What Working With Refugees Taught Me

Hello best life seekers!

Are you interested in helping others? Do you feel like you’re called to make this world better for having been born into it? You are not alone. So many of us see humanity as one family, without reference to discrimination-based external features like skin color or sex, let alone other factors that don’t matter.

When I was younger, I volunteered and interned with several refugee-serving organizations both in the US and overseas. Those experiences and the people I met were life-changing. If you are thinking about serving others, working with refugees or on behalf of them is a wonderful calling.

Here are 5 precious things working with refugees taught me.

#1 – I Really Can’t Complain. About Anything.

The legal definition of “refugee” is very specific under international law but it boils down to a person reasonably fearing for their lives because of state persecution based on things like political or religious beliefs, among others. These people live in fear for their very lives and with good reason since their governments are actively out to get them.

You may think “the man” is holding you down, but for refugees the man is literally trying to kill them. They often risk everything in attempts to leave their homelands and can face losing all their wealth, prestige or even their lives in order for them and their families to live. They give up their homes, possessions and livelihoods for refugee camps that can be unsanitary, unsafe or resource-limited and located in places that are overcrowded and in areas no one wants to live. If they are lucky, some refugees get sponsored by countries and after a long process of years, can sometimes even become full citizens of those countries.

When you work with refugees, you hear horrible stories about what people have endured at the hands of others. These are not pleasant stories. Unless you too are a refugee, most times their stories make your own complaints feel petty and insignificant.

We all have problems and we are also entitled to feel upset over them. However, when you meet someone who has lost family and friends, suffered torture or other horrors, and barely escaped with their lives and with plenty of scars, you develop a sobering sense of perspective on most things. You also acquire a profound sense of gratitude and appreciation for your blessings.

#2 – The Human Spirit is Remarkable

Refugees are amazing people. When you work with them, you will often find some of the most brilliant, warm-hearted and friendly people. Some of the most beautiful souls I have met are people who have endured unimaginable pain. Their courage and fortitude continually astound and inspire me and others.

Refugees teach us that the human spirit is not breakable, that it contains a special resilience in the face of pain, tragedy and sorrow.

#3 – There Are More Good-Hearted People than Bad

While refugees throw a light upon the darkest aspects of corruption, power and hatred, they also show that the number of good-hearted people outnumber the bad by a great proportion. Humanity creates laws that protect the weak and the preyed-upon. We create agencies and organizations to help them. So many people work in this field in order to help others, sometimes at the risk of their own lives or safety. It’s amazing when you think about it.

If you want to be inspired by how one person can save hundreds, watch Hotel Rwanda. You will cry but you will find yourself moved by the goodness that saves others.

Volunteering in refugee-serving communities and organizations, I served alongside people who devoted their careers to helping others. This is inspiring and certainly was more meaningful personally than any job I’ve taken since. There’s something to be said about working in organizations where people feel passionately about the rights and welfare of others and act in order to ensure their freedom, safety and well-being. The sense of community and connection runs deep and you feel like people are worth something and not just another body at the mill.

#4 – Serving Others Brings More Fulfillment Than Money or Power

It takes balance not to burn out in some humanitarian fields, especially when faced with the worst that humanity inflicts on itself. But when you serve others, particularly the poor or persecuted, your life seems to follow a higher calling. Serving others brings meaning and purpose that just doesn’t come from acquiring wealth, fame or power. Altruism is its own reward in many ways.

When I think about the most satisfying parts of my life, or the times in my life when I felt alive and connected, I always remember my time volunteering with refugees in Ireland and Australia and in lobbying for them in the government relations department of the International Rescue Committee in the US. These years were formative to how I saw the world. If not for my time in Ireland, I would never have gone to law school or journeyed down this wonderful road I now walk.

If all I thought was important was money or success, my life would be so less rich and well-rounded. I’d hate to think of how much narrower my appreciation for humanity would be, especially since I had a much more negative outlook when I was younger.

#5 – Justice and Democracy Underscore Freedom and Happiness

As noted, working with refugees was a large part of the reason I went to law school. While I ultimately did not become a refugee advocate as planned, I have never lost the unshakable belief that justice and democracy are the foundations of freedom and happiness. When you see the consequences of discrimination and persecution, the lack of good governance, and the failure of the rule of law, you learn very quickly how powerful justice and democracy truly are.

When the rule of law is not upheld or justice is only for the few and not the all, inequalities and corruption build and societies crumble. When laws are not applied equally, you cannot claim justice and you cannot claim democracy. This is tyranny and it is very far from what we call a free society. Similarly, if we punish our enemies but ignore the wrongdoing of our friends, we are tearing down our own societies and communities. There is a reason justice is portrayed as blind.

The Greater Good

When we step beyond our petty goals and ambitions and serve the welfare of others, we grow our souls and make the world a better place for having been born into it. We affirm our humanity and we rebuild connections and relationships that were weak or severed. These provide a sense of meaning and purpose not easily found in other pursuits. This does not make those pursuits worthless but there is a special light that starts burning inside us when we help others.

If some part of you feels a calling to help others or lighten their burdens, herd that call. Even if it means one weekend a month, you’ll improve the world and feel connected to humanity in a way that is simply priceless.

Like this article? Share it so that others can learn these secrets and start living their best lives now.


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