Life Before I Was a Refugee

Recently, an organization called the World Wide Tribe produced a short video called, quite simply, “Life Before I Was a Refugee.” It’s an incredibly moving and powerful piece featuring interviews with Afghan, Iraqi, and Syrian refugees living in a camp in Greece. Please do yourself a favor and spend two minutes watching it (link below)! Each of the interviewees speaks in English, making it possible to connect even more immediately with these individuals who share about their beautiful cities before war destroyed them, the jobs they enjoyed, the college degrees they were pursuing, and the happiness of being together with family and neighbors.

Life Before I Was a Refugee

Media coverage makes it easy to forget that refugees are anything other than a mass of humanity living in poverty-stricken camps, with no past and no future. But it’s not true. Each refugee is an individual, a person, and they have full life stories. With the exception of children born in refugee camps, most refugees had a normal life before war and persecution tore the fabric of their lives apart. They also have hopes to rebuild and begin life anew. As one speaker in the film shared: “We are just waiting for a bright day. Right now, it is night. But one day it will become a bright day. And we are just waiting for a bright day.”

Watching this video reminded me of some of the individuals I have worked with over the years at  Refugee Services. In the midst of so many resettlement tasks, we don’t always have the opportunity to spend time talking about each person’s life before they became a refugee, but I was so honored by those who took the time to share parts of their story with me. I talked with an internationally-known chemist, electrical engineers, journalists, writers, teachers, pastors, and elders. Each of them spoke of the fullness of their life, of the fulfillment they experienced in their careers, and the joy of having their extended family around them in the home they had always known.

The ministry of resettlement does not make up for the loss that refugees have experienced, and it does not take away the pain of years spent in limbo, waiting in a refugee camp or urban area. We cannot bring back the fabric of community and family that has been pulled apart, but we can help refugees begin again. We can offer welcome, hope, freedom, and opportunity. We can help refugees build community and reunite with loved ones, and we are all better for it. Thank you for partnering with us in this sacred, life-affirming work.

Kristin Zoellner is our communications specialist.

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