Written by Elizabeth Thayer
“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
There are currently 22.5 million refugees in the world. Over half of them are children; hundreds of thousands of them are children traveling alone. They have fled violence, conflict, and intense persecution in the hope that the rest of the world will show some humanity.
Children are the first to see magic, the last to lose hope. Long after adults have given in to despair and cynicism, a child believes in that which is good and right. That is why in the middle of a dusty, abandoned factory-turned-refugee-camp in Greece, you can still hear laughs and cries, hear the patter of feet on the cement floor and feel a tiny hand slip into yours. Despite all that has happened in their short lives, they are willing to trust, to make a new friend, to hope for love returned.
These three boys fled violence and persecution in Afghanistan, undertook perilous journeys with their families, and landed in a refugee camp in Greece where I met them. One of them trailed me all day, wanting to play, laugh, hold hands and watch me draw. The others scuffled in the dirt, took turns on the one bicycle in the camp, bossed the younger children, annoyed the teenage girls, struck endless ‘peace’ and ‘love’ poses for the camera, and generally got underfoot, all with the youthful optimism of a Cub Scout.
Their future is uncertain and their past is gone forever. This precarious position could understandably inspire fear, mistrust and despair. Yet so often it is the children who are able to rise above the rhetoric of fear and show us all what humanity really means.
(The painting 'A Message to the World' will be showing in "Certain Women," an art show at Anthony's Fine Art in Salt Lake City, March 2 - April 2; and Heirloom Art&Co. in Provo, Utah from April 6 - May 5, 2018.)
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.