Monday, July 17, 2017

Am I?

Today is an exciting day! Not only is it the day after Tony's birthday, it is a day of gathering with family for dinner.

If that wasn't enough, we will also be meeting the rest of our refugee family from Congo. Congo has been called the worst country in the world  to be a woman, based on violence targeted towards females. We met one member of our family last week while sitting in the director's office.

The director of this program spent seven years in refugee camps in Africa. When he came to the United States, he was overwhelmed by the contrast of having grown up in a small tribal village. He was susceptible to all the cultural problems of a refugee; but there was one thing that changed his life. When he hit rock bottom, he felt impressed to ask a couple who were walking away from the library--for help.

They became his family, his support, and the foundation he needed to become independent. Because of his gift, an older couple who provided him with work and valued his individual growth, he is now able to help other refugees gain education, jobs, and abilities to support themselves; but in the beginning, refugees need a family to guide the way.

We will become that family.

Tony and I watched a PBS Frontline documentary about terrorism in Europe. The perpetrators of the November 2015 Paris attack were refugees. One of the refugees and his brother came to France as orphans.

"This wouldn't have happened if we'd been his refugee host family!" I blurt out to Tony.

My response is organic, a surprise even to myself; I hadn't given this a previous thought, but it seems obvious now. Assuming the boys didn't have a foster family, what if they had? We all want refugee families to have support and be successful in their new country- we want them to simulate, but they need someone to say, "I'm glad you're here," and "What can we do to help?" It does not require that a refugee live in our home--the goal is independence, but refugees need bandages until the wounds heal.

Coming to a strange world is difficult--without support, it is a misfortune. Unaccompanied minors are a challenge, as they are among the most vulnerable. Refugees are often sought out by "poachers," who know and exploit their vulnerability.

Yet, the need extends beyond the people who come from foreign lands. There is another group of vulnerable refugees who already live in America. I found them as I watched a NYTimes video op, a short documentary about inmates released from prison. According to the statistics--43% return to prison after the first year. When let out of prison, they return to the same circumstances, the same neighborhoods, the same people who supply them with heroin.

They too need a host family or a foster family; again, they don't need to live with their family as independence is the goal. Just a lifeline, a person to ask "What can I do to help?" Given the high cost of incarceration, could there be a stipend for people who are willing to help?--in the same way foster parents are paid to help care for needy children.

The world's challenges, the trodden upon, the vulnerable, have magnified my cognizance of the blessings I so easily take for granted.

For years, a biblical phrase haunted my conscious. Busy with my family, my students, I was able to beat the phrase into submission. I always knew I would help, I just had a good reason not to help. Most people do; the timing must be right. For Tony and I the timing is right.

The question, Am I my brother's keeper? has been answered.

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