A few months after the Syrian refugee crisis unfolded, a group of friends organized a volunteer team to support a local refugee program. Last December a family from Colombia arrived in my hometown…on my birthday. Not that the date mattered but the coincidence made me feel happy!
Since language was not a barrier, it was easier to get to know this family of eight and be able to understand their worries and fears about living in a foreign country as refugees. For respect to their privacy, I am not going to share here the details that forced them to flee their country in the middle of the night. But I just want you to know that their quick and difficult decision preserved their lives and the integrity of their children. It provided them freedom and a new chance to live in safety.
The six kids are attending public schools right now. “Los peladitos,” as her mom calls them, have been assigned to ESL classes where they are learning English. They can’t wait to be able to communicate with their teachers and peers and get an education. I have never met people more excited to go to school than these six kids!
During the time that it took this family to be approved as refugees in the United States, they had to endure very difficult and heartbreaking times. Life hasn’t been easy for them since they left their home in Colombia and they are aware that it won’t get any easier here as refugees. But they are still so grateful for the opportunity that the United States has given them to live in safety and peace.
Every time my family goes to visit them, the mom always insists on making fresh juice with their favorite fruits that she got in the market because “they remind them home.” Money is scarce and I know those exotic fruits are a special treat for them, but they don’t keep them to themselves and share the best they have with others.
How To Help Refugees
Finding a job for the parents has been difficult for my friends. In fact, employment is one of the biggest challenges refugees face as is language, cultural practices, inclusion, transportation, education and access to services. So here is where you and I could make a difference in their lives. Read below because I am sure there is a project for you!
Where You Can Help
There are several reliable organizations where you can join the efforts. Please check them out and find opportunities that you and your family may be able to help.
- World Relief
- Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA)
- Catholic Relief Services (CRS)
- Red Cross/Red Crescent(ICRC)
- United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees(UNHCR)
- International Medical Corps (IMC)
- International Rescue Committee (IRC)
- United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF)
How Kids Can Involve To Help
My girls are only 8 and 5 years old and for a long time they didn’t quite understand what “refugee” meant. I wanted them to get what I was doing and why it was important to do it so before taking them to meet the family from Colombia, we read a few books about refugee children.
The books gave them a glimpse of what their new friends were going through and prepare them for their visit. After meeting the refugee family’s children, the desire of helping them felt stronger and more personal. It opened their eyes to a reality that exists around them and has helped them to be more grateful.
I love seeing my girls playing with the refugee children. They have taught to each other a few songs and games and always look forward to play together. I think their friendship has eased the transition and has provided these kids a place to heal.
Below find 5 books about refugee children for your kids to read.
This Is Me: A Story of Who We Are and Where We Came From
This was a great book for my children to read. The story of the book highlights that we all come from somewhere else and encourages children to wonder what it would feel to leave behind your home.
The story takes place in a refugee camp in Pakistan where two girls become friends by sharing sandals. Despite of the difficult times, they learned the value of giving to others and true friendship.
This book describes turmoil, war, uncertainty and many other things that millions of refugee children are experiencing today. It’s an eye-opening book that everyone should read.
Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush’s Incredible Journey
This a true story of an Iraqi family that secretly brings their beloved pet when they are forced to flee their home. The beautiful illustrated book helps children to contemplate what it’s like to have to leave your loved ones behind and acknowledges the power of teamwork to help those in need.
Celeste is a little girl living in Chile’s times of ditactorship. When the situation gets unsafe, her parents decide to send her with an aunt in Maine. The story takes the reader to experience the agony and heartbreak of living in exile and away from your loved ones.