Have you ever met a refugee ?
A couple of weeks ago, the first meeting of SINGA’s international teams took place in Paris. After a few days of brainstorming, it was time to celebrate, before returning to our homes all over the globe. We started discussing the collateral aspects of our social mission and, more generally, the collateral impacts of choosing what some may politely define as an “alternative” professional path”.
Parents’ approval and recognition
Sure, your friends and the people you discuss with are receptive to your arguments and very much inclined to acknowledge the respectability and legitimacy of your work. But parents somehow remain deaf to the quality (and quantity) of your arguments and, by some kind of genetic joke, are suddenly emptied of basic cognitive capacities the moment you start giving a demonstration of your professional activities.
It is, of course, not a very serious issue. Still, admit that the perspective of your upcoming family dinner is already giving you a headache…
But let’s go back to our topic. While celebrating, we were sharing our most representative stories of what I just described, and one of us replayed a scene he had with his father:
“- Ah, those refugees… lazy, they don’t want to work”
“- I don’t think you know any of them, you should consider getting to know at least one.”
“- Ah! Because YOU know a refugee maybe!”
Good story, good storytelling: everyone laughs.
But the truth is, this father is right. My friend doesn’t know any refugees. None of us working with SINGA know any refugees and really, no social impacter with an honest approach to his work knows a refugee !
Words are a very useful tool. They are an indispensable tool ! They allow our thoughts to be shared and understood, even by a total stranger. But to achieve that, we need to agree first on a common definition of the words we use. And that’s the tricky part.
Since its creation, SINGA has been working with a great deal of displaced people, who get their life back on track within our societies. We all meet and share on a daily basis but, in my view at least, I am still waiting for that famous “refugee” to show up …
You know the guy right? The hero who, in his daily struggle against oppressive powers, infuses the sparkle of freedom and revolution in every word he speaks ! The wise, true poet, enlightened by the knowledge of ancient and forgotten scriptures, who can read into your soul and tell the secrets of our existence.The heartbroken artist who, eyes closed in contemplation, sings his pain under the full moon… Not to forget the lazy slacker who is very happy doing nothing and living off welfare benefits (how does he get to eat better food, wear brand new clothes and order cocktails at the bar ??) What about his evil twin, the job-stealer ? He who lives in a poor urban area, eats cold beans out of a can and owns one pair of trousers despite working 19 hours a day ? He who, by getting this job, suddenly turned it into an attractive professional occupation for unemployed locals. And finally, let us not forget the victim, of course. This “refugee” is always submerged and overwhelmed by external events which rule over his life, twisting and turning it relentlessly. Unable to deal with the simplest of tasks, his only recourse is to ask for help, desperately.
Quite logically, none of us ever got to meet those “refugees”. Because they are not real. They are characters, archetypes … stereotypes. And like all characters, they are made up.
Sure, we deal with people who have in common a specific administrative status. But even then, how differentiating is it really ? Isn’t migration an integral part of the Human DNA ? What’s so original there ? Beyond this parameter, there are only people. Individuals made rich by their personalities and skills. People who are different or similar, interesting or … not so interesting. Skillful or mediocre, funny or boring … Some human beings can be incredibly and unbelievably boring.
Treading up that mountain
Seeing others sincerely as humans is not easy. And too many times, our perception shrinks down to reductive representations that seem handy because they relieve busy minds from the effort of true comprehension. It is like seeing the top of a mountain from a distance — you see it, you know it’s there, you know more or less what it looks like, but saying you’ve reached the top would be wrong.
Getting up that mountain is hard. It requires suspending our judgement, striving to see people rather than ideas of people and falling back from the sweet seduction of categories. It also requires defining and challenging our notion of the society we live in, and the notion we have of our identity. But even though it is hard, it is very necessary, and we have the chance of knowing plenty of people, some of whom are refugees, who will take the journey with us towards building a more comprehensive and therefore thriving society.
By: Andrea Curulla, ridge. Editing: Alexandra Ribeiro, rim.
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