the big radiating feeling that comes to mind - loneliness.
Let’s contemplate this for a moment. A single mother of two children from Syria lost her husband while he was at the market where a car bomb exploded. She was an engineer and could no longer work as her company was reduced to rubble. Her children were attending a makeshift school in an abandoned building with no electricity, no computers and no desks. Things continued to get worse. More fighting, more bombs, more death all around them. They fled the country for fear of their lives, hoping for a brighter future for her and even more so, for her children.
After a long journey fraught with danger and death, they found themselves in Jordan, living in a refugee camp. Here they were living in a tent in a sea of tents in the desert. There were food shortages and violence. Every day a struggle to survive. She applied for entrance in the United States under refugee status for her and her children. Two years passed and they were still living in the tent. But now, they were two. Her youngest boy passed away at only seven years old from acute respiratory infection. There were just not enough doctors in the camp and supply shortages. It broke her heart and left her in a severe depression. Another year passed. Still, they lived in the tent. Then finally, one day, after so many years of suffering, they were approved and a flight secured, to start a new life in the United States. They were about to start their new journey in Houston, TX.
But the struggle doesn’t end there. It is just the beginning of a new struggle. Imagine how hard it would be. New country, new culture, new language. What about work, school, transportation, earning enough to survive? Earning enough to thrive, not just survive. Imagine not knowing anyone in the whole country and not being able to fully communicate with those you do meet due to language barriers. Imagine the loneliness.
In my many years working with refugees and immigrants one of the most important things that I’ve learned is this: Regardless of where we are from and where we are going, we are all human and we want the same basic things - a safe place to call home, people to love, something to do and something to hope and strive for.
In the United States, Houston is one of the major cities for refugee resettlement. It is one of the biggest factors in what makes Houston the beautiful, diverse, culturally vibrant city that it is today. So what is something we can all do to help bring a smile to the faces of people who have seen all too much suffering and struggle? Too often, we think we are just one, so how can we possibly make a difference? But I say, we can. If we each do just a small thing, those small things will add up to big things. We can rise up together and bring more happiness to this world. As the Dalai Lama XIV said, “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”.
So here is my call to action:
Write a handwritten letter of encouragement to a refugee in the United States. Offer words of inspiration, encouragement, appreciation, a handwritten "hug". It doesn’t have to be anything overly done, just a simple note to bring a smile to the face. It is a simple, welcoming gesture like this that can make a world of difference. It is kindness.
Please take care to not include personal information in the letter, such as your address, phone number, etc. Send them to me. I will either personally give them to refugees in the Houston area, or, depending on the volume of response, give them to some of the local refugee resettlement agencies to give to the refugees.
I hope you will do this. It only takes a few minutes and a stamp to bring a smile to the face of some of the people who need it most.
Stephanie Elaine Cavanaugh
4100 Southwest FWY, Apt. 252, Houston, TX 77027
About the Author:
Stephanie Elaine Cavanaugh - Hi, I'm Stephanie ... pleasure to become virtually acquainted. Please note the views and opinions communicated here are my own and not representative of any particular group or organization.
Interests, ever-evolving: Photography, painting, art, science, medicine, astronomy, yoga, travel, the world, culture, language, education, women's rights, human rights, making the world a kinder, more beautiful place.