Thursday, June 20th is World Refugee Day - a cause near and dear to us. It is a day to reflect on the courage, strength and resilience of refugees from around the world who contribute to our communities in invaluable ways.
Refugees are mothers and daughters, sons and fathers, people like you and me with dreams and goals... but who were forced to flee their homes to escape the violence of persecution, war or natural disaster. Leaving behind everything they have known and cherished, they faced the hardships and dangers of an uncertain future. Like the resettled Burmese and Congolese women artisans in our studio, they typically spend many years - even decades - surviving in makeshift refugee camps.
The truth is very few refugees are offered the chance to resettle in a welcoming country. Only after a long and careful screening process are a few given the opportunity to relocate to the United States. And even as they strive to rebuild their lives in peace and security, refugees must overcome challenges of learning a new language, figuring out transportation, finding employment, paying bills, and navigating a foreign culture.
America’s legacy is one that welcomes immigrants and refugees. For generations, the Statue of Liberty has stood for freedom and new beginnings for those who had to flee persecution. This has made our country strong and prosperous as each new arrival contributes to our economy.
Welcoming refugees in your community is one small act that has an incredibly positive ripple effect. It benefits us all. So in honor of creating a world with more compassion and kindness, we're sharing 5 ways you can embrace refugees close to home and around the world - today and every day.
1. Make a Friend
There's incredible power in listening to someone's story first hand. Unlike what the news portrays, refugees are more than numbers or a label. Like you or me, each has his or her own interests, favorite foods, and hopes for themselves and for their families. With 7 billion people on one shared planet, the world is full of diverse cultures and traditions. By getting to know resettled refugees in your community, you create more opportunity for connection and compassion. Next time you are visiting a grocery store and cross paths, try saying hello. As simple as it sounds, a warm conversation or meal together is a great way to make a refugee feel welcomed.
2. Buy Refugee-Made Products
Americans are incredibly compassionate and generous, but at some point it's up to each refugee to find work, pay their taxes, and become a contributing member of our society. One way you can help is by purchasing refugee-made products. Social enterprises like Vickery Trading Co., Beautiful Day, and Preemptive Love Coalition offer beautiful handmade products crafted by refugees who are building a brighter future. Like the candles in our studio, every purchase helps refugees by providing training, dignified employment opportunities, and community support as they rebuild their lives.
3. Get Involved Locally
If you want to make an even greater impact locally, consider sponsoring or setting up fun events celebrating refugees in your community. Food is a wonderful way to unite people and exchange cultural traditions. You can also stop by the cultural center or library in your town to see if you can volunteer to help teach English, be a translator, or offer transportation to newly resettled refugees. Any way that you can create or make resources available within public and community spaces is a huge help.
4. Support Campaigns for Refugee Rights
When we come together to support a cause, our voices are amplified in a powerful way. At this moment, there are nearly 26 million refugees in the world, and many millions more who are displaced from their homes. Over half are children. There is a reason human rights organizations, celebrities, and activists are joining together to raise their voices. Advocacy has a huge impact in communities everywhere, and creates the momentum needed for change. Follow UNHCR on Facebook or Twitter to learn about inspiring campaigns and efforts to support refugees' rights worldwide.
5. Connect with Global Organizations
International Rescue Committee and UNHCR are two incredible organizations dedicated to delivering aid to refugees and displaced people in areas of conflict. Providing protection, shelter, and healthcare, each has a positive impact in countries around the globe. Another organization worth checking out is International Refugee Assistance Project. Their team of pro bono lawyers and law students brings legal aid and safe passage for refugees in need of resettlement. Find your favorite organization on Charity Navigator and donate to make a difference for people in places out of reach.
Of course, there are countless ways to welcome and embrace refugees. Acting together with open arms, we're capable of paving a brighter future for refugees everywhere.
Starting in our communities, in our homes, we can create meaningful connections and offer kindness to those who are beginning anew. Spread the love on #WorldRefugeeDay by sharing!
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