Knowing refugees made me realize I had so much more to do with my life

Knowing refugees made me realize I had so much more to do with my life
Graffiti at the refugee camp

In honor of World Refugee Day 2017: Knowing refugees made me realize I had so much more to do with my life

Changing lives

Ten years ago I was in the second year of my Bachelor’s in International Relations. I kept asking myself whether that was the path for me or if I should give up on it and try another course. In the meantime I had been looking for a way to get engaged in a volunteering activity in town and I signed up for a homeless people support group. In the first meeting, however, I was asked if I would join another branch of the group, one that supported irregular migrants in a detention facility.

I did, and ever since, I couldn’t be happier with my choice.

For several years I served the amazing people whose life circumstances had forced them to flee their own countries and look for survival on in a different continent (in most cases). I ended up writing my Master’s thesis on the life stories of some of them. They are extraordinary people who had no choice but to become refugees, and yet they had not been given recognition or the right to stay in the place they thought would be safe for them.

Each one of them marked me profoundly, but there is one testimony that is still very present: the story of a Nigerian man who was abducted to become a boy soldier in Liberia. When he had the  chance to run away from there, he kept on running and ended up crossing the Mediterranean Sea, believing nothing could be worse than what he had left behind.

He told me something that still comes to my mind very frequently: “They are fortunate. I pray that one day I‘ll have my own children and will not be away from them. You can‘t know what it means to grow up without your parents. I know what it feels like not to know who to call when you have problem … except God. I know what it is to feel rejected and neglected. … But all the same I thank my God because I have life. And because I have life I want to make it count. Because one of my greatest dreams is this: I want to inspire many. That is my greatest dream.”

I’ve been struggling to do something meaningful to help refugees and other migrants, doing my best so that these stories are known and listened to and answered to. Last year, in a refugee camp in Greece, I met many other inspiring people who have been caught in unfortunate situations. All of them carry a story of courage and resilience.

One of them, an Afghani mother, asked me before I left: “Please, do all you can to make sure people in Europe know what we’ve been through, what we’re still going through.

I left my country with my family. I couldn’t stay there anymore. There were bombings around my kids’ school. A woman I knew was decapitated while she was working. I was menaced on the phone … I couldn’t stay there anymore. The most precious thing I brought was my computer, where my work and all my pictures were stored. The moment we entered the boat in Turkey I threw it on the ground. All I cared for were my children … and during that trip all I did was looking into their eyes, thinking it might be the last time I’d see them. Please, tell people this.”

I believe stories can change lives. I believe knowing people and their stories can change our perspective on the world and what is important or not. I’m in charge of sharing these stories and that gave a whole new meaning to my own life. I just wish I could do much more.

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.

About Ana Pinho
Languages, International Relations and Cooperation researcher. Musical and Community Theater student, professional and teacher. Volunteer in as many fields as possible. Portuguese citizen of the world.