As travellers, we want a deal. We want to travel cheaply, eat cheaply, and sleep cheaply. We intentionally seek out and freely move through third world countries with often oppressed cultures and tend not fully understand the lives of those who pass us in a blur. We are restricted only by our visa dates and transport schedules. As we look out the window while on a bus or train, we see disheveled farmers tending to sparse fields and malnourished animals. We wave away relentless street vendors eeking out a substandard living, while we eat breakfast and sip organic coffee in a cafe, often times the meal will cost more than they’ll make in a 12 hour day.
We “put up with them” for the sake of our own travels. But who are they? How bad does their life have to be to sell books on the street, to beg for change . . . to watch their families go without a meal. How bad does it have to be to gather your family, pack a bag (or no bag, just the clothes on your back) and leave your home, your community, your country; and set out on a pilgrimage to find a better life. To run away from the destruction of your current life.
Close your eyes for a moment. The government has taken away your business or run you off your land. Members of your family have been killed by violence. You’ve been chased away from all that you’re familiar with and after years of running, potentially living in a refugee camp for 10-15 years, you are able to make it to a safe country and start over. You don’t speak the language, you cannot communicate, you may not even have services or support to help navigate your new world . . . what do you do?
This past Monday June 20 was World Refugee Day and this week is also World Refugee Week globally. Estimates indicate that there are currently almost 50 million refugees worldwide. Political upheaval, war, religious persecution, sexual orientation descrimination, unemployment and famine are just some of the many reasons that a person or a family would become refugees. Western cultures tend to spend a lot of money to travel the world to seek out new and different cultures and experiences, without giving a moments thought to the experiences available on our own doorsteps.
You say . . . “I wouldn’t know how to help a refugee”, or “there are aid organizations that do that so I don’t need to”, but if you’ve ever felt lost in a new city, unsure of your future, or questioned your own usefullness as an individual because you can’t share our feelings since you don’t understand the language – you begin to imagine the struggle of a refugee.
What can a person do? How does this impact you? You’d be surprised how simple it is to help.
A simple act can acknowledge the plight and struggle of a refugee:
Become culturally aware of other countries
Read a book about another country
Learn to say “hello” and “thank you” in another language
Learn to cook a dish from a different country and share it with your friends
Eat at family run ethnic restaurant
Watch a movie about the struggle of a refugee, such as
Lost Boys of Sudan
Moving to Mars
Smile to others as you pass them on the street, especailly if they look and dress different from you
Become a tutor
Befriend a refugee and their family
Become a mentor
Help a refugee write a resume
Volunteer in a community center
Most importantly, learn where refugees come from and why.
It doesn’t take much to help, and you’d be surprised how much it can help you as well.
If interested, here are some websites to help create an understanding of the plight of refugees:
On the web and globally:
World Refugee Day 2011
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
United Nations Human Rights: Questions and Answers
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Could you survive being a refugee?
Try this interactive game and experience the life of a refugee