Luxury

Each and every morning I wake up to the peaceful sound of birds chirping and the comfort and softness of my queen-sized bed. I’m able to take warm showers and not worry about what I’m having for breakfast. I’m able to choose which clothes I want to wear depending on the weather or the circumstances.

“Do I want to look nice today? Do I want to just relax and wear sweatpants? Should I wear slides or wear real shoes for once?”

These are all thoughts that go through my head each morning as I’m able to enjoy the comfort and privilege of my every day life.

However, this isn’t the case for many refugees at refugee camps across the world. Although not all refugees live in refugee camps, the large amount of refugees (65.3 million at the end of 2015) can cause camp conditions to be extremely overpopulated, underfunded, unsanitary, dangerous, etc. Many refugees complain about the lack of any opportunity and seeming permanence of their situations.

Here are some quotes from refugees across the world that were taken from articles about life in refugee camps:

“I’m in a voluntary prison, I was young when I arrived here 14 years ago,” said Elias Wondimu, an Ethiopian refugee in Kakuma. “That has changed now, I don’t see any reason as to why we celebrate refugee day. I hate life.”

“How can we have a normal life here? You can only leave the camp if you have permission. There are good and bad people here, so it is dicult to protect your children in this environment. And if anyone gets sick we have to go and stand in a clinic for hours.” -Abu Amar, a refugee located in Zataari

“We are like dead people,” said 47yearold Bhutanese refugee Hari in Beldangi. “It’s killing time only. All the time staying here, killing time. Our lives are doomed. We cannot go ahead with developing our future,” he added, pointing to the children who were being educated in the camp but had little chance of ever using their skills.

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There has been a shortfall of funding from UN countries recently. The UN has not been able to keep up with the drastic increase of need from the Syrian conflict and several organizations aimed to provide better living conditions for refugees at camps are severely underfunded. For example, the World Food Program is more than 63% underfunded and recently had to halve the monthly rations to 211,000 Syrians in regional refugee camps and the World Health Organization is only 27% funded.

So how do we use our privilege and resources to help refugees in need? There are many ways to help refugees as well the UNCHR. The first is to make a donation which goes straight to their worldwide field operations. Raising awareness through social media or in local communities is a great way to get more people involved. Also, there are opportunities to volunteer for organizations in your local community.

 

 

 

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Imagine

Imagine this:

You are adrift at sea in a boat with 500 strangers. It’s been 20 days since you’ve last eaten, and you’ve resulted to drinking salt water from the ocean. Your mother and siblings were left behind in your home country and you’re not sure when you’ll see them next. Every day tens of dozens of emaciated corpses are thrown off the boat into the water and you feel the end is near. Finally! A large military boat comes to the rescue. They tell you they can’t help you, but they manage to pass along 2 handfuls of rice before they sail off and away into the distance. You remain adrift, helpless, and unsure of the future.

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This situation is not just a theoretical occurrence, but a serious reality for thousands of individuals fleeing persecution. This specific example is drawn from the experiences of refugees from Myanmar and Bangladesh who endured treacherous voyages through the sea before seeking shelter in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand in May of 2015.

Throughout these refugees’ journeys, naval forces from Malaysia and Indonesia aimed to turn away migrant ships from the country’s waters in order to “protect” their borders. As a result, thousands of refugees remained adrift in the “Andaman Sea and Straits of Malacca without food or water, turned away by nations that [didn’t] want to appear welcoming to poor, uneducated migrants”.

Hard to stomach?

This unimaginable humanitarian crisis is a testament to the implications that can arise from restricting and resisting aid to individuals seeking refuge. The refugee crisis has been brought to the forefront of our media in recent news because of President Trump’s latest executive order to halt the current refugee resettlement program and ban potential immigrants and visitors from the 7 Muslim countries of Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Iran, Libya and Sudan. Through his actions, Trump is building a culture of intolerance and racially charged discrimination that will undoubtedly influence the entire nation.

My challenge to all of you is to imagine yourself in the shoes of someone who is fleeing from their home country in fear of violent persecution. What would you do if you had nowhere to go? For thousands of individuals who dreamed of resettling in the US, that possibility is now a reality.

Where do we go from here?

Rally For Muslim And Immigrant Rights Held In New York City

Take action. Discuss this issue with your friends, family, and peers. Educate yourself and research on ways to oppose this ban. Simple steps include:

  1. Calling your state representative to denounce the order: Call Congress
  2. On a more local level – talk to our city council to make Harrisonburg a sanctuary city: Sanctuary City

Lastly, empathize with these individuals and listen to their experiences. Refuse to accept this culture of intolerance and most importantly: erase indifference.

– KB

Why not kindness?

My phone lit up, BUZZ. I looked down to see the BBC notification flash across the screen, BREAKING NEWS, President Trump announces new vetting measures to ‘keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the US’. As I read, I felt a deep knot swelling in the pit of my stomach. I thought about the implications this would have on lives of so many people, including the international refugee community as well as the lives of Muslim Americans.

A Muslim American’s reaction to President Trump’s extreme vetting and refugee ban:

“It’s so frustrating because it makes no sense. Like those people that are fleeing are doing so to escape oppression, war, hunger and just awful situations in their countries. But the land of freedom and equal ‘opportunity’ is telling them they aren’t allowed because they follow a religion that has been wrongly and ignorantly labeled as being about hate. [This] is a result of a few disgusting individuals that don’t represent anything remotely similar to the actual religion.”

In multiple articles about refugee experiences, both in and outside of camps, there is a haunting trend of individuals feeling dehumanized. One man describes Kakuma refugee camp, in Kenya, as a “voluntary prison,” while another paralleled the camp to a warehouse. Individuals in camps and outside of them reach a point of hopelessness as they wait for their lives to change for the better. Many instead come to believe that they and their children will spend their lives waiting to die, as there is nowhere else for them to go.

“My family and I have been here for two years now. For my children’s sake, I wish other countries would open their doors to us Syrian refugees.”

~A father of 9 in Zaatari refugee camp

As children, we are taught to treat others as we wish to be treated, yet as we grow older into adulthood it seems as though we forget to follow this rule. We get older and become so busy caring for ourselves that we overlook or forget the importance of demonstrating care for others. People have the tendency to become so wrapped up in the news stories and in labeling everything and everyone that they forget to treat people like individuals. We as members of an international community and human beings have the power to stand up and protect targeted groups and individuals so that they never feel invaluable. Demonstrating kindness is such a simple thing and it is so much easier to do and feel than hate and anger.

Gut reaction questions:

  • How can countries be responsible for protecting the human rights of their own people, but so quick to deny the human rights of a neighbor?
  • Are borders really so tangible that they make the people on either side too different from each other that they lose their humanity?
  • And lastly, why do we have such a difficult time treating each other with kindness?

“I is important, but my goodness, the strength that comes from us and we! You and I, together, are much stronger than you and I alone.”

~Leo Buscaglia 

ESC

The Silence of Privilege

In light of recent politics and social issues, the word privilege is becoming a part of more conversations, making it onto protest posters, and in large speeches at rallies. It’s easy for us to talk about privilege when we are condemning the acts of others, claiming they are unjust, and sticking up for those without a chance to be heard.

What is privilege? Is it our opportunity to speak for those who aren’t heard, using our power, education, or unearned advantage we have in the world? Is it being able to walk into a grocery store without worrying about whether or not I will find hair products, Band-Aids, and make up that matches my skin and hair?

Beginning the video at 1:10, Adam Falkner recites his poem/spoken word entitled, “The Definition of Privilege”

In this video, the speaker, Adam Falkner recalls a time when his college professor questioned him about race. She asked him, why whiteness made him so uncomfortable.

“Because I don’t ever think about it,” he answered her.

“Not having to think about something sounds like an amazing privilege,” she responded.

According to the dictionary, privilege is “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.” In relation to our own lives and the lives of others, it may seem as though we don’t have this special right or immunity, because we don’t think about it or talk about. “I’ve worked hard for what I have, I earned everything I owe, I’ve never gotten a handout,” is a common and defensive response that is easy to spit out when the topic of privilege arises.

It’s easy to take this idea of recognizing our privilege and saying, “Well I don’t want it,” “I know I’m lucky to have these advantages, but I don’t want them…” But how do we transform our thought processes into realizing that we have had a tremendous advantage just by being born into a country where water is clean and available? How do we “combat” the messy strings attached to our privilege? This is where the question arises, is the ultimate privilege, being able to acknowledge that we have the ability to be silent about our privilege?

I challenge you to begin the conversation. Embrace the awkwardness. Don’t just acknowledging privilege. Diminish the silence around our own privilege.

-MAO

Privilege

Privilege is something that you are born into and which gives you an advantage over others. It exists because of the power structure in place that has allowed for the dominance of a privileged group while creating a marginalized group that is viewed as inferior. Privileged groups are those who have greater access to power and resources.

It might be hard to admit such privilege when the problem occurring doesn’t affect you personally.

So..

I would like you to take a moment and think about your identity and where you fall under the following chart. This might not be a complete list and is not meant to classify you one way or another but it’s meant to give you a general idea about yourself and how you compare on the privileged/marginalized scale.

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Oppressive structures discriminating against marginalized groups could seem invisible to those who are privileged. Marginalized groups on the other hand might face struggles on a daily basis. Among various privileges that someone could have including social class, gender identity, and Ableness/Disability, white privilege and male privilege are two areas I will expand on.

Those of you who hold white privilege hold an advantage. It’s not something you are blamed for and it shouldn’t be something that you should feel defensive about and would want to distance yourself from it. It’s simply there. You benefit from it without even recognizing it. As a first step, it is important that you recognize that you have such privilege under the dominant system. This is essential in order to be able to work on improving the problem and helping other people benefit. Saying that you don’t see color is one of the examples where you deny such privilege. Color should be something that differentiates us but brings us to celebrate and respect our differences at the same time. Denying your privilege will only make the problem invisible and perpetuate it further.

Racism isn’t just a position of prejudice and hatred. It is about being in a dominant position and able to exert power to oppress others. I cannot speak of the experiences or put myself in the shoe of a non-white person because I will never experience what they go through, but I can only try to understand their struggle by connecting with them and taking a stance against oppression. As Peggy McIntosh points out in her article, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”, a list of ways that show privilege such as:

“I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented. “

“Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability. “

“I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.”

“I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.”

You could be privileged in one aspect and marginalized in another. For example, even if I am privileged as a white person, I am marginalized as a woman. It is frustrating to live in a patriarchal society that is blind to the micro aggressions against women. A person denying male privilege would say that injustice doesn’t exist or other things among the line that women already have rights. But what is really happening is that they are unable to see the problem because it doesn’t personally affect them.

After all, privilege in one area or the other would put you at an advantage. The least you can do is recognize such privilege and try to understand the struggles of those who are marginalized.

K.H

When it gets harder to love-love harder. -Van Jones

gty-womens-march-washington-4-jt-170121_12x5_1600This past weekend, I witnessed history in Washington, DC during the Women’s March on Washington. Speaker after speaker spoke of the importance of unifying our communities, emphasizing the importance of women’s rights as human rights, and uniting together to ensure equal rights to all. Advocates of reproductive rights, the LGBTQIA+ community, and the black and brown communities spoke with conviction of the importance of uniting each community to create a force with such power that Washington could do nothing but listen. The Women’s March left me, along with thousands of others around the world, inspired and empowered to take on the uphill battle to reach universal equality for all women.

The rest of my Saturday was spent reflecting, both on the experience itself, but the words spoken, feelings felt, and messages sent. I thought about the logistics of organizing one million people, of the selection of the speakers, and the factions of society that they represented. More than anything, I asked myself, why does it all matter?

Aside from it being a demonstration occurring in the wake of the inauguration of the newest president and of its sheer scope, with over 600 sister marches worldwide, the Women’s March on Washington brought to light some of the most stratifying aspects of our society. It challenged one’s preconceived notions of privilege, inequality and intersectionality. It’s started a conversation about what it means to be a woman in the US that is marginalized due to their personal beliefs and practices.

The Women’s March on Washington shed light on the inequality that transcends gender, class, and race in our country and even more, the disparities between the experience of minorities and the white majority. One of the March’s national co-chairs, Tamika D. Mallory, said, “I stand here as a black woman, the descendent of slaves. My ancestors literally nursed our slave masters. Through the blood and tears of my people, we built this country. America cannot be great without me, you and all of us who are here today… We have a chance, brothers and sisters, to get this thing right. We can do it, if women rise up and take this nation back!”

So, as we move forward through these trying times, may we as Americans, we as humans, come together to combat the bigotry, hatred and nepotism that has divided our nation through consciousness, collective action, and most importantly, love.

JRH

The 411 on What Privilege Means

Privilege tends to be one of those taboo topics. People purposefully avoid eye contact or turn their attention elsewhere when they hear the word uttered. This could be due a multitude of things but the main reasons are because of fear and ignorance. Fear in what you are owning up to if you admit to having some type of privilege and ignorance of not truly knowing what the word itself means.

Privilege is the concept that not everyone starts on the same playing field and that in itself affects the individual’s life. Or as Laura Willard stated in her article:

Privilege means that some of us have advantages over others for any number of reasons we don’t control — like who we are, where we come from, the color of our skin, or certain things that have happened in our lives.  

Now, let’s take a minute to make sure we all understand this basic concept by looking at a comic strip that Laura includes in her article (which you can read more of here) that was done by the brilliant artist, Toby Morris. privilegeprivilege2privilege3privilege4

After, looking at this comic, can you think of the privilege you possess? Are you less fearful to admit what type of privilege you may have?

Privilege is not meant to be this horrible thing that makes you a bad person. As illustrated, it is something uncontrollable. We don’t ask to be born into a certain family or economical situation. However, understanding and acknowledging your privilege is controllable. It is the first step to know our role in helping others and engaging in meaningful service.

Peggy McIntosh suggests in her article, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, to write a laundry list of ways in which your privilege has contributed to your life and given you access and opportunities. Take a moment and don’t become the bystander but instead an educator for those who do not know the implications of their privilege and what it really means.

“…these differences in privilege are not made less by not engaging in service.”  – S. Mei-Yen Hui

-ValCat