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Monday, November 10, 2008

What we take for granted

Today, November 10, is a day when bloggers around the world are sharing their thoughts about refugee concerns. How could we not participate?

In an average week, I spend about 70 hours doing something refugee related. There's teaching, running the Denver area's in-home tutoring program, catching up with students and volunteers, and of course, working on the many details of A Little Something. People talk to me. They tell me their stories, even when I never ask a question. I absorb all of these bits of information and try to make sense of them in a larger context. Often, there is no larger context.

On Saturday, I spent a good part of the day rearranging the things in my basement. I did this to make room for the many things A Little Something seems to acquire as it goes along. While rummaging through a box of files, I sat down on the tile floor and visited with my past.

Before I worked with refugees, I had a thriving career in the cable television industry. I did many jobs and worked on some fascinating projects, but at the time, I was one of a handful of pay-per-view specialists shaping the future of what was to become on-demand programming. The work was fast-paced, challenging, and fun. I met a lot of people, including more than a few who were well known in the entertainment world.

While sorting a box, I came across a picture of me with Don King. It made me laugh, but later I remembered why I gave up a more glamorous life for the one I have now. Shortly after I was transferred to Denver, I became a volunteer in the program I now manage. Until then, I didn't know anything about refugees. Once I learned, my life was irrevocably changed.

In the 13 years I've worked with refugees, I have never ceased to be amazed at the resiliency of the human spirit. I don't know that I would have the strength to make the refugee's journey, and so I admire the people I know even more.

The women of A Little Something have stories as varied as their backgrounds. They have all experienced loss, though, and many still live with uncertainty. These women are survivors. They have endured things that most of us would find unimaginable. Although the women have survived, many have lost loved ones. Some have been lost through fatal incidents, while others are truly...lost.

In every conflict, people get lost. Often, families scatter during an attack, but they are never able to completely reunite. In the U.S., we tend to buffer potential uncertainty by believing in the systems we have in place that identify us, even when we, ourselves, cannot. Elsewhere, the task of keeping track is not so simple. It can take years of walking and asking, walking and asking, before a missing person's whereabouts is determined.

One woman recently told me her story of trying to leave her country while she was nine months pregnant. She had to stop to give birth along the way. She said there was no razor to cut the baby's umbilical cord, so a woman traveling with her found a sharp rock to do the job. She said she had terrible abdominal pain, but it wasn't safe to stop, so she held her newborn close to her chest and forced herself to keep going, despite the pain, the fatigue, and the bleeding. The thing that troubled her most, though, was that she had nothing with her to wrap up the baby. She feared he would die from exposure or be snatched away by a lion. Fearing the latter, dreading the loss of yet another loved one, she stopped sleeping until she reached Kenya.

This story made me think of the clean, bright, and modern maternity wards in our hospitals, birthing centers, midwives, doctors, and Apgar scores. Most people just have no idea what millions of births are like in the harshest areas of our world.

I looked at the picture of Don King and me. I remembered. It was the people. I left the cable industry and its flash because I wanted my days to count for something--for someone. I hear the refugees' testimony every day. Each new story reminds me I have skills and talents that can help other people find their new place in a chaotic world. I cannot fix their problems or patch together their shattered lives. Still, with some compassion and professionalism, I can help someone take one more step toward gaining instead of losing.

If our situations were reversed, I could only pray that someone would be there to offer the same to me.

To learn more about Refugees United, an organization that helps refugees reunite with loved ones, click here. Spread the word. Dialogue fosters awareness.


Madam St. Remy said...

Sharon, last time I visited your Blog, I was able to link to a group of African women (I don'e recall the country at the moment) who were making beautiful beads out of paper.
Do you know what that link is, andif you do, do you think you can send it to me? I would appreciate it very much. A big fan, Susan Tobin

The Bead Women said...

That's Bead for Life in Uganda.