I haven’t regretted a single minute of my time dedicated to the refugee crisis

Refugees
From left: Maria, Duaa, Brigitte, children are Duaa’s daughters.

In honor of World Refugee Day 2017: I haven’t regretted a single minute of my time dedicated to the refugee crisis

My journey working with refugees

My journey working with refugees started about four years ago and has literally taken me around the world. I worked with refugees in Milwaukee Public Schools, branched out to work with them in other aspects in the Milwaukee community, and then decided to take a leap over the pond to do even more. I was blown away by the gratitude, respect, and love that I felt from this population, and haven’t regretted a single minute of my time dedicated to the refugee crisis.

Refugee crisis

After graduating from UW-Milwaukee, I felt called to do more for the refugee population. These feelings led me to overcrowded and underfunded refugee camps in Greece. I was blown away again, but this time by the heroism and resilience as well as the never-ending gratitude and love I felt from the refugees living within these camps. I spent nearly three months living and working in refugee camps that had residents from Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Palestine, and numerous other middle eastern and north African countries. They are living in Greece after making the dangerous journey from Turkey to a Greek island in a small, often man-made boat. This risky journey in overcrowded boats, with life vests that don’t actually float, in the cold middle of night, prove the desperation these people have for a life free of persecution, war, and oppression.

I often think about the many mornings I walked around one camp screaming, “Madrasa!” which means school in Arabic. Slowly but surely, the children would come out from the run-down bungalows they called home and run to the building that was remodeled by volunteers into a school. I also recall every weekend being asked, “Madrasa?” and I would remind them it was Saturday, and that school will resume in two days. I realized that our schedule and activities brought a sense of normalcy to the smallest, most resilient refugees. After a day of teaching, the mothers were always inviting me over for tea and food. I quickly learned that their appreciation was going to be shown to me in this way, and my pants would just have to accept that.

Sure, teaching was an important task while I was there, and so was attending to boat landings, sorting clothes, and making food packs. But, more than anything, my presence, listening ears, and open heart were what were most appreciated, because they all gave hope to people that have faced more adversity in the last few years than I will probably know in my entire life.

I will never forget the day that I left one of the camps.

One mother hugged me, with tears in her eyes, and said, “I pray that you find a wonderful job, and have a wonderful husband, and many wonderful children, because you deserve that.” I had every intention of staying strong and not crying, as I’d been telling the children that everyone has a time to leave camp – mine was just going to be before theirs. But in this moment I stood no chance. I was overcome with pain in my heart as I watched someone that fled war, is raising four beautiful children in a refugee camp, and works nonstop for her family say that I deserve all these wonderful things. All I wanted was to be able to give her everything she deserves, and each of the beautiful people I met in those camps, because they are proof that the world has so much anguish in it, but it also has people that will overcome the suffering and still show immense tenderness for others.

In honor of World Refugee Day 2017, the Refugee Center Online is collecting stories of how refugees make our lives better.

The Refugee Center Online believes newcomers make our country a better place. Refugee resettlement is not just the moral or ethical thing to do – it benefits us and our communities as well. These stories from individuals around the country show how knowing, teaching, working with, and perhaps most importantly, being friends with, refugees have improved the lives of Americans.

Refugees shaking hands

World Refugee Day June 20, 2017

Find events in your community and learn how you can celebrate World Refugee Day 2017.

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About Brigitte Potter

Brigitte just returned from three months of working at refugee camps.