Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Teach Them What They Need to Know For Life

Photo Credit: Jesuit Refugee Services

Prepared By: Melanie Marie Jimenez

During some unsolicited extra time in Rome and the airport in Istanbul, I decide to get caught up on news back home in the United States. I learned the United States Supreme Court would be hearing challenges to President Obama’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). I was caught off guard by what a drastic difference in tone towards migration these articles displayed from the themes of accompaniment, welcoming, and reintegration that echoed through the presentations we heard in Rome. The most glaring omission for me was the lack of discussion regarding education as a key factor to reintegration.

Photo Credit: Doug Mills of the New York Times

I have been blessed with great educational opportunities. My parents worked hard to ensure I received the best education available. My parents wanted to ensure I received a strong educational foundation so I could have doors open up for me, which they couldn’t even dream of. They also wanted my education to be grounded in values. I have attended private, religious schools my entire life that focused on educating me as a person with moral responsibilities to my community. I attended Notre Dame High School in San Jose where emphasis was placed not just on academic excellence, but on building a community among us that strove to give back. The vision of St. Julie Billiart to, “teach them what the need to know for life,” was more than a mission statement, it was a way of life that included having a social conscious and a commitment to being a life-long learner. I did not truly appreciate this message until I moved to Japan after college to be an English language teacher.

Despite the language barrier, I was able to establish a community in Japan. I was a stranger, but I was welcomed. I was greeted by a very welcoming community that was eager to teach me their language and culture as well as to learn about mine. As a result, we established a mutual respect for one another and I found myself wanting to learn everything I could about the way of life in my host country. By learning together and from each other, I formed a bond and a community with my new neighbors. I can still remember vividly how proud I felt the day I was able to navigate to a tiny Japanese restaurant off the beaten path, order off of a Japanese menu, and communicate in Japanese with the wait staff. That simple routine was a turning point for me. It made Japan feel like home.

I was reminded of that moment and my personal sense of pride, belonging, and acceptance when Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) presented their education programs worldwide to service refugees. What greater gift can you provide than to welcome a refugee, provide them with an education, and teach them the language of their new home so they can adapt to their new environment? Watching videos of children receiving an education for the first time(like the one below) was powerful. Having come from a strong, Jesuit educational background I had taken for granted what a gift it is to learn. JRS strives to provide refugees with that gift during their darkest times, when they are struggling to establish a new identity and way of life.

The Rome AGI program through the University of San Francisco challenged me to learn through immersion. Instead of simply reading and studying the issues of refugees and human trafficking, I stepped out of my comfort zone and spoke with people who are working everyday on these issues. Most importantly, I was granted the gift of time to listen and absorb. My perspective is forever altered.

"Education is a key in combating the evil of hatred, violence and war. I'm ever more convinced of that," said JRS International Director Fr Peter Balleis S.J. "Learning is a way to nourish, in a situation of utter despair, the hope in people." I hope that you too will take the time to educate yourself on the issues facing refugees and victims of human trafficking. More importantly, I hope you will join me in supporting the efforts of JRS to provide an education to refugees so that they too can learn, "what they need to know for life."  Education can serve as hope to a refugee. It can open up paths to a future refugees never imaged. Education can also aide in eliminated the fear of the unknown. My hope is that once we educate ourselves alongside refugees, we can begin to have conversations about our shared communities as people, not as legals v. illegals, regulars v. irregulars, documented v. undocumented, but as people.

Nelson Mandela Education Quote picture
Support Jesuit Refugee Services’ Mercy in Motion campaign to educate refugees worldwide:

Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for the World of Migrants and Refugees 2016: