Melissa Mitchell, director and founder of Walk With Me, relates the following story to mark June 20 – World Refugee Day. Tying Vines works with Walk With Me a project that works with refugees.
“I climb what seems like a thousand steps, and have to stop along the way to catch my breath. At the top I find a young woman sitting on a mat in her dingy little “home”: a home no bigger than a closet. Here, my brave young friend begins to share the story of how she became a refugee in the slums of Jordan.
‘My family,’ she begins, ‘was prominent in our community, a city of more than a million people. I had six brothers and three sisters, all of whom worked as engineers, lawyers, or teachers. We often discussed the serious political situation in our country, but the fighting was hundreds of miles away and we knew we would have time to escape should it encroach on our city. We were wrong. I was 28 years old when our lives changed forever.
I was sitting at the dinner table enjoying a traditional family meal prepared by my mother, arguably one of the best cooks in our city. Lighthearted banter filled the room as we discussed our day. Suddenly, without warning, explosions erupted near us. The aftershock unleashed chaos and panic as we ran for the bomb shelter. The quake of nearby blasts rattled my teeth as the driving heartbeat of fear pounded in my head.
The shelter was overcrowded when we reached the entrance, so women and children sheltered inside while fathers and brothers huddled outside, terrified. We could hear explosions all around us. Then we heard the distinct sound of an approaching rocket and everyone began to panic. That’s when the shelter exploded. And, my world went black.
Although my sister and I escaped with life-threatening injuries, the rest of my family was gone.
This began our journey as refugees. From a happy family around the dinner table to years of physical recovery and unceasing grief over losing our family, our home, and our lives.
The grief and isolation are paralyzing.
Once we were well enough to travel, we fled to the neighboring country. Here we are isolated and are not allowed to legally work. We have no way to provide for ourselves even though we are educated. My sister and I are both teachers. We are left at the mercy of organizations who are trying to help. But with the war now in its 10th year, most people are tired of helping, or have forgotten there are still many of us trapped, unable to return home. We eke out our days trying to make crafts and paintings we can sell to buy enough bread to eat each day.
We never thought our lives would turn out like this. There was a time we had dreams of changing the world – of educating children, getting married and starting families of our own. Our parents raised us to work hard and earn a living. We don’t have many dreams left, but the one that stands out the most is our dream to reunite with friends and family and rebuild our lives.’
This is one story of hundreds, thousands, millions. According to the UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency), there are approximately 82.4 million refugees throughout the world. A refugee is a person who has been forced to leave their home country and seek safety beyond its borders. Fifty percent of refugees are children. One person is forcibly displaced from their home every two seconds.
Melissa closed with this. ‘I think the thing this story captures for me the most is that many of the refugees I work with are more educated than I am…doctors, lawyers, architects, teachers, business owners, and entrepreneurs. In my five years of working with refugees, I’ve rarely had anyone ask for a handout – they ask for work; to use their education and skills to provide for their families.’
May God share with us His loving and caring heart for refugees.