There is so much I want to say to the people of the world, the people we have failed.
But there are no words strong enough. So I have decided to tell a different story. I want to tell you about some beautiful refugees that I have met. I won’t go deep into their individual stories, as that is theirs to share. I would like to relay my experiences.
I live in the UK and like many others, I watch the news and sigh. It makes me feel helpless and guilty. Guilty that I have been blessed with an easier life, purely because of where I live. I myself immigrated to the UK with my family when I was 5 from Brazil. It was in no way comparable to the struggles of refugees and asylum seekers. But in a sense I can understand what it is like to be a foreigner. I remember watching my intelligent parents being looked down on because of their broken English and how much that hurt.
I went to school with a man who has set up a local charity, I love to help people so I immediately got involved. He started out feeding the homeless every week and since then it has grown. Every Saturday we now aid refugees. We invite them to eat with us, we provide food and sit and talk to these people. I have found that sometimes the biggest gift you can give to a person is time and effort. These Saturdays have changed my life.
The first day we had a handful of people arrive. I was incredibly nervous – what if I said something that triggered someone? What if they didn’t like me? I served the food and stood around awkwardly for a bit. There was a man sat on a chair on his own and I thought that maybe it would be an easy place to start. To this day I am so grateful that I chose to do this, as I have had the privilege of getting to know an amazing soul. He was a doctor back in Aleppo and has not been in the UK long. I found that he is not married and any family he still has remains in Aleppo. We didn’t talk too deeply, but bonded over our love of cats. I spent most of that evening showing him pictures of my kitten whilst he told me stories of his cat which he had to leave behind. I learnt that he knew one person in the whole of England, who wasn’t even in the same town. His housemates were nice but from different countries so there were language issues. He was learning English, I helped him with some phrases whilst he taught me Arabic.
I have known this man a few months now and never have I seen him complain or break. He was always smiling, the first to introduce himself to new people. I didn’t attend for some weeks due to personal issues and he texted me to make sure I was ok. Can you imagine that? He has fled war and horror, his family live in a constant state of fear. Yet he was concerned about me?
What hurt me the most is that he is in his 50s. This man chose to not start a family as he wanted to dedicate his life to this career – helping people. Yet his decades of experience as a doctor mean nothing in this country. He can’t get a job and is usually looked down on. This made me question a lot of things.
On a brighter note; things have now improved, he has made friends through our refugee get-togethers and has others he can relate to. We’ve helped him find English lessons and I am in awe as to how quick he is picking it up! We have managed to find him a laptop and are working towards seeing if we can get him educated to become a doctor here.
I met a couple from Sri Lanka, too. He was a professional cricket player and she was a hairdresser back home. They cannot work until they are granted leave to remain, they live off £50 a week – that is for both of them. He plays for our local cricket club now but they are unable to pay him. He doesn’t even have shoes that fit.
They were so happy and welcoming, they taught me Sri Lankan whilst I learnt about their culture. They are Buddhists, and some of the sweetest people I have met. I am always amazed at how happy and genuinely touched these people are that others want to learn about their cultures and traditions. I guess the UK spends so long shoving our colonial way of life down their throats that they don’t get a chance to talk about their roots.
If you are standing up, sit down. Be ready to shed tears as I tell you about a moment that had me broken. I was on cake and sweets duty and a Syrian boy of 7 came up to the table. I asked him what he wanted and he pointed to a cupcake and a bag of sweets. I picked them up and tried to hand them to him. He wouldn’t take them from me. I asked if he wanted them, he said yes, but he would not take them. He then ran off.
I stood confused for a moment, then picked up what he had wanted and went after him. I asked his mother if he was allowed sweets. Maybe he would get in trouble for taking them? She smiled kindly and replied that he was allowed anything he wanted.
So I approached him once more, I tried to give him the goodies. He wouldn’t take them but he did want them. You see, he didn’t think the sweets and cakes were for him, he thought I was tricking him. What would have had to have happened in his life for this child to think that he didn’t deserve cake, that it wasn’t something he could have?
After some persuasion, he took them and that look of joy and disbelief when he bit into that cake is something that I will take to my grave.
These kids have been through hell and yet they are the most polite children I have seen. They smile and play like they haven’t lost everything. I was once pouring some juice for a boy and his friend came up to him and told him to make sure he said thank you to me. I mean most adults don’t say thank you when you hold open a door!
I have countless stories and I think I could sit forever and still not be able to accurately portray how amazing these people actually are. I just want to say to the ignorant imbeciles out there who like to hate on refugees. Please actually talk to one, get to know them. They wear their hearts on their sleeves and are the such good-hearted people.
The strength and faith I have encountered has shocked me to my core.
Mitta is a 24 year old from the UK, she is Indian, Muslim and technically Brazilian. She loves loves loves to read and is obsessed with cats. Check out her poetry on @mt-1992.
Art by Mahmoud Salameh.
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