Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Through the Eyes of a Child

Photo: Drawings by children in northern Uganda who witnessed attacks and abductions by the Lord’s Resistance Army. Source: JRS-Int.
Through the Eyes of a Child: The Migrant & Refugee Crisis as Told by the Most Venerable Population

By Clorens Andre

During the Academic Global Immersion study in Rome we received exposure to how European governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are managing the protracted migration and refugee crisis. Christopher Hein, Spokesman and Strategic Advisor for the Consiglio Italiano per i Rifugiati, taught us about the geopolitical, intergovernmental and international approach to the migrant & refugee crisis. You can learn more about the approach by reading about the 1951 Refugee Convention where the legal obligations of participating nation states to protect displaced people were outlined.

The complexity of the problem and the approaches to solve the problem can seem overwhelming. Civil war, economic hardship and natural disasters are among reasons why people flee their nation of origin. What tend to get lost in these complex issues are the human stories that connect us all. It is important to learn about the stats, stakeholders and strategic plans but what resonated with me the most were individual narratives of human beings seeking humanity in a new land.

UNICEF reports that nearly half of all refugees are children. Through the eyes of a child, one gets an unfiltered, apolitical and agendaless story. Children give a perspective that isn’t muddied by personal motivations. They just want to be children. A refugee from Albania shared a story about her voyage to Italy at 7 years old. She talked about being on a boat with her mother and her two brothers and playing on the boat as if it were an adventure. Her innocence served as a layer of protection from the dangerous and uncertain reality she faced. The picture below was drawn by children in Northern Uganda who witnessed unspeakable violence. This picture serves as a small window into the psychological scars refugee children carry.

As a defenseless and vulnerable refugee population, children are most susceptible to being subject of exploitation, violence and sex crimes. Fr. Thomas Smolich (Fr. Tom), Director of Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) told us a story about a colleague name Sr. Regina who worked in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where violence has displaced 2.6 million people. There, Sr. Regina worked with the most vulnerable population but by accident she called them (speaking French) “vénérable,” instead of “vulnérable”, “an indirect expression of her unshakeable belief in their dignity.” In Pope Francis’ message for the 103th World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2017, he stated “every person is precious; persons are more important than things, and the worth of an institution is measured by the way it treats the life and dignity of human beings, particularly when they are vulnerable, as in the case of child migrants.” When we’re speaking of stats and figures, we must also look for the human beings that are represented by those stats and figures. We must remember on a cellular human level we are all connected. I think children have an unintentional way of reminding us of this. In speaking with Radio Vaticana, Fr. Tom shared a story about a Syrian Chess champion teaching young displaced children how to play chess in Homs. Fr. Toms, remarked how hopeful he was after seeing this because as he put it “one doesn’t teach chess unless you see a long-term future; if it’s only for the short-term, you’re teaching checkers.” In the midst of this crisis, there is hope for the future. However, we should play chess to strategize for a resolution that will ensure bright futures for present and future generations.

Attend the USF for Freedom Conference to learn about ways to get involved and support nonprofits working on solving the problem. Find more information here: www.usf4freedom.org.