Reflections on World Refugee Day
June 20, 2017
by Tala Chmiel
I moved to the United States as a college student in 2009 and though I enjoyed my international student experience, it wasn’t always easy to fit in. I missed home and there was so much to get used to. I had support and community, and equally important– I had chosen to be here.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that experience in the last year, with the worldwide refugee crisis so heavily covered in the news. A refugee is someone who is outside of his or her country and is unable to return because of persecution. In other words, people who had no choice but to leave their homes and had no other options.
At the beginning of this year, our Dallas office wanted to help our city’s refugee community as part of FleishmanHillard’s #FH4Inclusion program. We connected with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) Dallas, and invited their team to do a volunteer orientation for our office.
We learned that the IRC responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic well-being and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. They work in over 40 countries and 29 U.S. cities, and the IRC’s American branch was founded in 1933 at the suggestion of a German-Jew who had escaped Nazi occupation as a refugee. You may have heard of him–Albert Einstein.
We learned that there are currently 22.5 million refugees worldwide, and of this number, only 1% will make it to a country like the United States.
After learning all of this, how could we not get involved?
As I reflect on the last few months, so many heartwarming stories come to mind from our office’s work to support refugees.
I think of the kids we spent an afternoon playing with at SPARK!, an indoor jungle-gym here in Dallas. The place echoed with laughter and happy shouts as our staff tried to keep up with the energetic kids who had a ball climbing, crawling and doing arts-and-crafts projects. The mix of languages, cultures and ages was no barrier to good old-fashioned fun.
I think of the people who stayed late in the office one afternoon to watch the documentary After Spring, so we could all learn more about the Syrian refugee crisis. The documentary was educational, but more so, it was interesting to learn about the day-to-day life in a refugee camp. The concerns of the families were similar to concerns many of us have—they wanted their kids to be safe and succeed.
I smile thinking of our donation drive to fulfill the wish list of a newly arrived refugee family from Eritrea. One member of our staff drove more than an hour across town to pick up a gently-used double-stroller she had found on Facebook Marketplace. Another hauled a crib and mattress in her truck. We got every item on the family’s wish list, and then some, including a box of recipes collected from the office, with entries for American favorites like apple pie and meatloaf. Our staff carried in box after box of appliances, toys, toiletries and home goods and set it up in the family’s cozy one bedroom apartment. We were so happy to make this young family of 3 (with one on the way!) feel welcome in their new home, and you could tell how excited and grateful they were.
I think of the upcoming resume workshop our staff is hosting with IRC. For many refugee clients, it is the first time they will be putting together a resume, so our role is to talk with them about their past experience and help them position this well in a resume. What an important step to fully adjusting and gaining independence here!
One of our staff members put it best, “the last few months have brought a very human face to this global crisis that we hear so much about. Today, on World Refugee Day, we think of these brave people we’ve met who at the core, are just like us: people who just want safety and the freedom to pursue happiness. We think of all of the refugees that are trying against significant odds to carve out a space and succeed in corners of the world they never thought they would live in, where they do not always feel welcome. And we think of the millions more who continue to flee violence and persecution, who are displaced and not sure of their fate.”