World Refugee Day – a time to practice empathy
Last week a shelf broke in my house. It came crashing down, and with it, some ceramic and glass items dear to my heart. Something from my travels to Japan, another an heirloom from my grandfather – in other words, irreplaceable treasures. As I swept up the pieces, feeling a nostalgic loss, I thought of the many people we work with, for whom a broken shelf would have been a welcome calamity. I took that shelf, and I multiplied it. What if I had lost a whole room in my house, my car, a pet, an acquaintance, or a loved one just as suddenly as that shelf? The scale of loss that many newcomers we serve have experienced, is unimaginable, and yet, they move on, go to school, learn a new language, start businesses and rebuild their lives.
In June, Reception House is preparing for the commemoration of World Refugee Day (WRD) and helping to coordinate many local events taking place as part of WRD Waterloo Region.
The WRD theme once again this year is #BecomingNeighbours. WRD events will feature newcomer theatre, awards, art exhibits and a “story walk” as part of the annual Walk With Refugees to foster awareness of the many people who are often problematized and relegated to statistics. So many of our new neighbours have untold stories, have endured heartbreak and loss, and yet their very presence in our communities is a testament to human resilience.
As June approaches, let’s listen with open ears and open hearts to what they have to say.
Use this month to expand your knowledge and empathy. If you are reading this reflection, you are likely an ally to our cause – of extending a warm welcome to those who have been shut-out or cast-away from their own homes. You recognize that the toss of a coin could have made their story, your story…We don’t get to choose where we are born, or to whom. But you likely have friends, family and neighbours, who hear the word “refugee” and simply tune out because they feel it’s not their cause, or they can’t relate.
Some of you may have your own journey with displacement, or draw on the stories of your parents and ancestors. I thank you for reading this and coming back into the fold to help those who journey after you. For others, the journey of war, trauma, loss and starting over in a foreign country will be difficult to fathom.
Our communities grow stronger, healthier and safer only when we begin to empathize with the struggles of those who don’t look, or sound like us. When we embrace the diversity of our neighbourhoods, when we can break through barriers of language and culture to get to know our neighbours and find common ground.
This World Refugee Day, we encourage you to come out to the many events taking place across the region. You can find a full list at worldrefugeedaywr.com.
At these events, you will meet some of the folks new to our community, you’ll have an opportunity to hear their stories, and to understand the role you play in helping us make our community a welcoming place for all, including those arriving as refugees.
Visit the World Refugee Day WR website for events throughout the Month of June.