Six years ago, Syrian teen Nabil fled Syria with his family. They stayed for four years in a small apartment in Jordan, all the while doing everything they could to find a permanent, stable, safe home. Now Nabil and his family have settled in Seattle, where he plays forward on his soccer team, volunteers with a Muslim organization to reach out to local homeless people and welcomes other Syrian refugees as they arrive and begin to rebuild their lives.
This World Refugee Day, which is marked across the globe on June 20, nonprofits, governmental organizations and regular citizens like you and me can recognize the immense resilience of refugees like Nabil. I got to interview Nabil for my work with Microsoft Philanthropies, which is sharing stories of refugee youth to direct donations to its nonprofit partners such as the International Rescue Committee, Mercy Corps, the UNHCR and more. And stories like Nabil’s, and the tens of thousands of others like him, inspire us to want to know how to help refugees.
Wanting to make a difference in the lives of refugees
As I learned about Nabil and the other inspiring young refugees I wrote about, I was struck by the fact that of the more than 22 million refugees worldwide, more than half are under the age of 18. That statistic bowled me over as a mother.
I look at my own two kids and know that it is merely chance—the luck of being born where they were—that has kept them safe and in a home. My girls don’t have to flee from violence. They don’t have to interrupt their education. They don’t have to cross deserts or oceans or bomb-cratered cities to seek a chance for a better future.
World Refugee Day is not the first time I’ve thought about how to help refugees. We joined a candlelight vigil for refugees, I’ve been involved in the local nonprofit Butterfly Boxes, I donate to organizations that serve refugees such as SOS Children’s Villages International and lately I’m researching how I will get more deeply involved in the lives of young refugees.
But World Refugee Day makes me closely examine what more I can do to help displaced people—especially young refugees.
How to help refugees
Because hopelessness breeds inaction, it’s important to believe that you can make a difference in the lives of displaced people and refugees. Even if the problem feels insurmountable, and the solution so elusive, we can’t sit back and do nothing.
So if you’re looking for ideas on how to help refugees and displaced people, here are a few places to start.
- Donate. A ton of hard-working people from nonprofits are doing the truly difficult and vital work of helping refugees and internally displaced people with emergency response, health care, education, resettlement and much more. Check out the organizations I linked to above or take a peek at the Karam Foundation, a nonprofit run by a Syrian family that founded a youth center in Turkey so refugee kids there can learn to code, paint a mural or even build a 3-D prosthetic for a lost limb. And don’t forget to take advantage of your company’s donation matching program, if it has one!
- Stand #WithRefugees. Take to social media and explain why you are #WithRefugees. Advocacy is more powerful if we can show a groundswell of public support.
- Make your voice heard. With the ideas in the Refugee Council USA’s advocacy toolkit, you can better work for the interests of people who have had to flee their homes. The toolkit has practical ideas on speaking with your local and national representatives, using social media for advocacy and civic engagement to show that you welcome refugees.
- Get involved. Chances are, there is a nonprofit that serves refugees near you. I’m looking into teaching art classes to young people who have resettled in Portland, but you can find volunteering opportunities that match your interests, whether those are in fund-raising, translation, tutoring or even becoming a family’s “buddy.”
- Be a friend. Seek out refugees in your community and smile. Ask the kids what they like to do. Ask if they need a hand with anything. Share something about yourself. Relocating to a place where you don’t speak the language, understand the customs or look like the majority can be isolating and disorienting. (And did you know that when refugees apply for resettlement, they don’t get to choose where they go? So refugees are somewhat randomly assigned to any number of countries—imagine the uncertainty!) You can create a semi-formalized friendship through a local “buddy” program or mingle with neighbors—the long-standing ones as well as recent ones—at community events like Butterfly Boxes’ monthly potlucks.
- Talk about why you care about the refugee crisis. Our country is divided on just about everything—including refugees. Talk about why you care, why you think we should welcome displaced people, why humankind is stronger united rather than divided. Arm yourselves with the facts that debunk common myths about refugees. You might just change someone’s mind.
- Don’t tune out. There are more than 65 million displaced people worldwide, and that number grows every minute. But the ongoing nature of the global refugee crisis doesn’t give us leave to ignore it. We can’t—the people who need a hand rebuilding their lives are counting on the continued attention and support of those of us who can help.
Nabil—the young refugee who now lives in Seattle, where he bemoans the rain but loves chocolate donuts—is remaking a life for himself in his new home, thanks in part from the continued support of the International Rescue Commission. When I asked him how his life has changed now that he lives in the United States, his answer floored me.
“My father wants us to have a good life and good future,” Nabil told me. “That has become true, because now we are safe in Seattle. I feel safe. And I feel welcome here.”
I work for Microsoft Philanthropies, where I wrote profiles about young refugees and their hopes for the future. This post is separate, is made of my opinions, does not represent the interests of Microsoft and was not compensated.