I have been volunteering as a family mentor to a refugee family from Eritrea, Africa for the last 2.5 years. They are the most wonderful, good hearted people I know. They came from nothing, left their home with nothing and still have nothing. What is amazing about them is that they will give you everything they own if they knew you needed it. Whenever I visit they are constantly trying to offer me what little food they have, as a sign of respect and friendship.
Even though they struggle to make ends meet, they still consider themselves fortunate compared to the refugees who have not been able to make it to the United States and resort to living in makeshift camps and tent cities.
The refugee crisis is the biggest human human crisis in the world. The number of refugees and people displaced by conflict and disaster worldwide has reached over 68.5 million people. That is one person displaced very 2 seconds last year.
What might it look like to imagine that many people displaced?
It would be like over half the population of Japan going homeless. Or everyone in the U.K. fleeing and leaving an empty nation behind them. It would be like the states of California and Texas slowly draining of every doctor, teacher, engineer and entrepreneur until there was only barren land left behind.
Because we do not witness this displacement on our shores or see the camps in our cities, it makes it very hard to relate to. It is easy to think that because it is happening so far away, we cannot offer help or support. We may not even know much information or awareness about it because the photos and videos of crying children and families can get trumped by the latest social media fad, Pinterest board or Instagram meme (don’t get me wrong, I’ll be the first to appreciate a good cat meme or funny fail).
But what I am trying to say is there are a lot of other things that are easier to pay attention to when we don’t have this crisis happening right in front of our eyes.
One of the girls from my refugee family finally opened up to me about what she experienced before they fled to the United States. She told me that when she was at school she heard gunshots coming up the road. She ran from her class, got her other siblings and hid inside their house until the violence was over. A lot of people died that day. She told me that she saw a man get shot in the neck. She said that their grandmothers house had been completely ransacked and they had to leave to find another place to live. She said there were times when they didn’t have any food to eat. She told me everyday there would be people crying from fear and the loss of loved ones. She says that she still has nightmares from all of the things that she has seen. She was 9. She is now 13 and after she told me her story, she said to me with tears, “I still think about it everyday. I have to help my people.”
This young girl and her family is just one story out of the thousands of families that have made the journey and live right here in Salt Lake City, Utah. They are the ones that go to the local schools here in Utah county. They are the ones that live in low income housing around the valley and still need help paying rent and buying basic necessities. The mom has a minimum wage job folding towels all day. She is one of many women you see working as hotel maids and in laundry services because they cannot speak English. They are the ones you see walking everywhere down the street because they do not have a car. There are many families who have escaped violence and disaster but still are struggling to get by right here in our community. If we pay attention, it is happening right in front of us.
Even though we cannot stop this crisis, we can do our part to help. Here are some ways:
Refugee Sea Rescue is the last operating organization in Lesvos, Greece. They aid the refugees who are crossing the ocean by small rubber boats. They provide dry clothes, food and water, medical aid and moral support. There is a large camp these refugees stay at and they constantly need donations for supplies. Because they are a non-profit, every cent counts. If they do not have enough money to operate, they have to pull out. As little as $5 gives bottled water, $20 gives 20 emergency blankets and $50 powers one rescue mission with fuel. Follow them on Instagram for updates @refugeerescueteam or donate today using this link-
Refugee Rescue Team – Sea Rescue
If you want to get involved helping refugees locally in the Salt Lake area (if you do not live in Salt Lake, check out the last link). There are many organizations looking for hygiene kit donations, food donations, blanket donations, fundraising opportunities and more! Get involved by checking out these links as well-
Refugee and Immigrant Center – Salt Lake City
Catholic Community Services of Utah – Serving Refugees
International Rescue Committee – Salt Lake City
International Rescue Committee
So, if not you, then who?