Many of us have heard the inspiring stories surrounding the new Refugee Olympic Team. We have seen the viral posts on social media describing their acts of heroism and resilience.
While these athletes inspire us, we are also being blasted by increasing hostile voices and angry rhetoric directed towards Muslims and other refugees.
How can we take a stand against fear-mongering? Perhaps we should follow a path of empathy by listening to others' stories as if they were our own. We can ask ourselves, what if his/her story were mine?
I am an assistant to my husband, a professional translator, and have edited dozens of personal narratives. As part of the asylum process, our clients give written accounts to explain the reasons why they cannot return to their countries. I have read harrowing stories of children separated from parents, families threatened by terrorists and loved ones lost in ongoing conflict in the Middle East.
As a naturalized citizen himself, my husband has memories of growing up in Iraq making shadow puppets in a candle-lit shelter with nothing but boiled water for dinner. When we tell our daughter to look both ways before crossing the street, he hears his mother's voice warning him to watch out for car bombs as he played soccer in the street with the other neighborhood kids.
My friends and family have given me an insider's perspective on the current refugee crisis. Many Americans have had experiences similar to my husband's, but some might have to make more of an effort to get to know a refugee. Unless we take the time to talk to someone who has lived these experiences, we run the risk of becoming desensitized or overwhelmed by the global refugee crisis.
The numbers of refugees seeking asylum in our communities are increasing across the world. A quick online search can help you find a humanitarian or church organization hosting local events for refugees.
Keep an open mind as you hear refugees' stories. Reach out to people who can tell you about what it's really like to leave their homes and start over in new and unfamiliar places.
As refugees adjust to their new homes, do what you can to make them feel welcome and respected. Volunteer your time and abilities to refugees who could benefit from your particular skills. Many refugees are professionals themselves with valuable skills that would be an asset to any company. Be willing to hire refugees or help them to get work permits. Many are learning how to navigate the social systems and nuances of a new culture.
Let's do our part to make refugees feel safe and welcome as they embrace a new culture and a new way of life. Let's learn their stories and recognize their valuable contributions to our community.