Arizona Welcomes Refugees

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Imagine having left your country of origin for any one of a number of reasons; maybe there has been a war, your politics are different than those in power, there is no rule of law, some of your friends and/or relatives have been killed, etc.  You are able to “escape” but you are put in a refugee camp in another country.  You must live there, dependent upon donations from, e.g. the International Red Cross, in order to live.  You wait until you finally  can leave, which might take a generation, and settle in another country such as the United States.    But you don’t know anyone and that other country is very foreign to what you are used too.  In other words your entire world is turned upside down.

Unfortunately the above is the reality for more than 65 million people, i.e. one out of every 113 people on the earth.  Without the help of others there wouldn’t be any safe havens.  Without the assistance of numerous agencies and people in the host countries, is life really worth living? 

One group, based on numerous informal partnerships that is helping in Tucson is Arizona Welcomes Refugees (AWR).  I recently attended an Arizona Welcomes Refugees potluck which took place at Grace St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Tucson.  The room I entered was filled to capacity with a large number of Syrian refugees (I also met people from Eritrea and Somalia).  There were also a number of volunteers attending.  I tasted a variety of foods and saw clothing and housing items which had been donated for the refugees.  After dinner a number of the Syrian men were dancing.

AWR was started over one year ago by State (Arizona) Senator Steve Farley who wanted to take a positive approach to the proposed ban of all refugees by Arizona Governor Ducey who was reacting to the Paris Attacks in November 2015.  The point of AWR is to be a very welcoming organisation and one of their activities, besides the monthly potlucks, is to go to the Tucson airport to welcome refugees when they arrived here.

Volunteers with AWR also complement what local and international refugee NGOs are doing to help.  They visit refugees in their homes, help to make local connections in order for the refugees to live in Tucson, as well as providing love and friendship.  NGOs assist with finding a place to live, helping out with food and finding employment for people. 

Although AWR is not an “official” organisation it provides the resources to help refugees make the adjustment from wherever they came from to becoming part of the American fabric.  One example is how Syrian women are baking desserts and selling them in order to create income.  Volunteers from AWR are helping to promote and make this into a potential business opportunity. 

Senator Farley told me that we (US) are not a pure society, that we will always have differences but that we need to be together.  This seems true for not only the US but for all countries, even those that appear on the surface to be homogenous.  I’ve never taken a DNA test to determine my ethnic background, but I’m positive that if I did I would find that like most people I’m a rainbow.  But we have trouble acknowledging how alike we are as opposed to focusing in on our differences.

I’m reminded of the group of “Bhutanese” Nepalis who I recently met, who had to live in a refugee camp inside Nepal for 20 years and I ask myself why weren’t they accepted as Nepalis?  I realize that it’s a very complicated answer much more than I’m aware of.  But then why aren’t we all welcoming others to take part in whatever has been created in our lives.  It doesn’t take much, some people willing to be kind, loving, and respectful of “surface” differences and welcoming.  Isn’t this ultimately what partnerships should be based upon?  We need to find our commonalities and build upon these in order to make life better for all. 

 

 

 

Position: Programme Manager

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