By Deepika Tuli:
I have worked closely with the refugee population in India as a trainer under a UNHCR project for close to 3 years, including people from Afghanistan, Burma, Iraq and Somalia. And what I have experienced during my interaction with them is a great ardour of love, gratitude, and care in them despite all odds, especially in the children.
These children who are displaced and seek asylum in other countries; who had to leave their favourite pals, playgrounds, house courtyards, schools and run away with or without their families to escape from savagely violent wars against peace and humanity can be the most responsible contributors to the society. Among these, there could be many little souls who managed to stay in this world and survive, and many that could not. And to shape out that contribution to the world is not only the responsibility of the people who share paths with these children but also of people who want to create a path for these kids with compassion, care and concern for them.
Relating this to the event when a 3-year-old boy Aylan’s body washed ashore on a Turkish beach, his story echoed around the world. Working quite closely with these children and through my experiences, I believe that refugee children are not ordinary ones, and there are several reasons for that.
From my work, I have seen that these kids not only feel the need of being loved and cared, but also know how to give out love and care. In their community, many of these refugee kids had other kids or unaccompanied minors in their homes, and these children loved each other like siblings. They had no question about each other’s identity, but only love and care that matters the most.
They are God-loving despite all the misfortunes and challenges that were thrown at them. Once during a class I asked a beautiful little 5-year-old refugee girl that how does she feel in India? She answered, “My mom says we will be happy where ever we go, because God looks down from heaven on us, and will always take care. She also said that God loves children like me who smile and listen to mom and dad. I feel happy in India, but I left my school in my country.”
They wish for a happy world while in their own adversities, and not just their own happiness. Every time I used to ask my student kids about being happy or wishing something, they all had similar answers of wishing the world to be a peaceful place to live, and no one should be forced to leave their homes.
They are creative, not destructive because they know what destruction can cause. They show a capability of designing a whole new life around themselves and adapting to the circumstances.
The world has witnessed the contribution of these refugees from decades, and this could only happen when they crossed paths with people who were compassionate, caring and concerned for them. You might be surprised to know that the following famous people were refugees themselves:
Jackie Chan – The famous Hong Kong-born actor and martial artist was constantly harassed and threatened by triads (a Chinese organized crime syndicate) which forced him to flee to the United States
Dalai Lama – Born into a farming family in Tibet in 1935, the religious leader fled to Dharamsala in India during the 1959 Tibetan Uprising (What could be the biggest epitome of peace than this example?)
Rachel Weisz – The Academy Award-winning actor. Her Jewish parents fled Vienna to England before the outbreak of World War II to escape the Nazis.
Albert Einstein – another refugee who fled to the United States during World War II.
Bob Marley – he fled to the United States from Jamaica
What I want to ultimately point out is that refugee children are unique. They value relationships because they don’t take anything for granted – They understand the fear of losing someone, and the trauma of living without love and care. They value people around them and remain grateful for what they have.
They are inspiring and deserve more than what they have.
Honouring and embracing these extraordinary children must be our priority right now in order to create a peaceful world because it wasn’t their fault that missiles had been aimed at their happy homes and that their families had been afraid and fled to rescue their children; it wasn’t their fault that the villages and towns were burned to the ground and terrorists had threatened to kill everybody who didn’t leave; it wasn’t even the fault of the kids who were being kidnapped and held hostage for ransom; it wasn’t their fault that they are living poorly in asylums and refugee camps, their families could barely bring anything along; it wasn’t their fault that they don’t have good clothes, good toys, or even the basic facilities a child can have in his own house and country. I am saddened to see the world reaction to Syrian refugees and I hope that people can notice these things about refugee children – what I have come across through my work.
Life for refugee children in a new country, contrary to many people’s perception isn’t easy. These children struggle to learn new things – a new language, a new culture, adapting to a new environment, trying to be good to new people around them, even if they are experiencing extreme pain, anguish, and distress. Believe me it’s not easy!
They daydream about their beautiful homes, cities, gardens, schools, friends they had left behind. They start from scratch to build a whole new world of their own and sow the seeds of love and compassion or hatred and anguish. We need to help them choose which seeds to sow. The pictures of devastation and scars in their minds need to replaced with pictures of humanity, helpfulness and to make them believe that the world is still a better place to live in. And change can only happen when we embrace these children with open arms.