Friday, November 11, 2011

Because kindness does mean something.

Finding out that 10 new Sudanese refugees were arriving this week from Ethiopia was like a bomb going off in my life.  A good bomb, mind you...which probably means I need a better analogy.  But I have been emailing, Facebook posting, phoning, driving around, and collecting items for the families as though my own children were without winter coats.  Nearly all of our family conversations this week have had "the Lost Boys" somewhere in the beginning, middle, or end.  

Which is all to say: Here's the third post this week about the Lost Boys.

I run in some of the most generous, kind, wonderful circles of women I can imagine.  I can't believe how quickly they jumped into action when they heard there was a need.  People of all financial backgrounds, just wanting to help.  I am very grateful for the community around me.

But there's more. 

When I do the "drop-offs" - especially with new arrivals from Africa - I do feel a hesitation.  An insecurity, even.  And definitely some apprehension.  

These families are just off the plane from a refugee camp in Ethiopia, and knocking on their door is this woman with white-blonde hair driving a Toyota Sienna, handing them bags upon bags of food, clothes, bikes, etc.  It's like a ridiculous American stereotype, and I feel a bit icky being a part of that.  

It reminds me about the imperfect system in place.  

They come to America with this sense that it's a place of abundant wealth and easy-living, and in some ways, I'm representing that myth to them right off the bat.  Like: "Hey, we have all this extra stuff we don't is so easy for can have some, and we'll still be okay."

Let's be honest, that's a true statement.  Clothes and belongings really ARE in excess here. 

But that message has to come with the Full Story, which is:  

Just to let you is going to be very, very complicated for you here. It will be hard as hell to get a job.  Education is expensive and time-consuming, but almost necessary to get the job you'll need to have the life you envisioned for yourself in America.  

Finances are going to be more complicated than you imagined.  Getting a car to get to that job that was so complicated to find...then gas, insurance.  Rent on a place and utilities.  Family back in Africa (also believing the money-flowing-freely myth) will be begging you for money. 

When I grow up, I want to work for the International Refugee Committee.  And not just because I might meet George Clooney, although that would be a nice perk.  But there are some key things I'd love to change. 

Please don't make them pay for their United States visas.  

Please don't make them pay back their plane ticket here. 

They've been through enough.

When I grow up, I also want to set-up a non-profit that serves as a launch pad for new refugees.  Give them an orientation, and set them up with a mentor (from their own culture) who has been here for awhile.  Have rooms they can stay in for a few weeks while they find a safe, affordable place to live. Almost like a Ronald McDonald House for refugees.  Storage for all sizes of clothes, so they can store off-season ones and not keep them in their small apartments.  

And my biggest passion:  Teaching them about FAFSAs and college educations.  Resumes and job-searches.  Have a closet of interview clothes they can borrow to get jobs.  

Dental care.  Medical specialists who can screen for parasites, food allergies, and help them build their nutrient status so they can get the energy to work the long hours the jobs (that they're able to find) will ask them to work.

This is what I want for Christmas. Every Christmas. Birthdays too.

What happened today....all these friends of mine banding together to ease these refugees into so many colors of beautiful, you have no idea.  

But there is this dark-side of the arrival to America that NO amount of generous spirits can fix.  Coming here is not a perfect solution.  It's not the END of their struggles; they're just trading the old struggle (not enough basics to feel safe, secure) and replacing it with an emotional struggle that is so difficult for us to understand.

I knew, pulling my Sienna into that parking lot and knocking on the door, that I was helping to perpetuate this myth...the Legend of America...that is actually going to cause them some pain.  

Even so, though, I can't solve the imperfection by not doing what happened today.  

The imperfection is so much bigger than all of this.  

It started 20 years ago, when they were 5, 6, and 7 years old, tending goats while their villages were massacred and their families were killed.  When they fled for a month to three months, running for their lives, many starving to death along the way.  When they lived as refugees on foreign soil, until finally their visa was approved to come to this mystical America.  

Which ends up not being as mystical as they might have heard or dreamed it might be.  

Where am I going with all this?  Quite honestly, I'm not sure. :)  There's not an Aesop's Fable message here, other than please don't massacre innocent villages and thank you for caring for the refugees with your incredible donations. 

Maybe this is just Writing as Therapy, which comes up rather often for me.  

Life is complicated.  Politics are complicated.  Human suffering is complicated.  Human kindness is complicated.  

And the best I can teach my children is to just jump in and do what we CAN this moment...without worrying if it's the perfect solution to an imperfect problem.

Because kindness does mean something.  I have to believe that.

Were we representing a myth today that might give false expectations?  Yes, I think we were.  Does that mean we should have left 10 brand-new refugees without basics of living, just because we didn't want to teach them that America is "too easy"?  

Yeah, that doesn't make much sense either. 

Maybe the best solution...the lesser of all bad to be there when they need the basics.  And then be there when they realize that life here is going to be so much more complicated than anyone promised it might be.  Showing them how to succeed and empower them to create a new life here.  

Because in the end, what they really want is to feel like their lives have purpose.  They are important.  They can take great care of themselves.  And that they are safe.