63.5 million. The number of forcibly displaced people worldwide right now.
21.3 million of that number are people classified as refugees. 10 million stateless people – no home, title or identity. This is the largest refugee crisis our world has seen since WW2, a crisis I did not educate myself on nearly enough or even put much thought into until recently when it became my job. Until these numbers were no longer just a statistic but became actual faces with names and stories. This is my job but it is so much more than just a job to me. I have formed relationships with these people and I hold them in my heart every day.
This semester I have been interning with Nationalities Service Center (NSC) from 9-5 Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday. I realized the other day I haven’t said much about my internship on my blog. This is due to the fact that there is just so much to say. Every day is so full of personal stories and experiences, heavy work, emotionally and physically draining. There is so much to write about and process within myself sometimes that it is hard to articulate that onto a page. But I will do my best to bring light to the situation as I am seeing it and to bring humanity back in to the refugee crisis.
Every day my passion for these people and their life continues to grow. They each arrive here with different stories. Years of terror and baggage, some far worse than others but all equally heart breaking. These people leave situations of intense fear, lives of persecution, torture, abuse and chaos to live in poorly conditioned refugee camps. Most of the people we resettle here have been in refugee camps for numerous years facing extreme amounts of screening and vetting before arriving here to secure that they are safe. And when they do finally arrive here, the long awaited “land of opportunity” they are greeted with a busy and for the most part unwelcoming city where they have virtually no identification, no home, no community, no job and no common language. For the most part they have to start from scratch. We see former doctors and businessmen, highly educated in their country coming over to America and working in a 7/11 because they need to put food on the table for their children and nobody will hire the Syrian refugee with very broken English. I say families, but sadly many cases also arrival alone or with only part of their family, maybe having watched the rest of their family be killed just before escaping themselves or being separated from them during the journey.
NSC is responsible for resettling 49.4% of incoming refugees to Philadelphia. Last fiscal year this looked like about 600 people for us. We help resettle refugees from all across the world, the large majority of our clients right now being from Syria, Iraq, Bhutan, Burma, Pakistan, Congo & Ukraine. Within NSC, myself and two of my gap year friends, Rachel and Anna Beth, are specifically interning in the Resettlement Department. This department welcomes newly arriving refugees and aids them in securing permanent housing, getting set up with identification and utilities, accessing community resources, getting plugged in with a community here, enrolling their children in school, and supporting the adults with finding employment.
With the the job we have as interns we work a lot on the front lines, reading through these people’s case files, then putting faces with names and working with them hands on. This job is draining. I would be lying if I said otherwise. There is so much brokenness around us. So much I want to bring awareness to and do better for these people but sadly the other interns and I just aren’t capable. We can not carry out the change we wish to see on our own. Seeing that we are a government organization we are inevitably extremely under funded and under staffed. Because of this we rely heavily on volunteers such as ourselves, aka pretty incompetent people thrown into jobs with little to no training. This is nuts as a 19 year old girl who until getting here my mom still set up my doctors appointments for me… but man, have I grown. And oh, am I learning. Hey Mom! If you are reading this I can now set up my own doctors appointments & a lot more!!!
Going into this internship I thought we would be doing a lot more paperwork and behind the scenes stuff, working at a slower pace to help out where needed. I didn’t intend to be so vital to the functioning of this organization but I am extremely glad that is not the case at all here. Our job tasks include: escorting refugees to get social security cards, welfare access cards, state IDs, pay their bills, taking them to and from doctor appointments, waiting very long hours sometimes full days with them in these offices, helping them set up bank accounts, taking them to enroll their kids in school, helping collect materials for house set ups before they arrive, filling out extensive forms and paperwork for each of these tasks, escorting to PECO & PGW (utilities), picking clients up at their houses, helping them get home at the end of the day (which sometimes looks like working 2+ hours after 5 to get them all the way across town).
At first this was very overwhelming. I remember feeling so much pressure to not mess up – I mean these people are counting on me. They have already been through so much. I didn’t want to get them lost in the city , bring them to an office or waiting area and realize I don’t have all the paperwork or don’t know what questions to ask. I didn’t want them to feel I had no clue what I was doing (although a lot of times I didn’t). But even more than that I did not want my own fear to hold these people back from getting the equal treatment they deserve and access that others have, so I stepped in blind. And I did mess up. I do mess up a ton but I am learning things through failing. It is through failure, through trial and error, stepping outside of our comfort zone or our zone where we know we can probably succeed that we grow & learn the most. I have come to know this so so well.
When I come home exhausted, angered at the system, saddened for the situations I see each day it just pushes me to work harder. It motivates me to not sit idly by anymore and ignore a huge crisis in our world simply because I am so privileged and not directly affected. My heart longs for our world to see people as people. Humanity as humanity. For us as a country to not act out of fear or judge refugees out of fear but out of love. If we can all stop fearing that which is different or foreign to our own comfort we will be able to see how little there is to fear and how much there is to love about one another, as we are all people just the same.
“We love because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19