I was invited to dinner the other evening, (we had home-made cabbage rolls!) and one of the questions these long-time friends asked was, “What difference did your trip to Africa in spring make for the work you’re doing with refugees?”
It was good to pause and remember. I remembered my flight over lands I’d only heard of and the thrill of recognizing landmarks as I sat transfixed, staring out my airplane window. It didn't take long, though, for me to go from, “Wow, those are waves of sand down there- that’s Sudan!” to the sobering reality that one of our young women living at Welcome Home fled this place and right now, too many others are still suffering what I cannot see from my birds-eye view.
It’s this connection between refugees I share my life with here in Canada, to the stories and images broadcast through all sorts of media, that is one of the most impactful results of my Learning Trip. I see an ad to sponsor a child and see their counterpart in the children we’ve sheltered here in Kitchener. I see a news story of a destitute mom struggling to survive and realize it’s the story of the moms and babies who have become my friends at Welcome Home. I watch the news of Cairo and Syria and make the connection to the refugees who initially fled to these very places to wait for safe transit to Canada and are now living at Welcome Home. I see victims of violence in Latin America flashed across my screen and my mind goes to my courageous friends who’ve risked everything with the hope of safety in Canada.
You know what I mean- you see your friend's adopted children in those photos, or your newly arrived neighbours or classmates in the news broadcasts. Or, something as simple as seeing daddy in your precious newborn son's face. What we see calls to mind what we have seen.
Oh, and there are many beautiful images I see, too. When one of our refugee friends tells me she sang in a choir, I remember the exuberance of the choirs I heard in the refugee camp. When a young mom expresses how much she misses her family, I remember that “family” means the community and the love that I saw demonstrated in the communities I visited. When a parent will do anything to help their child succeed in school here, I call to mind the sacrifices made in the slums of Nairobi to pay for uniforms and school fees.
We have a word for this: Glocal. Global and Local all at the same time. I can no longer plead ignorance or apathy. When we receive a child or a mom or a teenager or a single man, I now see more of the context from which they came. I remember my time in a refugee camp and the day spent with desperate refugees lined up to make their claim at the UNHCR in Nairobi- the images, the stories, the smells, the feelings- and limited though my experiences were, they give me more of a “Before” as I give my life to affect the “After”.