Written by Christophe Mortier
My grandfather was a French officer during World War II.
After intense fighting on the mainland, boats were targeted by the German Stuka planes and submarines. As the German army was pushing the English and French army on Dunkirk beach, my grandfather went on a boat to go to England.
On the deck of the boat, he saw a private soldier who was in shock and crying. He went to him and asked him why he was crying, since he was going to England and he'd face no more fighting on the beach. The private told him that he didn’t know how to swim. My grandfather was a great swimmer and, as an officer, he wore a life jacket. He decided to give him his life jacket.
Two weeks ago, in a conversation with a former customer, she told me that the past year she had wondered what to do for refugees. With her husband, they accepted to be a host family for a refugee. They became friends with that man until the day he was sent back to his country, without any consideration from the administration for all his efforts to learn the French language and try his best to be integrated.
To this day, they haven’t had any news from him and they’re wondering how he is doing in his mother country. When I asked her why they got involved to help a refugee, they answered after a pause: "How will we answer our kids if one day they ask us, what have we done to help refugees?"
As she is expecting a baby soon, she doesn’t know if she will be involved again as they were in the past, because she says it's heartbreaking.
As my grandfather, who gave his useful life jacket, we might all be confronted with the situation where we will have to choose between leaving what we are given as a birthright, or maybe our work or our heritage or simply the law of the soil to give to somebody who perhaps we make a hasty judgement of because he hasn’t had the time to learn how to swim.
The question keeps coming to my mind: "Who will I give my life jacket to?"
The Emerald Project is a Utah-based organization that carefully designs dialogues to engage with non-Muslims to make Salt Lake Valley a more welcoming home to Muslims. As many of our refugee friends belong to the Muslim faith, we applaud opportunities that foster understanding and were pleased to support The Emerald Project’s 3rd annual “Slam the Islamophobia” event on February 15th.
Refugees often risk their lives crossing deserts, jungles, and oceans all in the search for shelter, freedom, or happiness. Yet, even once they’ve reached physical safety, mental mountains emerge that make daily life an uphill climb. At the November 2022 conference for the Utah Chapter of the Society for Public Health Education (USOPHE), presenters Shurooq Al Jewari and Sasha Sloan discussed mental health and inclusion, focusing on immigrants and refugees.
Holidays are an important time to include newcomers. Newcomers are often aching for the traditions and holiday magic they knew at home - and the connections with family and friends. The Garcias* came from a strong family and community that knew generous and giving holiday traditions. I knew, when I met our new friends from Venezuela, the rich bond we would have; this was a kindred spirit family. Even though we have been bad at communicating (Google Translate is such a false hope), it was easy to find connections that helped us love each other.