These days, the refugee crisis is a super-hot topic everywhere around the world but especially in Europe. Most Europeans fear that refugees from Syria will bring problems to their countries, but these fears in most cases don't have solid ground in logic but are mere requisites of distress from the unknown and ignorance. If we could step into shoes of these unfortunate individuals and families for just a moment, we would realize that we can all live very happily together. I know from my own experiences that each and every refugee has his or her own deep and rich story and we can all learn from their bravery. Let me share what I learned from a young Somalian mother, who raises eight fabulous kids.
Fatma moved near my house a little less than a year ago. The suburb I live in is actually a small village and tradition here is highly valued. Domestic people have inherited all sorts of practical skills, ever year's ceremonies, and also all the old resentments from their ancestors. Everyone knows everyone and even though more than half of the new citizens have moved to the area in last 10 years, newcomers are still not accepted by the original residents. Changes in this part of town are not easily accepted. As they disturb the routine and bring out the risk of unknown, people do everything to get around them. Therefore, I am not really surprised by the harsh accusations that refugees are just pain in the ass and should be thrown out of the country as soon as they step over the border. The threat is there all by itself! Not only that this people carry financial burdens, also their culture is so crazily diverse and they even have a different color of skin! How can someone trust a brown skinned man as he is so different than others?
I am happy to have a great opportunity to meet some very positive exceptions. In my business, I am surrounded with people every day who are not afraid of new. Some of these kinds of heroes work for my municipality, too, and I was more than delighted when I heard that they decided to actively include a Somalian family in our environment. Before I got this information, I must confess that even I was inquisitively wondering where all those small black children I saw every morning on different bus stations were coming from. They truly stood out of the ordinary with their dark skin, scarves on their heads, and beautifully colored clothes. It was impossible not to notice them. One day, my daughter told me that a black girl was going to stay with them in their class and pieces started to fall into place for me. I checked with a teacher and she has confirmed that new kids were part of Somalian refugee family that moved in our municipality and decided to stay for long-term. The school offered help and started integrating eight uneducated children.
I was thrilled about the news as I strongly believe that meeting a diversity of cultures is a very rich experience for any child and a great opportunity to expand their horizons. I was even more delighted as I recognized that my daughter was very keen to a new school-mate and they started to grow a friendship rapidly. Every morning as I was walking down the school alley, I was deeply touched by observing how our kids kindly accepted newbies and haven't noticed obstacles that we adults are facing when meeting changes. All they saw in newcomers in their classes was an opportunity for learning new ways of play and having new friends.
Unfortunately, the perspective was very different for many of adults. Some parents were loudly complaining as they realized that such significant diversity was entering their children's classes. They made up a variety of arguments, from neglecting Muslim religion to complaining that the learning process was interrupted because of the language differences. Oh, boy, what all we are capable of when fear shows its teeth! I could just feel the hardship this family has been through as they had to constantly fight doubtful gazes. I decided to do everything to help them integrate into our community. I decided to write an article about them for a local magazine as I was hoping that with a soft approach, I would clear the unknown, spread knowledge and awareness, and encourage empathy among people.
I met Fatma for an interview in her small apartment and as we started talking about her life experiences, I was shaken by her sincere shyness. I tried to reassure her with my enthusiasm and once I finally gained her trust, she started revealing full bucket of rich details. She shocked me as I realized that even though she had already had eight children, she was only 34 years old. Her oldest daughter was 15 and her youngest boy was only two years old. She married when she was just 15 years old and even though she was a city girl, she was obliged to give her hand to a man she had never met before. She told me without any resentment or "drama" that in her culture, men are allowed to have four wives and her husband was no exception. As she grew up with such ideology, she took her circumstances for granted, but as I dig a bit more, she confessed that she wished for her children to find a real love.
She was genuinely grateful for the life support she was given by social workers and just as I was visiting, Caritas stopped by. They supplied new sacks of rice, flour, and other foodstuff. The cupboards got filled up, but I couldn't stop to wonder how long the supply would withstand with eight very hungry mouths. Even though women in Somalia pretty much never come into contact with the employment market, Fatma told me that her biggest wish was to finally get a job and start earning enough to take care for her family by herself. Her hopes were truly humble. A cleaning job or cooking for someone would be more than enough for her ambitions. However, as she told me, the color of her skin was still a big obstacle for most to open their doors for her.
I was amazed by her courage! The life story of this great warrior was jam-packed with all of the great skills that I highly value: openness to changes, determination to reach the goal, and a true love for her children. She didn't crouch when the war took her husband's life. She sacrificed her motherly needs and left her children for seven years with their grandparents so that she could find a safe place on earth for their better future. And she didn't run away from cultural differences, unknown countries, and constant wonder what challenges the next day would bring for her. Her determination and bravery earned her a safe home in my small European village and by accomplishing that, she gained much higher personal success than most of us ever will. She followed her dreams and gave up of her old beliefs, religion and love and was ready to learn and persist.
Her children are really a happy bunch. Not only that, but they have been given the opportunity to have a much richer and freer life, and they are growing up with a strong example at their side. Every day, they are learning that they can accomplish everything if they put their hearts into their goals and proceed with strong determination. With warm feeling in my heart, I offered to help them meet their potentials. We are just now planning a Somalian dinner for a very large circle of my friends and we are all eagerly awaiting to taste Fatma's delicious cookery. Life is full of opportunities if we just open our eyes and listen to our hearts. I hope governments will know where to look and support the potentials of many Syrian refugees who are searching for new homes in Europe. I believe, together, we can build a very positive and rich future if we only succeed in making the first step and swipe away the big, black hole called fear, which has nothing in it.