Big Brother gently pulled on my hand and whispered, “Mom, are they refugees?”
Thanksgiving weekend was the first time that we crossed paths with a refugee from Syria. You know how it happened? A man and his son approached us in a Walmart parking lot needing a donation of diapers. They didn’t have a sign that said, “I am a refugee.” They simply asked for help with diapers.
Refugees look like the rest of us, right? Humans . . . women, children, and men.
Sheila, why are you talking about this? Aren’t there nonprofits out there already helping refugees? I think this is just going to go away. The media is blowing it out of proportion.
Answer from Sheila:
There are nonprofits helping refugees, and, yes, the media doesn’t always accurately portray the truth. The truth here is this:
- Nonprofits cannot help the number of refugees that need assistance without *our* help.
- Refugees have existed well before the media started covering the issue this fall. I first helped a refugee family in 2005 in Virginia, USA. The need to flee home to be safe because of conflict and war existed in the past; there will be dissonance, war, and discord in our future . . . the refugee crisis is here now and will be here in the future, particularly if we don’t help now.
Even if you live far away from where the refugee crisis is occurring, I strongly suggest that there are refugees in your area, having arrived through resettlement programs. Additionally, your kids are growing up in a world of a generation of refugees. Your kids will be their neighbors, employees, employers, doctors, nurses, teachers, and walk alongside them as they raise families. Whether you want to admit it or not, the refugee crisis is our crisis and a crisis that will exist for our kids and our grandkids.
We have a decision to make: Do we continue to live with an “us vs them” mentality? Or, do we set aside our prejudices and learn about the issue with an open mind?
Helping refugees uses the same concept of helping those in need in your community, in the world. If you aren’t sure where to start helping refugees, start by helping your neighbor.
And, as refugees strive to survive the unfortunate situation of displacement from their home and find a place to become reestablished, they are faced with the same issues that occur when fleeing a situation . . . homelessness and human trafficking. Before I get into ideas on how to teach your kids about the needs of those that are refugees and how kids can help, I want to say the following:
- If your intent is to help refugees, look to help those that are homeless in your community. Refugees are homeless. You don’t need to walk into an official nonprofit to start helping refugees. Start helping the homeless around you and you are doing that work that is needed.
- If your intent is to help refugees, become more knowledgeable about human trafficking. Refugees are at a higher risk of becoming victims to human trafficking. Do you know what it is? Do you know the signs to look for when faced with someone who is caught in a modern-day slavery trap? Do you know how to talk to your kids about modern-day slavery and how your family can be part of ending that quickly growing crime? Helping to end human trafficking will also help the refugees.
Tips on Helping Kids Help Refugees
In order for kids to better understand the issues and know how to help, I recommend building awareness with them first. Don’t start by emptying the shelves of toys your kids don’t play with and then seeing if a refugee nonprofit needs them. First, learn.
Seek first to understand. I do not think that filling the “to do” list with an immediate service project is the place to start. Help your kids understand what a refugee is, help them understand what the life of a child refugee is like, and then learn what is needed to help. Once your family understands about the life of a refugee, then your kids will be ready to go out and help as they better understand WHO they are helping and WHY their help is needed.
Read Books About Refugees and Their Needs with Your Kids. Use those quiet moments to have meaningful conversations about what their lives are like and what you can do as a family to help. You won’t have all the answers, immediately. That’s okay. No one does. The point is you’re teaching your kids about someone that needs help and opening your family’s life to being part of the solution to fill that need.
- 12 Children’s Books About Refugees from What Do We Do All Day
- 14 Children’s Books About Refugees from the Institute for Humane Education
- Children’s Books About the Refugee Experience from Bridging Refugee Youth and Children’s Services
- The Refugee Experience: Books for Children from Colorin Colorado
Use Videos to Share Stories About Life as a Refugee. Seeing and hearing the stories about what it is like to be a refugee is an impactful way for your kids to better understand their needs. Please preview the videos before showing your kids to make sure it is appropriate for your kids and so you are able to anticipate their questions and concerns.
- Unfairy Tales: Story of a Child Refugee from Unicef (there are 3 videos)
- Refugee Children: Stories shared by International Refugee Trust (better for older kids and teens)
- Syria’s Lost Generation: The Plight of the Youngest Refugees from Time
- A Syrian Girl’s Life as a Refugee from Unicef
- Videos from International Rescue Committee
Be Mindful of the Media Your Children See. The media is about creating a fever of attention on . . . them. Media outlets will sensationalize issues in ways that inaccurately portray issues. When your kids hear stories about refugees in the media, be mindful of what they are seeing. Militarized areas, guns, “refugees are criminals,” and “us vs them” imagery is out there. You can shelter your kids from it. At the same time, I think a better strategy is to set a goal to have an open dialogue with your kids about media as you won’t be able to shelter them forever.
After Learning About Refugees, Then Start the Doing. “Sheila, What can I do? What can my kids do?”
Refugees need places to live, jobs, friends, and accepting neighbors.
They may not speak the language in your country or town. They have kids and elderly family members. They arrive with nothing and need the same things that you have. They need: food, shelter, medical care, schooling, child care, and friends.
One of the most basic things your kids can do . . . be friends to others, especially being mindful of new kids that are refugees settling into your community.
- Search for nonprofits helping refugees in your area. Get to know them and ask how your family can help.
- Reach out to your local government and see what needs are known.
- Consider assisting nonprofits helping those that are homeless as a way to help refugees, as well. The refugee that approached us in Walmart was living on the street with his young family.
- As a family, we are continuing with our efforts to help those that are homeless and have started getting to know the nonprofits in our area that help refugees. From helping with translating services and helping refugees find employment to donating items, we are working as a family to better understand what we can do to help our neighbors that are resettling.
Learn from what others have done.
- Practical service project ideas from Michelle at Trust Me, I’m a Mom (most you could do WITH your kids)
- MICHAŁKI CANDY, HUGS AND SLEEPING BAGS. The story of how one family helped.
- Trilingual Mama shares videos, ideas, and what her family is doing.
Other Sources of Inspiration:
- How to talk to your kids about the Syria crisis: Seven tips to help children cope with distressing news from Unicef
- Teaching about the Syrian Refugee Crisis
- LIFE IN LIMBO: The Ahmeda and Shafeka Khan Story
- Lifting Hands International
- Don’t Shut Doors to Refugees Once We Open Them from Inspirelle
How has your family helped refugees?