I have always been drawn to people from other countries and cultures. I grew up in a suburban area that was basically 95% Caucasian, but I managed to interact with a lot of people whose life experiences were very different from my own. It’s a little easier now that I have two brothers from Uganda and a husband from Costa Rica (all three came into our lives in 2009). 🙂
When I was growing up, I naturally sought out international experiences. One of my best friends in elementary school was Indian. I loved visiting her house after school. I would gaze at the pictures of Hindu gods hanging on the walls and ask to see the beautiful sarees hanging in her closet. We would eat mango slices for our afternoon snack. I loved the exotic smell of curry and her mom’s endearing accent. I would ask her about Hindi words and arranged marriage. I was like a miniature cultural anthropologist.
In high school, I volunteered to head up the welcoming committee for foreign exchange students. I so admired these teenagers who left their homelands to experience a different way of life, a new language, etc. I asked about what houses were like in their countries, what the weather was like and what types of food were common. I was fascinated.
In college, I knew I wanted to study abroad. I chose England, and I loved (almost) every minute of it. I spent four months exploring Europe and building friendships and growing my relationship with God. When you travel, you truly understand the globalism of the kingdom. I like to think about that sometimes when I’m taking communion. I have brothers and sisters all over the world that are also remembering Jesus’ sacrifice…that love him like I do. One of my favorite things to do was to walk to “city centre” in Oxford by myself and sit in an upstairs cafe or bookstore with my journal. I would order tea and drink it with cream and sugar (like they do) and watch the people walking by. I would imagine what their lives were like and listen to the conversations happening around me trying to memorize the accent and the slang words. (I later wrote a paper on British slang for my Linguistics class.)
When I started graduate school studying social work, I knew that I wanted to have an internship experience that would allow me to interact with and serve an international client population. I was able to intern with a refugee resettlement program during my second year, and I fell in love with the work. Social work is hard. Let’s just say it. No matter what area of the field you choose, most or all of your clients are working with you because they are experiencing a crisis. It is a challenge to stay positive and foster resiliency sometimes. What I love about working with refugees is the unbelievable perspective on life that it gives you every single day. Your clients have been living in refugee camps for years (sometimes more than a decade) because of unrest in their country of origin. They have been waiting to get out, slowly moving up the UNHCR list, dreaming of a better life. They might be living in huts with no electricity, getting one or two small meals a day. They have seen horrible things. They have lost loved ones. You can see it in their eyes.
By the time they arrive, I’m sure it doesn’t feel real that they have finally made it here. What I love about working with refugees is that there is so much HOPE. By our standards, they have very little when they start out here. They are typically provided with a small apartment, sparsely furnished. They work minimum wage jobs while trying to improve their English. They ride the bus. Doesn’t sound too glamorous, does it? But to these beautiful survivors, this life is a triumph. They have made it here…finally! They have water and electricity and enough food. They are comfortable and SAFE. To them, this humble situation is full of joy and relief and promise. They are free to pursue their dreams. It is one of the most incredible things I have ever witnessed to see how refugees thrive after arriving here and starting over. Their lives are full to the brim of pure hope, and it reminds me constantly that what I tend to worry about just isn’t really important. My cup overflows. Serving this client population, I just can’t help but feel thankful and uplifted. I am inspired by their strength and courage. They will always be close to my heart. I’m not working in refugee resettlement right now, but I volunteer with the International Rescue Committee. If you want to be inspired and learn about different cultures, I highly recommend that you look into volunteering with refugee families. Here are some organizations to check out:
Both of these organizations have offices all over the U.S. and abroad. Another way to serve this population is through supporting organizations that provide jobs for those at-risk of becoming human trafficking victims. Organizations like Eternal Threads have amazing products from all over the world. Do you love to shop? You can purchase many of their beautiful things through their website here. I gave my bridesmaids these gorgeous pashminas from Eternal Threads to wear for the wedding.
They are great quality!
Anyway, thank you for reading. I am by no means an expert, but I would be happy to talk with you if you would like more information about how you can help refugees. Please remember how blessed you are today and think about our brothers and sisters all over the world!