This June, we’re focusing on ways we can better support underserved populations through mentoring In Real Life! Throughout the month, we will be featuring content related to levels of ability, sexual orientation, gender identity, refugee status, and the role mentors can play in empowering young people who feel voiceless to speak with pride. Today, for World Refugee Day, Sikandar Khan, President of Global Emergency Response and Assistance (GERA), shares how mentors serve to make refugees feel welcome in an unfamiliar and sometimes hostile environment.
Just think: it could have been you gasping for air as your loved one drifted away and drowned at sea. It could have been your family that was broken apart, your brother that was killed, or your home that was shattered. It could have been you. It’s important to remember and honor the struggles that these refugees have faced, and to respect and help support them as they piece their lives back together.
“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free… Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.”
-Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus”
Many of our clients came to the U.S. in search of better opportunities in life, but arrived feeling unwanted and confused, in a new country that seemed unwelcoming. GERA’s most sincere passion is to advocate for the dignity and human rights of refugees in America and around the world. It does this by providing them with the tools needed to succeed, including an education and ESL classes. Some of our clients were once doctors, teachers, or engineers and now—due to the language gap—these trained professionals struggle to sustain a minimum wage job.
Often times, organizations only address refugee families’ short term needs, but these families need much more than that. We must all help to envision and create their future as Americans by facilitating their active integration into local communities and institutions, while simultaneously helping them sustain their independence.
Our work consists of humanizing refugees to a society that often seems to forget that refugees are humans. We seek to defend the lives and rights of refugees, and to create a social fabric in which we are able to uphold the human dignity of those who have lost everything.
In order to promote strong community development, GERA offers mentorship opportunities that pair mentors with a refugee family. These mentors commit to visiting and engaging with the family twice a month to help facilitate their adaptation. This type of mentorship establishes a friendly relationship with the refugee family and helps them feel supported as they integrate into society.
Humanizing entry is essential. Our mentors spend time with each family exchanging life stories and understanding professional backgrounds, strengths, and needs. We help establish a legal identity, access to housing and schooling, language skills, counseling, job training, and other services, as first steps in helping families resettle.
Through our mentorship program, we also help facilitate exchanges between refugees and interfaith communities to develop social and professional networks. Through dinners, talks, and cultural exchanges, we dispel stereotypes and pave the way for families’ respectful entry into communities. This is a critical step in the integration of families in our multi-cultural milieu.
One of the most crucial aspects of advocating for refugees is that society needs to understand that no one becomes a refugee willingly. One of the hardest parts in working with refugees is dealing with the way society tends to dehumanize and scapegoat refugees when they are the ones suffering the most. You can make a difference to someone looking to find a place in a new world by becoming a mentor today.
Just remember, how would you like the world to treat you?
9 million young people in America are in need of a trusted adult in their lives to guide them in moments big and small. Join the In Real Life movement and become an advocate, make a donation or become a volunteer.