World Refugee Day 2014

A Syrian family outside their makeshift shelter in Kwashra informal settlement, Lebanon. (Photo: Concern Worldwide)

A Syrian family outside their makeshift shelter in Kwashra informal settlement, Lebanon. (Photo: Crystal Wells, Concern Worldwide)

ref·u·gee, [/ˌrefyo͝oˈjē, ˈrefyo͝oˌjē/], noun: A person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster (Oxford Dictionary).

This World Refugee Day, let’s take a moment to realize that behind the term refugee there are countless men, women, girls, boys, grandmas, grandpas, and infants just like us.

But these individuals are vulnerable− unlike us, they’ve had to flee their homes, often leaving their families, their possessions and their communities behind as they try to escape discrimination and danger beyond their control. Their hope to find a better life in an unfamiliar country, where they might not even speak the language, drives them to persevere through harrowing journeys.

Today, there are more than 11.1 million refugees throughout the world whose resilience is a model for us all.

Countless others are seeking asylum and awaiting refugee status, and even more− 20.8 million− are displaced within their own countries. These days, we hear about the plight of refugees abroad in the news, particularly of Syrians seeking shelter from the violence of their civil war in Lebanon. People tend to forget that many refugees from around the world are relocated amongst our own communities. In 2012, 58,000 refugees resettled in the United States.*

Despite their incredible strength, these families can often use a lending hand as they adjust to and learn about their new communities and cultures. We all know the comfort of a warm and welcoming face when moving to a new town, going to a new school, or joining a new team. This World Refugee Day, let’s be that kind, helping hand for resettled refugees in our neighborhoods.

What can you do to help out?

  1. Find and contact organizations in your community that help refugees resettle in the US. Ask what you and a friend can do to help!
  2. Volunteer to teach English lessons.
  3. Volunteer to teach refugees about daily life in the US, such as taking the bus and going to the grocery store.

Don’t have time to volunteer this World Refugee Day?

  1. Learn more about the challenges faced by refugees by reading a good book, such as “In the Sea There are Crocodiles”. Share what you’ve learned with your friends, classmates and family.
  2. Learn about the inspiring story of the Lost Boys’ journey as they escaped untold violence in Sudan, across the deserts of Africa, to the US.
  3. Learn about the personal stories of Syrian refugees in Lebanon through portraits.

Remember: one small gesture can make a big impact in the lives of others. Turn concern into action!

*data from American Red Cross