Speak with your heart – World Refugee Day 2018

Hawaii speak with your heart
Malia and Sakera in Bangladesh

Kailua, O’ahu, Hawai’i – A registered nurse shows how to speak with your heart when she befriends a refugee child.

The first day I met you, you were so scared and shy of everything around you.

I wanted to talk with you, to get to know you, but struggled because of the language barrier. I would say something to you via the translator, but you didn’t want to respond, you didn’t want to make eye contact; you had so much fear. I imagine you’re thinking: who is this strange American nurse talking to me? Why does she talk to me and why do I have to talk to her?

So. I can’t speak your language. You can’t speak my language. You’re nine years old and just witnessed the worst brutalities and fled your home country as a refugee. Your elbow is broken and you have to have it elevated 24/7 and you hate that. As I meet you for the first time, I wonder: how do I make you feel safe? How do I make you feel loved? How do I communicate I want to help you and won’t hurt you? A soft little whisper comes to me: Speak with your heart.

I sit next to you on the hospital cot and take my stethoscope off my shoulders and motion that I will touch your chest. I listen to your heart beat, smile … and say, “Thump, thump ….” Your heart is beating fast – I imagine from being anxious of the strange surroundings.

You have so much fear in your eyes and I want so badly to put you at peace, but know I can’t ease your anxiety through words alone. So, I hand you my stethoscope, put the ear piece in your ears, and place the diaphragm on my chest so you can hear MY heart beat. Magic. The muscles on your face soften, and I almost see a smile surface. I can tell you’ve never heard a heartbeat before or touched a stethoscope – your eyes were so unsure and also intrigued.

Then, I put the stethoscope to YOUR heart. It was the first time I saw you SMILE.  Your eyes told me everything. You turned your gaze toward me with eyes lit up and I could feel your guards go down. Speak with your heart.

I took your hand and placed the chest piece back on my heart and then back to your heart – “Thump thump … thump thump ….” We laughed. We did this for several minutes, feeling and hearing each other’s heartbeats.

The sound of our beating hearts, both beating the same and with the same “thump thump,” I could tell you understood a oneness between us – we were part of each other, human; even though I couldn’t speak your language, even though I was from a different country than you, and even though we follow a different religion. Our oneness is that we both have the same beating hearts.

You are a refugee, but you are a human first. You are Rohingya and have the strongest heart I have ever known. You saw family members murdered and walked days in the dark to cross the border to safety.

Thank you, Sakera, for being one of my greatest teachers. You taught me so much about fierce perseverance. Every day you were in pain, physically and emotionally, but you smiled anyway. You let me unwrap your bandages and assess your wounds even though you didn’t know me. You talked with me and shared your story with me, even though you knew I may never see you again. You gave me the greatest gift of all: you shared your heart and love with me. Every time I put my hand to my chest and feel my heart beat, I think of you and thank you for being you.

Speak with your heart. Thump thump.

Refugees shaking hands

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World Refugee Day 2018

This month, to celebrate World Refugee Day on June 20, US-born Americans across the United States honor newcomer Americans with a story from their state – a story of a refugee, asylee, or immigrant they admire. From soldiers to politicians, employers to students, social workers to business people – everyday Americans tell their stories to celebrate the goodness and courage of the newcomers who make the United States a better place.

Every day in the month of June, the Refugee Center Online will publish a new story from a different state. Check back for new stories each day: therefugeecenter.org/world-refugee-day.

Learn more about World Refugee Day. All across the country, there will be events celebrating World Refugee Day. Visit this map to find an event in your community.

About Malia Barshaw
Malia Barshaw was born and raised in Hawai'i and is a registered nurse. At the beginning of the Rohingya refugee crisis in Nov 2017, she went to Bangladesh to work as a disaster response nurse.