Visiting a Refugee Camp

Today’s headlines can make us forget how many people around the world want to help refugees. In this story, even people in a small Turkish town whose livelihoods are being affected by the crisis want to help.

I was drawn to several interesting comments in an interview posted on the website of Minneapolis-based American Refugee Committee (ARC) posted on ARC’s website.

Tharangi Cumaranatunge, ARC finance controller, recently returned from visiting refugees and ARC staff in Turkey. What struck her the most about the visit’s affect on her was how her perceptions about the different groups of people hurt by the crisis became more nuanced.

I didn’t anticipate,” she said, “the empathy and admiration that I would feel for host communities in Turkey who are trying to do the right thing by everyone.

“For example, we met a Turkish man in a seaside town called Bodrum whose livelihood in tourism had been badly affected by the crisis. Despite his reservations, he felt a deep empathy toward refugees and the struggles they’re going through. He, and other Turkish people we met … were acutely aware that they were witness to something unprecedented, and how they responded in this moment in time would define their own humanity.

“I felt for this man and his community, and admired his resolution to retain his compassion for others.”

Cumaranatunge also speaks with admiration for the resilience and courage of a young Syrian she met.

“Mahmoud is the oldest of eight children – five of his siblings are with him in Turkey, and his two youngest siblings are still with his parents, stuck inside Syria. … He’s tried to make it to Greece seven times by boat, each journey a treacherous one that has almost cost him his life. He persists because he feels responsible for his family, for helping them to survive.

“He has embraced his present life in Turkey and is busy making a living to support his family and is also actively involved with an organization that supports Syrian refugee families in Turkey, spreading hope for the future and extending goodwill to all those he comes across. … Despite all the uncertainties that the future holds, he gets back on his feet – for his family – time and time again.”

 Syrian refugee children in a camp in Turkey

Syrian refugee children in a camp in Turkey

At the Providence Granola Project, we also see over and over again, that the reason refugees put themselves through so much struggle to come here and carve out a life is for family. They feel they have no other choice.

Summing up, Cumaranatunge expressed a wish to do something for individual refugees who often feel that their voices are getting lost.

“I would love to create a way where the abundance of people who want to help – like the Turkish people we met, the international volunteers, and the global community at large – could get connected on an individual, people-to-people basis to help those who need it most. The child, the sister, the brother – their needs are different."

At the PGP, we're working on ways to engage those who want to help. Perhaps the easiest way is to buy granola, made with pride by newly arrived refugees, gift it to family and friends, tell everyone you know about refugees coming to our communities. You can also sell granola as part of a service project, with your civic organization or as part of a faith-based community.

We also connect our PGP trainees with their American neighbors in a "First Friends" relationship, so that refugees and their families feel supported and gain understanding as they start new lives here, and Americans learn about newcomers and their cultures, as well as their joys and struggles. Many resettlement programs across the US offer a range of these kinds of programs, from mentorship or tutoring to "community orientation" to "culture broker" volunteers. Feel free to comment below about your experiences welcoming refugees to the US.

More here.


Caroline Ellis of SuzannesMomsBlog submitted this post.