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May Lunch and Learn with Emily Wright

My name is Emily Wright. I am a second year law student at Seattle University, and a member of SU’s chapter of the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP). As part of my work with IRAP, I spent my spring break in Amman, Jordan on a service trip with IRAP’s field office.

For the past two years, I have watched the images of refugees fleeing with a combination of horror and grief. I saw people in the abstract, as part of the statistics but not as individual human beings; in some ways, that was easier for me to handle and wrap my head around.

For the past two years, I have watched the images of refugees fleeing with a combination of horror and grief. I saw people in the abstract, as part of the statistics but not as individual human beings; in some ways, that was easier for me to handle and wrap my head around.

One of my goals for my trip to Jordan in March was clarity. I wanted to see what was happening in host countries like Jordan, to get a sense of what the real-world impact was for the people living there who were waiting for the next steps in the process. By meeting with non-profits, governmental agencies, and other entities, our group began to understand how tenuous the situation truly was for thousands of people. Resources were stretched, processing in the United Nation’s system took months if not years, and many refugees have health needs, a lack of steady income, and other concerns.

A remarkable thing I learned is that IRAP is one strand in a large web of groups that are all working together to ensure refugees have access to the assistance they need. The lawyers who work full time over there have dedicated their careers to assisting people with the initial part of the resettlement process. But even they can only handle a drop in the bucket of refugees with their resources.

Even with those harsh realities, there were bright spots. We visited a Makani Centre, centers run by the UN as a space for kids as a supplement and sometimes a replacement for schools. Kids and teenagers participate in classes and other activities. It was encouraging to see the smiles and hear the laughter.

The most moving experience for me was working with Reclaim Childhood, a non-profit that provides informal sport opportunities for girls and young women who would otherwise not have access to those opportunities. I volunteer at a basketball practice, where there were 40 girls in attendance from all different age groups and countries of origin. They were running around, doing drills, but generally just having fun and burning off steam. In a new country, in the middle of confusion at home, they could be normal children at play. For a couple hours, they had a chance to have fun. The experience gave me hope, knowing that even in tough and difficult times there is joy.

I learned several things from my experience. First, although the Syrian refugee population has been the most prominent in the headlines, there are people from all over the world converging in Jordan. I met Sudanese and Iraqi refugees who were eking out an existence, struggling to belong in a country bursting at the seams with people.

Second, there is optimism amongst the daily struggle. Jesuit Refugee Services is helping refugees learn English and take online courses towards a liberal arts degree; we met some students participating in the program talked with them about their experiences. They want a better life for themselves, to improve their situation and do something in their lives. It was powerful to meet them, know that they had seen things I cannot begin to imagine but that they are willing to rebuild their lives given the opportunity.

Third, the world is so much more complicated than our own backyard. The political rhetoric of the past two years has been difficult for me to listen to, especially given my work with IRAP. Too often, people are afraid of the unknown, of the stranger who does not look like them and comes from a world they do not understand. But so much of our worldview of Christians draws from a call to help the stranger, those less fortunate than us. Policies rooted in fear will only cause harm in the long run; speaking against them and bursting the ‘myths’ is so important.

The most recent UN High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) statistics are a year old, but they are still shocking. 65.3 million people were displaced from their homes; 21.3 million of them were refugees, meaning they had crossed an international border. This is the largest number of displaced people since the end of World War II, and the numbers are only growing. The sheer size of it can be staggering, and it is easy to feel helpless in the face of the statistics. But standing up and speaking out in favor of refugees will create the change we want to see in the world. #refugeeswelcome

Please join us after worship on May 21 for a lunch and learn with Emily where she will present on her trip and inform us of the work that IRAP and other organizations are doing to help refugees.