Written by Sarah Wood
In the last few years, I’ve closely followed media reports regarding asylum seekers at the southern border of the U.S. I arrived in Arizona a month ago for a story gathering trip feeling somewhat prepared for what our interviews with individual asylum seekers might reveal about their journeys. I knew the trip would be emotionally heavy.
Since returning from that trip, I’ve asked myself what I experienced that felt different from all the media reports I’ve read over the past months. Getting up close, I did see weary eyes, dusty shoes, and heart wrenching testimonies pouring out of people who reminded me of my own family members.
But that is not all I saw. It was the vignettes of human connection that took my breath away, evoking an unexpected sense of beauty and awe in the midst of bleak pasts and uncertain futures.
I met heroic parents who, after recounting everything they’d suffered, would look at their young children and talk with glimmers of hope in their eyes about their determination to provide a safe life for their kids to grow and thrive.
I saw so many good people--recent immigrants, former asylum seekers, and longtime community residents--all working together, reaching out to love and welcome newcomers. The needs are so simple: backpacks with snacks, toothbrushes, and water bottles for the bus ride, shoes and shoelaces, a shower, and the dignity of being seen by another human being.
A few volunteers recounted how groups sometimes show up to mock and yell at asylum seekers when they arrive in the city. But the volunteers stand, arm-in-arm in front and cheer louder than the people who mock.
I returned home from this trip with a renewed desire to do more to welcome newcomer families in my own town. Everyone can do something to drown out hate with love. We can all go to the places where newcomers are settling in our own communities and cheer louder.
Image credit: TSOS/Kristi Burton
We interviewed Elizabeth Gregg as part of our World Refugee Day event. Elizabeth was first connected with the refugee cause through a Facebook post. One of her friends was creating a sponsor circle for the influx of refugees coming to their community of Seattle, WA. After deciding that participation was possible for their family, Elizabeth got involved.
As part of our World Refugee Day Event, we had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Uzma Jafri. She fills many roles, including physician, business owner, medical director, and most importantly, mother of four. It was during the first few months of her fourth child’s life when Dr. Jafri became interested in refugees. During the countless sleepless nights that accompany newborns, Dr. Jafri would watch coverage of the Syrian refugee crisis. Dr. Jafri felt a pull to help those in the crisis.
During our World Refugee World event, we were able to interview Adrianne Coleman, a volunteer who works with English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). Adrianne’s journey to help others started in 5th grade, when a young boy from Iran was in her class. This boy didn’t speak a single word of English, and Adrianne saw how difficult it was for him to integrate into the classroom. Adrianne felt that she could help him, and others like him.