This past July, I had the privilege of visiting Seattle to run a summer camp for refugee children. We teamed up with the IRC (International Rescue Committee) in Seattle to run a week long camp teaching the kids important life values, introducing them to new topics such as theatre and art, and playing various games and sports with them. Most of the kids spoke decent English, however some of them spoke little to no English. The kids were from all over, the most popular countries being Burma, Bhutan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Syria.
I went in to this experience not really knowing what to expect. I knew I wanted to make a lasting connection with a kid, however I was worried about the language barrier. How could I make an impact on a child let alone talk to them if they couldn't even understand me? What I learned is that there are more than one ways of communicating with someone. Just sitting in utter silence for 20 minutes drawing with sidewalk chalk can be just as powerful as holding a conversation. I think the most powerful thing about running the summer camp was watching the kids just be kids. Most of the kids didn't remember how they got to the US, or simply did not want to talk about it. Watching them jump rope, kick the soccer ball, or simply just hearing the shrieks of laughter spoke louder than words ever could.
Refugees are one of the most vulnerable groups of people in the United States. To leave everything behind and come to a foreign country with nothing at all is extremely challenging, especially with a family. This work was different than any other volunteer work I've ever done before because I also put myself in a vulnerable position. I got to learn about what the journey of fleeing your home country was like and learn about the terrible conditions along the way. To read about something is one thing, but then to meet and interact with the innocent children from these countries is another. All mission trips are great, however instead of painting a house, I got to make actual refrences and build personal connections. From now on, whenever I see anything on the news regarding refugees, I will forever associate it with the faces of the children I met on this trip.
While working at the camp, we also got tour Seattle. We got to visit pikes place market, go on a hike up Rattlesnake Ridge, visit the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, and tour Theo Chocolate Factory. The weather was perfect, sunny and cool, quite different from the hot and humid Florida summer.
I think the greatest thing I learned on this trip was to be grateful for what I have. I was born into a relatively safe country, a nurturing community, and a privileged household. Refugees dropped everything in their homeland and fled to a foreign country to flee some sort of persecution. Why was I born into this society and innocent children born into places of conflict and war? No one knows the answer to this question, and all I can do is be eternally thankful for what I have.
There are many things you can do to help. Donate money to the IRC or other refugee organizations. Have an open mindset when considering the most recent political discussions about refugees coming into America. And most importantly, educate yourself and others.