Friendship Equals Safety
There’s an iconic episode of the hit television show Friends, where the character Ross yells “Pivot!”, as he and his friends try to navigate a large sofa up the stairs to his apartment. This kept playing through my mind a few months ago as we prepared for World Refugee Day.
Here in Kansas City, we were approached by a local organization called Communities Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees (CCIR) to collaborate on a creative project for World Refugee Day. In this “we’ll scratch your back, if you scratch ours” agreement, we were to receive images and interviews from any refugees that we were able to bring to a special photoshoot. Some of the images/interviews would be used for World Refugee Day, some would be used for marketing materials for CCIR. We would get access to high quality images and interview materials to raise awareness about refugee work in Kansas City. It was a win-win!
Melanie and Andrea, members of our Kansas City Community Program team, contacted all of the refugees we could think of, especially those whose stories hadn’t been told before. Melanie arranged rides to and from the photoshoot location for 5 different refugee family groups. We had refugees from the DRC, Sudan, Iraq, Syria, and Pakistan. So when the day of the photoshoot arrived, the excitement was palpable. Finally, we were going to be able to tell some stories, and all we had to do was show up!
But creative projects can be a fickle thing! When Melanie and I arrived at the photoshoot location, we found out that the creative director hired by CCIR really wanted us to conduct the interviews, and through some miscommunication, we thought that CCIR would be conducting the interviews. We were feeling unprepared and unorganized, and quite frankly, nervous.
“Pivot!” is what came to mind. And that, we did. I quickly downloaded the Otter transcription app and jotted down several questions that we would need for our WRD campaign, and also some that would help us to be able to tell their stories in the future. It was a whirlwind and I hoped that I would ask the right questions! I hoped our refugee friends would feel comfortable.
And then, a miracle happened. Our first interviewee arrived, Tasilia. I don’t know who was more nervous to do the interview, me or her. She was shy, but completely open to answering questions. Our interview was over quickly, and she was photographed. As we sat talking, the next family group arrived. Tasilia’s eyes lit up! She got up from her seat and went directly to the Pakistani refugee who came through the door with her children. “Do you know each other?” I asked. “We work together,” said Tasilia.
When we set up the interviews, we had no idea this connection existed. What we did know was that the woman from Pakistan was very nervous to come and tell her story. But as soon as she saw Tasilia, her entire demeanor changed. She felt safe because a friend that she trusted was there.
The irony was that all the questions we were asking that day were about what safety and security felt like to each refugee. And without exception, every interviewee we asked talked about feeling safe when you have a friend. It was obvious to us that day that friendship is what really matters when someone is far from the home that they know and love. A friend can turn a potential scary situation into something bearable. A friend can help you see the light in the dark. A friend can help you pivot.
We know there are stories in Kansas City that need to be told. So, we sat down and made a plan. We listed individuals, nonprofit organizations, and resettlement agencies that we have relationships with. Then we listed ways we could weave these stories together by topic: connected communities, housing, resettlement, etc. Our list grew and grew, and before we knew it we had a roadmap.
Their Story is Our Story was invited to participate in “Welcoming Kansas City” to collaborate with and support groups ranging from Arabic communities to groups dedicated to supporting women who have been sexually abused or involved in human trafficking
Just as citizens in Europe and the U.K. have heroically supported displaced Ukrainians by opening up their homes or securing other housing, assisting with school enrollments, employment needs, and language learning, Americans now have the opportunity via the Welcome.us Sponsor Circles program to directly help newly arrived Ukrainians. The United States has committed to welcoming 100,000 Ukrainians temporarily for a period of two-years and the ability to apply for employment authorization in the U.S. as long as they have a U.S.-based sponsor to petition for them.