Written by Abraham Shepherd, President of CGR ... who has worked "hands on" with refugees and refugee projects worldwide for over a decade.
We hope that these reminders will encourage and equip you to work with refugees in the future. We welcome your thoughts and questions below.
Refugees are people, just like you and me, created in the image of God.
A recent volunteer working with refugees said that a turning point for her in relating to refugees was to stop referring to them as “refugees,” but rather just to view them as fellow human beings who have suffered tremendously. They had everything, just like you and me. They had a home, a daily routine, safety, security and community but were forced to leave it all, literally running away to save their lives! They are in need of love and acceptance.
Refugees have basic needs — food, water, shelter, safety — just like you and me.
We take these things for granted! Just imagine going ONE day without food, water and shelter. Imagine watching your son going hungry and listening to his cry for water under the hot sun ... unable to meet such a basic need! Another basic need is human dignity—wanting somehow to feel normal in the midst of their trauma.
Many refugees also have deep emotional needs. Many of them have traumatic stories. Be willing to listen and let them share their stories with you.
Recently we ran a day camp for the refugee children and their mothers. It was amazing to watch the tension ease as mothers realized their children could run about barefoot in a safe place, not having to worry what might happen to them. We watched the children smile and laugh as they played with hula hoops, blew bubbles, made bead bracelets, and had faces painted! And then, in the midst of it all, a fight broke out between a small girl and boy over a simple handmade craft … their emotions obviously raw and only surface deep. We witnessed peace as the adults intervened and children sobbed. It is amazing how they know and understand each other!
The mass of needs is overwhelming, so it is important to start by helping one at a time.
We cannot stand by and say, "The problem is TOO great. There are TOO many refugees. I am just ONE person." ONE person can still make a difference in the life of ONE refugee! You can listen to their hurts. You can hug a child. You can smile at a shy covered woman. You can give out of your abundance so others can begin to start their life over again!
Refugees aren’t waiting on you or me to come and help them. Most of them are resilient and working hard to survive.
The preconceived perception that refugees are simple, uneducated people is at best a generalization. Many are city dwellers, university graduates, engineers, doctors, etc. They just want a chance to start over, to work in order to provide for themselves and their families with dignity. The need is so much more than just providing a meal or weekly food package.
When we help the refugee, we help ourselves and we honor God.
Over the past year, we have encountered many people in need. We have reached out to show love and to meet that need. Often it is just as simple as connecting someone in need with a local partner in their area (as refugees travel through different countries). By utilizing today’s technology, we were able to connect a young couple, expecting their first baby, with a local trusted family who took them in. This young mother was so relieved to have somewhere safe and clean to stay. Her response was, “You came like an angel for us.” ... and now they are proud to send us photos of their baby!
Remember, refugees are people. They have basic and deep emotional needs. While those needs may seem overwhelming as we look from the outside, it starts with ONE person and ONE need! Will you join us?