As soon as the doors open at the refugee center, people start streaming in, a barrage of needs and desperate requests: “I can’t get food coupons.” “Can I take English classes?” “I need clothing.” “The hospital won’t help me.” “I don’t have a place to live.” Each request is a reminder of the sheer numbers of refugees and the limited resources available.
As they approach me, I see in their eyes that there is a need that they hope we can meet, and I pray that perhaps it’s a need we can actually meet. Before they can explain their dire situation, I’ve determined to stop them and ask, “What’s your name?” I tell them my name and that I’m happy to meet them. Why? I probably won’t remember their name an hour later. I can barely even repeat their name correctly. I have no idea if the person even notices or cares.
Asking the name of the person in front of me is a reminder that I’m talking to an individual, not a problem. To someone’s child, parent, brother, or sister. I replace the label of “refugee” with a name of honor and dignity. Does it matter? I don’t know. In the midst of the overwhelming number of desperate people and the political maneuvering, I want to remember that the refugee crisis is composed of unique, resilient, precious individuals trying to find a safe place to live in peace.
Through our refugee center in Cyprus, we serve hundreds of displaced people, helping them to make the transition and thrive in a new and strange place. The refugee crisis, however, is not contained by any border and is now worldwide. We might not be able to solve this international situation, but each of us can make the difference in one family’s life wherever we are.
And it starts with learning their name.
1. Find out where refugees are being settled in your town and what organizations are working with them. They will share their needs for clothing and furniture and rides to appointments.
2. Find out which schools are taking in refugee children. They will share their needs for school supplies. Help students with their homework.
3. Adopt a family. Share a meal with them in your home. Talk. Learn about their lives and home culture. Show them how to navigate life in your community.
And then something “magical,” I like to say, begins to happen. We are also changed. Our hearts are softened, the “problem” becomes a dear friend, and we become better people ourselves.
Click here if you would like to volunteer and be part of the transformation happening at this refugee center!
About the Author: Katherine has lived and worked in Turkey for the past 18 years before recently relocating to Cyprus. Her background is in education, and she enjoys working with refugees. Enjoy other posts by Katherine, such as A Card Game and a Picnic: A Refugee Story.