So often, we think of refugees and war-torn countries as realities that are far beyond our own doorsteps. We make them “others” – people and places who are foreign to us and different from us. It’s rare to turn on the news or the radio these days without hearing something about refugees and the homes they’re trying to remake, the lives they’re trying to rebuild. In the last year, it’s blessed all of our lives to hear about mom’s experiences teaching English to refugees at the Humanitarian Center in Salt Lake City. She’s encountered intelligence, kindness, courage, and vibrancy over and over again in her classroom. There are hundreds of good causes out there-and here’s one more-one that’s grown closer to all of our hearts over the last year.
I will never forget the morning I heard a refugee speak to a large group at the Humanitarian Center in Salt Lake City. In simple English she said, “When my alarm goes off early in the morning, I am glad I am alive. When I have to park at the farthest end of the parking lot, I am happy I have two legs that can walk. When my body is tired at the end of the day, I am glad I worked hard at my job. I miss my country every day, but I am so happy to be here.”
I have the amazing privilege and blessing of being a volunteer English teacher for refugees and immigrants from Africa and Asia. I have students from Somalia, Congo, Togo, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Vietnam Nam, Thailand, Burma, and Bhutan. They are survivors and they are some of the happiest people I know. I love being with them. They have expanded my world and enlarged my heart. Let me tell you a little about them.
Hussein is 31, but spent 18 years of his life in a refugee camp in Somalia. He is eager to learn English and happy to have a job. He always thanks me after class. He has no family here and has lost several loved ones through war and conflict.
Tu leaves at 5:00 am to take three different buses to get to her job at 7:00. She has three children and little furniture in her home. Before English class she eats cooked rice with her hand from a small plastic grocery bag. She is a diligent student and always has a smile. One day after class she handed me something wrapped in large leaves.
It was mashed bananas prepared and wrapped so carefully. I tried to refuse it, knowing she has meager meals, but I could see the hurt in her eyes, so I thanked her and gave her a hug.
And finally my friend SamSam. She is a bubbly young adult with a twinkle in her eye and bright red lipstick. Her day consists of 4 hours of English, 4 hours of work, and then school at night. Much of her life has been in a refugee camp. In the two years she has lived here she has only been to one restaurant. On her birthday her father took her to IHOP. She is a bright student and has progressed quickly in the English program. Her job coach helped her get a cleaning position at a hospital. She wants to go to nursing school someday.
With all the current news of Syrian refugees, many people are wondering how they can help. There are refugees in your communities that would benefit from your time. If you don’t have time to volunteer, there are more things that can be done. Here are some great ideas from Sharon Eubank, director of LDS Charities:
1. Be a sincere friend.
2. Reach out to people on the periphery.
3. Take a stand against intolerance.
4. Promote compassion and understanding.
5. Get to know firsthand what is really needed; don’t assume.
6. Learn about the food, holidays and traditions of others.
7. Share a meal.
8. Celebrate a holiday together.
9. Invite someone to join your family night.
10. Teach a new skill.
11. Learn a new skill.
12. Exchange ideas and experiences.
13. Highlight strengths in other cultures.
One person can make a difference.