"Before I Came Here..."

During a conversation with an African refugee about his time in the UNHCR camp, he stopped for a moment. Shaking his head, he quietly said, "Life as a refugee in the camps is horrible. I would go to bed at night and pray that God would let me die. It is horrible." 

From what I've heard elsewhere, he had good reason for that sentiment. Chronic malnutrition, unsanitary conditions, rampant disease and the constant threat of rape for the women. The host country refused to let the refugees farm or even do much work, so most were constantly hungry and had few ways to pass the time. Another refugee who fled the camps to live illegally in an urban center commented, "The conditions in the refugee camp were very hard to bear...I survived by dreaming of the day when I would be back in the DR Congo. But I was doing nothing with my life but dreaming." 

At the end of our conversation, my friend again shook his head and commented, "Americans do not understand what it is like. They cannot." And I know he is right. For most of us, our lives have no reference point for what he has experienced. But while we may not understand, we can listen to their stories. We can befriend the brave men and women who have made it this far and learn from them. If nothing else, it helps put "first world" problems in perspective


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The First Library Card

Erin Haywood, an ESL teacher in Clarkson, GA, recently shared on her blog a story about the value of something that we Americans often take for granted - a library card. Haywood took a group of her refugee students to their local library to get their first ever card. 

She says, "Do you know what  is spectacular to see? An adult getting her first library card. Also, seeing a group of ESL learners demolish an entire shelf of the coveted Picture Dictionaries. Picture Dictionaries that don’t cost $25 like teacher keeps telling them. This time they’re free. Mind. Blown."

The rest of the post is worth a read. Check it out: When Did You Get Your First Library Card?

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