One of my favorite parts of the Olympics was the team of refugee who competed together. Before Yusra Mardini even competed in the Olympics, she had already saved her 20 shipmates from drowning when their boat capsized while escaping from Syria to Germany. She swam for three hours to ensure that they all made it safely to land. Mardini was already a hero long before she competed in the Olympics, and she remains a hero still.
All eyes were on Mardini and others like her during the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants on Monday. The plight of refugees continues to be an issue we can’t ignore, as more people around the world have been forced to flee their homes than at any point since WWII. Sometimes the enormity of the issue can be so overwhelming that we forget what is at the heart of it: People just like you and me who have lost their homes and the lives they once knew.
When we read stories like Mardini’s, we are reminded of the human faces that make up this overwhelming issue, and see the beautiful ways that they are fighting back against the inhumanity of the situations that they find themselves in. It’s important to remember that these people’s plight isn’t just another political issue “over there.” It’s a real, horrible problem that could happen to any of us.
So, we’ve found a few of our favorite stories about refugees and those working to empower them. We at Kinship United are encouraged by these unique stories, and thought you would be too!
Syrian children given the chance to tell their own stories, their own ways.
Novelist Chimamanda Adichie once gave a TED talk warning us on the danger of only telling a single story about a person or a people group. When we’re only given one kind of narrative, we begin to believe that one set of assumptions about that person, or those people, and sometimes they even begin to believe that themselves.
This is something that frequently happens with refugees. Suddenly, the only story that we are telling about them is that of being a refugee, and oftentimes, that isn’t an accurate representation of their experiences. Refugee becomes their whole identities, when there is so much more to their stories. Most of them lived “normal” lives like you and me, and they still hope to return to that sense of normalcy.
An art exhibit in Vancouver called Capturing Our Stories: An Exhibition of Syrian Children’s Photography sought to change that. The exhibit was curated by Shawk Alani, a woman who was former immigrant herself.
Shawk Alani spent the summer running a photography workshop for a group of Syrian children, providing them with cameras, teaching them how to use them, and talking to them about how cameras can be used in storytelling.
The exhibit is full of the photos that the children took during this summer class. And their photographs tell stories about things other than their status as refugee. One girl’s piece was a photograph of a swing ride at an amusement park. She explained her excitement about the picture like any girl would, never mentioning once her status as a refugee. Although that’s a huge part of her story, there was so much more that she had to share. In the public eye, the only thing that is known about these children is that they are refugees. But their pictures told stories of their lives beyond that.
Through photography, these children were given the chance to choose what portions of their stories they wanted to be told.
Refugee children are learning the science behind technology from Asem Hasna, a man who built himself a prosthetic leg after losing his own in Syria.
Asem Hasna lost his leg while working as an ambulance driver in Syria. He was taken to Jordan, where doctors saved his life, but not his leg. After his injuries were taken care of, he moved to Zaatari refugee camp. This is where he became involved with an organization called Refugee Open Ware, an organization dedicated to harnessing technology to help in humanitarian aid. They ran a lab that Hasna was allowed access to. Here, in a Jordanian refugee camp, Asem Hasna designed and built his own prosthetic leg.
Asem Hasna has since moved to Germany, and now spends his time teaching technology to the refugee children there. He believes that the problem-solving skills inherent in programing and building will equip this next generation of kids to handle the future. He also believes that learning these skills helps them take their mind off the trauma they’ve experienced in the past.
The skills these kids are learning gives them the ability to be valuable assets to the Germany economy, and to become active players in the job market.
To put it simply, these skills are giving these kids hope for their futures.
South Sudanese refugees were helped over the border this summer because of this brave college student.
“What did you do this summer?” is a pretty common question for students returning to classes in the fall. But Betty Asha has a pretty exceptional answer to that question. When violence broke out in her home country of South Sudan, Asha did something about it.
Asha lives in the city of Yei, which is close to both the borders of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. When reports of targeted civilian killings started to spring up, Asha put her studies on hold, and travelled to the Ugandan border.
In her first week coordinating evacuations, she brought 800 people over the border into safety. In the space of a month, she safely evacuated 2,296 people across the border.
This young student was in charge of personally escorting those that had fled their homes to the UN reception center, and also paying their drivers and feeding them before she did so.
Now, Asha has returned to school. But she currently lives with and is taking care of a 12 year old South Sudanese refugee who she helped escape from Pukuka. Now that she’s back at school, she’s completing her second year of university.
But where Betty really wants to be is back helping people escape the violence in South Sudan.
Humanity that Cuts Through the Noise
Aren’t these stories incredible? I know that in all the noise, I often forget to look and listen for the individual stories of people affected by tragedy. The refugee crisis is more than just a huge number. It’s each face and story that has been impacted, that has been dramatically changed because of violence that has nothing to do with them.
These are some of the faces of the refugee crisis. Next time you hear about it on the news, picture a small Syrian girl in Canada, who will never go back to her home, holding a picture of a swing ride, explaining why this is her favorite picture. It’s stories like hers that are at stake.