Most of my family lives in Faribault, Minnesota, a small town in the Southern part of the state. My parents grew up there, my grandparents still live there, and I spent my formative years going to elementary school there.
It would be misleading to classify Faribault as an ultra-diverse town since the vast majority (82%) of its population is white, but it is home to a substantial number of Somali refugees.
This fact isn’t too surprising when you consider that one third of the US’ Somali population lives in Minnesota (mostly in St. Paul, an hour north of Faribault), but still their arrival was a shock to many of Faribault’s residents.
The average Faribault citizen did not know anything about Somali culture, which has caused many misunderstandings and conflicts to arise over the years. This “Us vs. Them” mentality is only perpetuated by the fact that the Somali community is very much separate from the rest of the community, at least when it comes to the adults.
There is quite a different story when it comes to the children. No matter how different their cultural backgrounds or life experiences may be, all of Faribault’s children have one thing in common: school. When a child goes to school they are given the opportunity to learn and play side by side with people who may be different than them. This teaches respect and acceptance, lessons that are important for everyone to learn, no matter their age.
Knowing that children are being exposed to things that will make them into more tolerant adults gives me hope for the future.
When I was in Darmstadt, a Syrian man asked me if I thought America could ever be as open and accepting of refugees as Germany has been, and I think that, although we definitely have some work ahead of us, this shows that it’s possible.
I had the chance to visit a refugee camp while I was in Germany. It was a large compound with a series of apartment buildings where people of all ages and backgrounds lived. A woman who worked at the camp shared that many people spend their time there waiting to leave; they don’t want to stay in the camp when there’s a whole city out there beyond it. After hearing this, I found myself wondering if there was a better option.
“Why shouldn’t refugees be able to live in flatshares or houses instead of camps?”
Refugees Welcome is a non-profit organization that began in Berlin in 2014, and has since expanded to 14 countries worldwide. The goal of this program is to connect refugees with locals who are willing to share their homes and provide them with a place to live.
This living arrangement is far more beneficial to refugees than living in a camp. Instead of isolating them, it integrates them into the community, which provides a stronger sense of belonging and overall happiness. It also allows them to learn the language faster, adjust to their new environment more easily, and make connections with their fellow citizens, something that can be otherwise difficult to do.
A person interested in hosting a refugee simply has to register their home on the website and provide information about their living situation. After the application is reviewed and a few vetting procedures take place, they will be matched with a person looking for a place to live.
This arrangement is always free for refugees, and can be free for the host as well through Refugees Welcome, crowd sourcing, and donations.
You can donate here.
Since being back in America and telling all of my friends and family about my trip, I have received a lot of questions. The one I’ve been asked the most often is: was it scary?
At first, this irritated me. I would go to great lengths to defend my friends and explain how kind and welcoming every single person I met during my travels was. The question askers would politely listen to me ramble, and then change the subject, unconvinced.
The preconceived notions people hold about Syrian refugees (or about Muslims as a whole) are due to the way they are perceived in the media. The good, positive things that happen everyday never receive any news coverage; you only hear about the much less common negative things. A Syrian man I met in Darmstadt said himself that any time he heard about a crime that happened in the city, he would pray that it wasn’t committed by a refugee because he knew it would reflect badly on the whole community.
There isn’t much that can be done to stop negative stories about refugees from being written, but there is a lot that can be done to stop them from spreading. It is always worth it to take the few extra minutes necessary to fact check a story before sharing it, because the negative stereotypes that are often perpetuated by these sometimes untrue or sensationalized stories affect the lives of real people.
I was curious about what the refugee population in the United States is like, so I did some research and created a fact sheet specifically focusing on the 84,994 that were accepted into the country in 2016.
The most interesting fact I learned is that 46% (38,901) of refugees that came to the U.S. in 2016 were Muslim, the highest number to be admitted since data on self-reported religious affiliations first became available to the public in 2002.
As of October 2016, 54 percent of registered voters have said that the United States does not have the responsibility to accept refugees from Syria.
The majority’s opinion matches up well with reality; the U.S. has taken in 18,007 refugees from Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011. Just for comparison, Germany, a country about the size of Montana, took in 890,000 refugees in 2015 alone. Continue reading “Syrians Make America Great”
Ever since returning to America three weeks ago, I keep getting struck with the feeling of “what am I supposed to do now?”
I was handed the life changing opportunity to live in Germany for a month and not only study the refugee resettlement, but meet and form real connections with Syrian people that have been affected by it. Continue reading “How to Help”
It’s official. I am back in America. I’ve been spending my last two weeks back home reflecting on everything I experienced during my month in Darmstadt. I’ve made a short vlog to give you a glimpse into my thought process. Continue reading “Going Forward”
Just one month ago I was packing my suitcase to get ready to leave for Germany, feeling utterly terrified at the thought of leaving my friends and family behind for a few weeks. Now, here I am today packing my suitcase once again, feeling utterly saddened at the thought of leaving all the new friends I’m made behind indefinitely to return to the United States.
Continue reading “The End and the Beginning”
- What do you picture when you think of Syria?
This question was posed to us by Ahmad, a Syrian man living in Darmstadt we’d met and had dinner with a few nights ago. He’d asked because he was curious how much Americans truly know about his home country, especially since he himself had heard so much misinformation about it. It was said that some were even surprised to learn that people in Syria had smart phones, likely assuming that the country was some sort of primitive wasteland.
Continue reading “Picturing Syria”
I am a creature of habit and rarely venture outside of my bubble. For most of my life I’ve lived in comfortable ignorance of everything going on outside of my own little world, not thinking very hard about things that didn’t effect me directly. If I’m being honest, living this way made me happy. Keeping up with the news is upsetting; something bad is always happening somewhere, and I will be the first to admit that it is way easier to just not pay attention to it.
Continue reading “Reflections from Outside the Bubble”