How can we be silent?

There have been so many challenges since returning to JMU after our amazing time in Phoenix, mostly in the form of post-ASB depression, but also in the form of big questions of service and advocacy swimming around my mind. A lump still forms in my throat when I think of the shy 2 year old boy from Somalia who finally let a smile grace his face after playing with a hula hoop for an hour. I am overwhelmed with emotion when I recall Guled’s story of how he escaped Somalia and travelled across Africa and Europe to build a life for himself in the United States. I am inspired by Prince’s work ethic and his commitment to education and the education of young children from his home in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I am craving that Arizona sun on my cheeks and the community of active citizens I met there.

I have learned throughout my time at JMU to surround myself with positive, intelligent, and kind people, so for the most part my stories regaling our adventures and the work we did were greeted with appreciation and awe. For the most part, I found that people are shocked and angry when I begin to talk about the issues surrounding refugee resettlement, and they ask questions about our trip and class. When this happens I ramble on excitedly for however long that person will listen! There still are people who’s eyes will glaze over or nod along politely while I go on about the necessity of hygiene products and conflicts in South Sudan and the importance of speaking out. One of the biggest issues I face when returning from an alternative break, more so this year than in years past, is the overwhelming feeling of disappointment in the indifference of so many people on campus and general selfishness that dictates how we interact in our culture. I become so frustrated when people are either unwilling to listen or are in denial of the problem because it is just easier to completely remove themselves from the situation. In a similar way, I continue to grow frustrated with myself when my schedule is so packed with school and work that refugee issues become distant. I know that it is an unfair judgement to place upon myself, but I still feel moments of guilt when I am absorbed in my own problems and busyness.

Something else that I have been reflecting on is a question that was asked in our final reflection of the trip: what do you bring to the table of advocacy? My answer was something along the lines of positivity, and my belief that positive change can occur with hard work. Part of this comes from the positive way I live my life. I always try to see the good in situations, complaining is one of my biggest pet peeves, and I believe that there is good in every person. But it took me a long time to come to this conclusion, and I am still not confident that I have something special to bring to advocacy. Some of the biggest barriers that that prevented me from engaging in social issues and conversation is my lack of political know how and knowledge of many major global and social issues. I really do make a conscious effort to be aware of current events, but I don’t watch the news every day. I don’t read articles on the issues every day. In some ways, I feel like I am flailing, grasping, trying to help people when I don’t even understand the root causes of the issues or current developments that affect the issue. I am so proud of myself and how far my knowledge of genocide has come in such a short time, but I still feel inadequate in the knowledge department, and it is hindering my confidence in my abilities as an active citizen and active advocate for refugee issues.

I have my fears and reservations, the positive side of my personality is shining brighter as we move forward with our “now what” piece. While the overarching issues may not be something that our small class can tackle, we still have the power to enact change and to continue serving refugee communities. How can we truly become advocates for people who have faced extreme persecution, the worst of humanity, horrible violence, and the struggles of resettlement? What can our little class do to help the people we met far beyond just listening to stories and dropping off toilet paper? This is scary, and its big. The scope of genocide is something that has troubled me since day one, but that just reinforces how crucial it is to stand up against indifference. With the sheer amount of people affected, how can we be silent?

Jen

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