7 Things Refugee Children Taught Me

7 Things Refugee Children Taught Me

What I learned by working with refugees for a month
Taylor
Taylor
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Refugees are individuals who flee their home country due to fear of persecution based on religion, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, beliefs, etc. This summer I am interning with a refugee settlement organization in Denver. I am working specifically with refugee children entering elementary and middle school, who have been in the United States for less than three years. One month into my internship, here are 10 things I have learned:

1. Home is not always where you were born – home is where you chose it to be.

The average refugee family spends 17 years in a refugee camp before coming to the United States, which means almost all of the children I am working with were born in refugee camps. If you ask them where their home is, they will say the country they were born in, the country the refugee camp was in, the country one of their parents is from, the United States, or other countries they have traveled through.

2. Language is sacred and special.

The children always connect over shared language, it is comforting to them in a new English-speaking environment. Speaking a shared language is helpful when someone does not understand all of the English, but someone else can help translate. Knowing a common language helps one feel secure and safe in a new environment. Language is part of our identity, and for refugees, it can be especially meaningful as they may have been persecuted for speaking it in their home country.

3. You cannot assume to know someone just by looking at them.

Everyone has a story, but you cannot know that story by looking at the individual and making assumptions. You cannot look at someone and assume they are a refugee - they could be Americans, they could be on vacation, they could have moved to the United States for work or school - there is no way to tell.

4. Human beings are strong and courageous.

Some of the children I have worked with have lost a parent, left family in their home country, seen violence, lived in truly awful conditions - but they persevere. It is incredible.

5. Not all refugees are from Syria.

They aren't. Just because that is the conflict major people know produced refugees, does not mean that those are the only refugees - Syrian refugees are a minority in terms of refugee groups entering the United States. In Colorado, there are four Syrian families - that's it. It takes years for refugees to be classified as a refugee and then years to be admitted into the United States; thus Syrian refugees have a few more years before they start arriving in larger groups. There are refugees from Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burma, Nepal, Iraq, Somalia, etc. - refugees can come from any country.

6. Family is everything.

For those who have lost family members or left them behind in their home country, their family is everything. Siblings stand up and translate for one another and they know how much they have seen and been through because they have done so together.

7. The United States is the land of opportunity.

Refugee families have risked everything - their lives included, for a better life for themselves in the United States. The opportunities refugee children get here in the United States greatly differ from that of their peers back home. They are given the opportunity to go to school and learn. They are given the opportunity to live their lives without fear of persecution. They are given the opportunity to start their lives over and live the American Dream.

Cover Image Credit: Mirror.co.uk

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​An Open Letter To The People Who Don’t Tip Their Servers

This one's for you.
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Dear Person Who Has No Idea How Much The 0 In The “Tip:" Line Matters,

I want to by asking you a simple question: Why?

Is it because you can't afford it? Is it because you are blind to the fact that the tip you leave is how the waiter/waitress serving you is making their living? Is it because you're just lazy and you “don't feel like it"?

Is it because you think that, while taking care of not only your table but at least three to five others, they took too long bringing you that side of ranch dressing? Or is it just because you're unaware that as a server these people make $2.85 an hour plus TIPS?

The average waiter/waitress is only supposed to be paid $2.13 an hour plus tips according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

That then leaves the waiter/waitress with a paycheck with the numbers **$0.00** and the words “Not a real paycheck." stamped on it. Therefore these men and women completely rely on the tips they make during the week to pay their bills.

So, with that being said, I have a few words for those of you who are ignorant enough to leave without leaving a few dollars in the “tip:" line.

Imagine if you go to work, the night starts off slow, then almost like a bomb went off the entire workplace is chaotic and you can't seem to find a minute to stop and breathe, let alone think about what to do next.

Imagine that you are helping a total of six different groups of people at one time, with each group containing two to 10 people.

Imagine that you are working your ass off to make sure that these customers have the best experience possible. Then you cash them out, you hand them a pen and a receipt, say “Thank you so much! It was a pleasure serving you, have a great day!"

Imagine you walk away to attempt to start one of the 17 other things you need to complete, watch as the group you just thanked leaves, and maybe even wave goodbye.

Imagine you are cleaning up the mess that they have so kindly left behind, you look down at the receipt and realize there's a sad face on the tip line of a $24.83 bill.

Imagine how devastated you feel knowing that you helped these people as much as you could just to have them throw water on the fire you need to complete the night.

Now, realize that whenever you decide not to tip your waitress, this is nine out of 10 times what they go through. I cannot stress enough how important it is for people to realize that this is someone's profession — whether they are a college student, a single mother working their second job of the day, a new dad who needs to pay off the loan he needed to take out to get a safer car for his child, your friend, your mom, your dad, your sister, your brother, you.

If you cannot afford to tip, do not come out to eat. If you cannot afford the three alcoholic drinks you gulped down, plus your food and a tip do not come out to eat.

If you cannot afford the $10 wings that become half-off on Tuesdays plus that water you asked for, do not come out to eat.

If you cannot see that the person in front of you is working their best to accommodate you, while trying to do the same for the other five tables around you, do not come out to eat. If you cannot realize that the man or woman in front of you is a real person, with their own personal lives and problems and that maybe these problems have led them to be the reason they are standing in front of you, then do not come out to eat.

As a server myself, it kills me to see the people around me being deprived of the money that they were supposed to earn. It kills me to see the three dollars you left on a $40 bill. It kills me that you cannot stand to put yourself in our shoes — as if you're better than us. I wonder if you realize that you single-handedly ruined part of our nights.

I wonder if maybe one day you will be in our shoes, and I hope to God no one treats you how you have treated us. But if they do, then maybe you'll realize how we felt when you left no tip after we gave you our time.

Cover Image Credit: Hailea Shallock

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Maybe It's Time For Even Black People To Stop Saying The 'N-Word'

There's no time nor place to use the word, whether it connotes to something negative or positive.

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I've been thinking about this topic for a while now. I recently went to a party with a couple of my friends, and usually, at a PWI like Rutgers, I'll always aware when I'm one of the few black people in the room. And since I'm one of the few black people in the room, I'm always hyper-sensitive of any racial tensions that may arise within the party scene. I think it was Meek Mill's "Dreams and Nightmares" that came on and I was dancing with these two white girls, and I couldn't tell if they were singing along or not because it was too dark, but I swore I heard them say the n-word. It just made me so angry, and I hate that as one of the few black people in the room, I felt obliged to tell them that the word isn't something for them to say.

And that had been my entire mindset about the word for a while now, that only black people can say the word because we're the only ones who can truly understand the context of the word. But my boyfriend and I got into a discussion a few nights ago about Halsey, who is a popular biracial — with one black parent and one white parent — singer, though she is white passing.

iamhalsey / Instagram

We got into a discussion of whether or not she should be able to say the 'n-word,' and my boyfriend said that she shouldn't be able to because if her fanbase is mostly non-black, they would think they are justified in saying the word if their favorite white-passing celebrity can. Because yes, although she is half black, to an average onlooker who doesn't know her, they would think that she's white. The black social justice warrior wanted to say that she could say it because despite her other half, at the end of the day she is a black woman, and to strip her of her right to say a word that we've reclaimed is almost like stripping her of half of her identity.

But then I really thought about it. The usage of the "n-word' has so many nuances. Like, what if someone is a quarter black, like Cardi B, are they allowed to use the word? Because we can use the same justification for them as we can use for Halsey. Furthermore, can Africans use the word, even if the word was only used against African Americans? Is there a particular percentage of black that you can be to really use the word? And what if you're fully black, yet still white passing... are you still allowed to use the word even if other people wouldn't see you as black?

That's when I told him, "Maybe no one should say the 'n-word.'" And I know that kind of struck him by surprise, but the more I started to think about it, the more it made sense to me. If it's a word that no one but black people can use, and if it's so offensive, why are us black people even using it?

Honestly, it's just my opinion, but I think you can't reclaim a word with so much history. I feel like it's different with women, who reinvented the meaning of and became empowered by "bitch" or members of the LGBTQ+ community reclaiming the word "queer." Because although yes, those words have been used to oppress and discriminate against certain groups, I feel like the 'n-word' has terrible connotations that span across centuries. The 'n-word' has been used to systematically, institutionally, and personally degrade, enslave, and inhibit black people from reaching their full potential in society. The word itself has been used to dehumanize blacks and make them believe that they are "less than" any other race.

It's a word with so much history, hurt, and torment behind it, and I feel like it's not something we can reclaim and make into something positive. And I thought what the arguments that can be used against my opinion... like maybe, this is the one thing people have, so why try and take it away from us? or black people have been using it to talk to other black people for a while now, saying it is no different than slaves calling each other that.

And I think those arguments are completely valid. But back then, black people used it to refer to other black people because they legitimately saw each other as less than because that's what the slave masters wanted them to think. And while yes, black people have had a lot of things taken away from us, I think that we as a people can't thrive while still calling each other something that was used to dehumanize us (and still used in some places) for so long.

Again, it's just my opinion, but it's something that I've given a lot of thought to. There's no time nor place to use the word, whether it connotes to something negative or positive. Maybe we should all just agree that this is a particular word that can't be reclaimed and can't be rebranded. As long as racism and prejudice exist, we won't really ever get away from the true context or meaning of the word. You can't take out an "-er" and slap an "-a" at the end and believe the word is OK to use now.

Maybe it's time to leave the word in the past, where it rightfully belongs.

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