Small but incredible acts of solidarity
From fear into hope
Two simple, incredibly powerful, words. For me, these words carry warmth, familiarity, the Mediterranean Sea, and fresh out of the oven chocolate chip cookies. These two simple words can remind me of my community. They can confer me a sense of security. They evoke that I belong.
It is hard to imagine what it would be like to fear never to return home.
We repeatedly hear in the news the efforts taken by the big agents, those that have a role in swaying policy one way or another, to facilitate peace, or spur conflict. Many have stood up, united by a shared humanity, and responded to alleviate the suffering of those forced to flee. Their actions have an incredible impact on refugees’ and migrants’ lives. They also make history by setting a global precedent for empathic action.
In 2015, thanks to them 107,100 refugees were resettled.
However, I would like to momentarily shift the lens from the big players, to those who seldom take the spotlight. I am talking about everyday people driven by a deep desire to bring some light into someone else’s reality. Their small but meaningful, acts of solidarity.
Inclusive legislative action paves the way toward a better future for all the displaced people in the world, but its success is not rendered in isolation. Grassroots local action is key to go from entering, to belonging. From house, to home. From fear, to hope.
This week I read an incredible story of a group of workers at Lamborghini in Italy that helped their colleague, originally a migrant from Senegal, return home for his daughter’s funeral. When they found out about his inability to cover his airfare, they immediately coordinated actions. Within hours they raised 2,000 euros to cover his fare in a compelling act of kindness.
Or the German pediatrician Mathias Wenderborn, who founded Refudocs, an on-call practice in Munich with seventy other doctors focused on refugees, asylum seekers and their children. Their goal is to help in the welcoming process; ensuring health needs are met after their arduous journey.
Or the story of Thuy Nguyen, a Vietnamese refugee resettled in Canada forty years ago who is now sponsoring and welcoming Syrian refugees herself. She speaks about “a sense of social responsibility, (…) [to] give back to others who were in [her] position”
These small acts of kindness are not often picked up by the widespread media, but are still incredibly relevant and important. They showcase the locally-driven and executed efforts to welcome and make newcomers feel at home. They speak loudly about inclusion, common humanity, and compassion. They deserve to be shared and heard.
Like Rabiaa, the Syrian seamstress settled in Antigonish, who immediately got to work when the local hockey coach phoned her asking for help sewing his team’s jerseys. “Even though this is a very simple thing, I am grateful that of all people I was able to provide this to them,” says Rabiaa. Her story offers a window into the beautiful process of community building, and the desire for those who have been resettled to give back.
In Budapest, a group of volunteers realized that a large group of refugees, many of which were children, had been blocked by authorities outside the main train station. In response, they organized a film screening of Tom and Jerry for all the children to enjoy.
Actions like these span across sectors and geographical areas.
Often, inclusion also goes in line with profitable businesses. Like the Eat Offbeat start-up in New York, founded by Manal Kahi, employing twelve refugees as chefs and sharing their local cuisines with New Yorkers. Not only is the company baking delicious food, it provides jobs for and fights prejudice against refugees.
On the other side of the ocean, CALM (Comme a la Maison), a French initiative, pairs refugees seeking shelter with locals that are willing to open up their homes from 3 to 12 months. The initiative’s goal is to provide mutual intercultural enrichment through cohabitation, while also addressing a pressing need for shelter.
The power of these stories reaches far beyond its immediate beneficiaries. They share a different side of the often negative and prejudice-ridden rhetoric. They bring to the table the deep desire for people to connect and help one another.
With this, I hope to share that any effort made toward a more inclusive, non-discriminatory, respectful society does not go unnoticed. Here, I hope these stories inspire others to #jointogether) with these initiatives, or to start their own if there are none among their communities. Most importantly, I hope to communicate that these small acts of solidarity have a huge impact (even if they don’t make the news) and that we wish to create a space to share them with others.
The need for shelter trespasses culture, geography, language or existence. All of these stories, while different in scope, have one shared common element: finding home in a distant land.