For almost two decades, I’ve wanted to work for refugees. Whether translating, teaching, advocating, fundraising just an administrative position behind the scenes, I’ve gravitated again and again towards refugee populations.
Recently, it’s been increasingly heartbreaking for me to watch the news and not ask myself, Isn’t there something more, as an educated, privileged American fluent in German and Arabic, that I could contribute? Alas, my job applications have gotten me nowhere, and what I can do gratis is limited.
At the same time, I have been developing my skills as a memoirist, the art of reflecting on my past. The more I write, the more my writerly peers seem to say, These are stories the world needs right now! The more I reflect, the more I ask myself, How did this start? From my rural Pennsylvania, upper middle class, white, Daughters of the American Revolution, Mayflower-descended background, it’s not clear, Why refugees?
So I made a list of refugees I’ve known, refugees I admire, refugees who’ve made a difference in my life. I made a list and I started to write.
What I discovered surprised me. I’ve been profoundly influenced by a distinguished collection of refugees and immigrants, both in my life and in the history of this country.
- The Afghan family that I grew up knowing as my family.
- The Iraqi boy who changed my whole life with one shy sentence.
- The WWII spy linguist who invited me into his exclusive inner circle.
- The Ethiopian American professor who sent me off to the Peace Corps with important doubts.
- The Iraqi women who had such impossible optimism.
- The Somali American scholar who allowed me the briefest glimpse at living in his skin.
- The Syrian man whose words lit a fire in my heart.
- The Iraqi man who left me speechless.
- The Sudanese “Lost Boys” who sought out a teacher for the technical skills they knew they needed.
- The Somali and Eritrean girls who just wanted to belong.
- All the many Palestinians I’ve known, with their complex relationships with home and homeland.
…and many more.
The more I wrote, the longer the list grew, and the more I realized that my life would not be what it is without the very personal contributions of a distinguished list of refugees. I want you to get to know them and appreciate what they have to offer the world, too.
See them all under the tag Refugee Collection.
And when you’re done here, check out these recommendations from The Guardian for books about refugees.