No matter what the political climate, refugees are humans that need help now. I recently attended a Syrian Sweets Exchange event and I can say quite honestly that I see the world differently after being there for about an hour.
This event featured refugee women of all ages who have been in the United States anywhere from ten months to two years. Most were selling Syrian sweets, however others were selling hand sewn items, handmade soap and jewelry. And while this is the fifth event this organization has sponsored, it was one of the most successful.
One of the volunteers I spoke to told me that at other events that they had, there were an excess of sweets, leaving these women wondering what to do with the leftovers and if they would be making any money off of their hard work. However at this event, all of the sweets sold out in the first hour, with people coming in droves to buy multiple boxes.
Unfortunately, I got there a little too late to buy any baklava in bulk, but what I did get was something sweeter than any sweet possible: conversation.
I don’t necessarily know what I was expecting when I went to this event, but the second I walked in I was greeted by smiles and kindness from people of all backgrounds, religion and race. I even spoke to a couple refugees through a translator and their strength paired with their warm smiles and open hearts was indescribable.
Now, we’ve all seen or heard our Commander-in-Chief publicly shun Syrian refugees for implying that they are terrorists, criminals, and the future destruction of civilization. Here’s some proof, in case you don’t have access to a twitter account.
Refugees from Syria are now pouring into our great country. Who knows who they are – some could be ISIS. Is our president insane?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 17, 2015
Europe and the U.S. must immediately stop taking in people from Syria. This will be the destruction of civilization as we know it! So sad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 24, 2016
So often are these comparisons drawn, especially now, there is a negative connotation with the word Syrian and the word refugee.
I’ve heard these negative stereotypes and generalizations, so when I saw the Syrian Exchange Sweets event on Facebook, I was curious. I knew I wanted to help refugees (I mean could you imagine trying to move to a foreign country, and unfriendly at that?).
I wanted to see what this organization was all about and hear these women’s stories.
I was nothing short of blown away. With a translator by my side, I spoke to two individual women with horror stories of choosing to come to America.
One woman I spoke to could not have been over 25. In a black hijab adorned with beautiful multicolored flower embroidery, green eyeshadow accentuating her brown eyes, she bravely opened up about her story as a refugee.
Without batting an eye or shedding a tear (which I was fighting back the whole time), she told me that while in Syria, her husband had been shot. To get the necessary surgery that he needed, she relocated her family to Jordan. This, however, would prove to be worthless. She has three children; one with a skin disorder that doesn’t allow the body to grow hair and one with a congenital heart disease. She thought that it would be best for both herself and her family to come to America and seek out a better life.
A better life, that has been delayed and stomped on.
She told me that when they first moved to America, she took out a $3,000 loan to help pay rent, buy food and necessities for her children, and pay for her husband’s necessary surgery. After the surgery, doctors told the family that he would be immobile for at least three months, maybe more. This put him out of work and because she stays at home to take care of the children and can’t speak English, it is incredibly difficult for her to find a job.
Since no one in the family is working right now, their food stamps were taken away from them. As a refugee family, trying their hardest to adjust to a new country, language, customs and political climate they are given no resources.
Government assistance programs pulled away from them in their darkest moments.
Another woman I spoke to was also the mother of three children. Her love and devotion to her children is what led her to the decision of relocating her family to America. She told me her story, like the woman I spoke to before, with a steadiness in her voice that I could not match back with her.
She told me of when the bombs began to pour out of the sky and the war in Syria began. It was so incredibly dangerous, the education rights of her children were taken away.
It was too dangerous for them to leave the house to go to school. For her children, the family left everything, including her husband’s restaurant behind in Syria. They also traveled to Jordan. There her husband found a job at a local restaurant and she also worked. They were making a sufficient income there, but they decided to move to America for a better life.
A better life, that again, has been delayed and stomped on.
Three months into living in America, she went to the county clerk’s office to fill out some paperwork. Everything that her and her husband had saved up was in the car that she drove to go there. She went into the building to fill out paperwork and when she came out, she had to fill out a stolen car report.
Everything that she had worked so hard for was gone. She and her family had to start over from absolutely zero.
The stress of this led to a five day hospital stay after she had a heart attack.
When I asked her what the best thing is that has happened to her since moving across the ocean to be here, her response was that of so many others: nothing. She told me that every thing that has happened to her here in America has been draining and “honestly, nothing good has happened.”
She is holding onto the fact that here in America, her children have the right to education. This is the only thing that she cares about. Not her health, not her husband’s job prospects, not even the food on the table. Her children’s right to education is what brings her hope for the future.
While stories like this are terribly heart-breaking, they are unfortunately extremely common.
This is why volunteer programs for refugees are so incredibly important.
It is extremely hard for these families to admit that they need help, but when they do it is extremely important to listen and give them the help they are seeking. There were several programs offered at the event I attended, including mentoring a family, being a reading buddy with Syrian children, or hosting a Syrian dinner party.
While I know that these programs are local to me, with a little bit of research and compassion, I’m sure you can find similar programs or host them yourselves.
It is time that we stop allowing our leaders to call these people that are only trying to find a better life (and seldom finding it) terrorists, and start embracing them, educating them, and helping them.