On Saturday I had the opportunity to participate in something known as The Refugee Project. It is though my school, Seattle Pacific University, and they partner with World Relief. It was supposed to give insight as to what life was like in refugee camps and some of the struggles that they faced. We started off the day by learning what is a Refugee.
Refugee is defined by the UN council as: someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”
One of the things we did was simulate what it was like in a refugee camp. We were split up into groups and we were given identities. My family was one from Afghanistan that was fleeing from the Taliban, so we fled to Pakistan. I wore a full head covering, and we were told that we spoke little English. It was interesting to go around to the different locations that they had for us: a simulation medical clinic, documents office and feeding station. At each place we had different tasks and things that we had to do. It was very eye opening to see the treatment the people received, we were often looked down up, made fun of, and I felt like I couldn’t do anything right. I also felt trapped by my lack of language and supposed understanding as to what is going on. They said that even if they make it into the refugee camps, it is not much safer. Police are only around 2-3 hours a day, food rations often get stolen, many people have to leave camp to go and get firewood or pots for cooking, and there are no real rules or regulations. I cannot imagine what it must be like to go through that for years. The average time in a refugee camp is 17 years, and we only got a small 1 hour taste of it.
After that a women came in, who had been a refugee in Bhutan (to read the whole story of conflict, click here) for 17 years, and had recently been relocated to the United States. She said that she was nervous and anxious. She has been here for 7 months and she says it is very hard. It is a constant struggle not to think about how maybe Bhutan and the camp was better. It kind of reminded me of the Israelites in Exodus. God had led them out of slavery in Egypt, yet they still thought maybe it would be better to go back to Egypt and be slaves again. I wondered why she would think that. But maybe, in some horrid way, it’s because at 20 years old, camp life was all she had ever known. I hope that she one day, adjusts to living in the United States and that God can find a way into her heart.
Following that, we headed down to Kent, Washington to the extension of the World Relief office. There we were going to have dinner with refugee families who had been resettled in the United States. I was so excited, I had been looking forward to this part all week. We again broke up into groups and went to our different families. I had dinner with a Congolese family. They had been in the US for 2 weeks! They were such an incredible family. A husband and wife, and their 3 boys. They told us about their lives back in Congo, but that they had spent the last 5 years in Nigeria. They were so warm, inviting us into their home and cooking a meal for us. They served us fish, parts and bones included, rice, boiled down spinach like vegetable, and a starch. It kind of reminded me of super think cream of wheat, but I think it was made from potatoes and grain or something. I am really hopeful for them, the spoke with such excitement about living in the US. Their kids had already been in school for a few days and they really liked it and they hope to soon get jobs.
Overall, it was a really good experience. I was so glad that I did it. I am always so impressed by the resilience and strength of people. This week, I ask that you pray for Refugees, to be brought fourth into freedom, and released from oppression.