About eraseindifference

I am a Lecturer of Communication Studies at James Madison University teaching SCOM 318: Genocide and Refugee Issues in Communication.

The Power of Thanks

You know that warm and fuzzy feeling that emerges from within you as someone acknowledges you for something you did, something you thought no one had cared enough to notice? It doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should.

We’re trained from an early age to thank those who hold the door for us or who bring us our food at a restaurant. We know it’s important to thank people who do things for us, especially when they go out of their way to do something for us. These moments can be pinpointed for single events, ones that are often  tangible and finite.

But it’s the bigger events, that aren’t acknowledged enough.

Think about a person who has impacted you, inspired you, challenged you, a person who has made you who you are. Think of that person who pushed you to put yourself out there and challenge yourself by joining that club. Or that person who was always a phone call or frantic text away. Or that person who believed in you when you didn’t believe in yourself. As you think of them, think of the conversations you’ve had together, the advice they’ve shared, the time they dedicated to you.

Now, ask yourself if you’ve thanked them for that support, investment, or belief in you. For most, my guess is that your response is that you haven’t. Not because you don’t recognize their impact, but rather, the few words you can come up with you feel can’t begin to describe why you are better because of them.

We’re afraid of these moments because there’s not a set script and it’s not automatic. These conversations force us to be introspective by taking inventory of those people’s impact on us. It forces us to feel with our entire heart.  It takes time to process, reflect, and find words to express our emotions, but the impact that they can have on others is priceless.

So, take this as a challenge. Reflect upon one of your proudest moments, and consider who was instrumental in that achievement, and thank them. Write a handwritten note (not an Instagram caption for all to see). Make a call. Show appreciation for their support. Make an impact on their lives in the same way they changed yours.

We have the power to change the world through intentionality, we just have to have the confidence to believe that we can. And we will. 

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Beauty in Sharing

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10 Students. 1 Professor. 7 Days. 2 Agencies.

1 Amazing week in Phoenix, AZ.

A truly unforgettable week made even more incredible with the individuals and agencies we had the opportunity to interact with. Catholic Charities was one organization we had the pleasure of serving. A nonprofit who are known for their work within the refugee resettlement sphere. However, besides finding homes for the refugee families who arrive to Phoenix, they also offer counseling, job assistance, and work with other agencies around the local area. For example,they work with The Welcome to America Project, an organization that focus on getting and sorting donations  within a  warehouse so then they are able to give things to newly arrived families like furniture, toiletries, clothes, books, etc. Both organizations do so much for their community and being able to work with both of them was enriching. It allowed us to gain different perspectives and see how complex the social issue really is. Refugee Resettlement isn’t just about resettling them in a home, but it is so much more. It is taking the time to help them find a job, teach them about the american culture and what it means to work here, and overall helping them feel comfortable and safe in a new place.

With Catholic Charities, specially, we had the opportunity to meet families and bring them things they needed such as a basket of toiletries or a baby stroller. As we walked through their front doors with the gifts, you could see the awe in their eyes and the appreciation in their faces. Truly a beautiful moment where language did not matter. Things that a few weeks ago they did not think they would ever be able to get.

Okay, so now that you got to hear a little bit about what we did and who were the agencies we worked with. Let’s move on to that ever so deep 7 letter question.

Now what? 

Yes, we spent a week listening to the stories of these incredibly resilient individuals, but what do we do with that? What are we supposed to do with that information? Or any information/experience you have that impacts the way you start to look at the world?

A wise professor (aka Dr. Aaron Noland) once told my class to leave room. The way you all love each other in this class, you can love other people and should leave space to do that. Leave space to include others so that they are able to share in your experiences as well because if all we do is exclude then the stories and experiences die here.

So, we share.

We share with everyone who is willing to listen to the things we have learned and the things that have impacted us, because when others see the raw emotions and passion about what you are saying that is when things start to change. That is when others become disturbed and this is what we should aim for. By having others feel disturbed that means you are saying something  that goes against their form of thinking and is causing them to question themselves. From this, we grow and learn what we really believe to be true. Here is where we learn what our values are and how those form paradigms that ultimately construct the world in which we we live in. Sharing our experiences is such a powerful thing to do because it not only allows us to verbally as well as outwardly reflect on our experiences and how they made us feel but, it also provides a window for others to view a different perspective and to hear a different “side of the story” thus starting to change or shift the perspective of that individual.

So, since you are already here and have read this far, here is a story of one of the refugee families we had the pleasure of meeting.

We primarily spoke to the father of the family. Since the day he was born he has been targeted because of the religion he and his family believe as well as practice. He has never known a life without war and harassment towards his race. At the age of 5 he saw his father be tied up and taken away because he was known as a leader within their community. As he grew up, he would become a professor of the sciences. He would have 5 daughters and push them to do their best in their studies because he knew the value of getting a good education and how with a good education all these wars and crimes could stop. He sees education as the key to having the ability to understand and accept others. However, due to his religion, he would get fired from the school he was teaching at and then his daughter would be expelled. Both being completely targeted because of their religion and not given the same opportunity as everyone else. From then on, the violence would only get worse, with the mosque that they usually attend being blown up. He would then proceed to start running. Running away from the violence and injustice and running towards what would hopefully provide his daughters with a better future. He misses his people terribly and doesn’t know when he will be able to return but prays that his youngest daughter will grow up to tell her friends that her dad made the right choice by bringing them here. He never wished to leave his country but was forced to.

Could you imagine a life like that?

Refugees are humans. They have passions like you and me. They have aspirations for their kids to have a better future than them. Just like we are a family member, a friend, and important to people in this world so are they.

 

-ValCat

Now What…

Well we are back in Virginia… about a week after our trip to Phoenix, Arizona, where we met with Refugee families and helped welcome them to America. What an incredible opportunity and blessing to have been able to meet with such strong families from all around the world. Last week was one of the most enlightening and sobering experiences of my life.

After hearing those families speak of such heart wrenching experiences, transitioning back to my normal life has been a little difficult. While I was able to sit with them and feel so much pain with them for a couple hours, now I am back to my daily life where I am blessed to have many opportunities and blessings.  It’s definitely a sobering experience, realizing that I can escape the struggles that they live day after day. Initially it was really difficult for me to come to terms with this.It was even harder thinking about the fact that the only difference between my family and these refugee families, is that we were born in different areas of the world.

After having a little while to reflect on our experience, I was able to learn about myself, those around me, and how to be a more understanding, and grateful person. But more importantly, I was able to understand and appreciate the positives of our trip. With feeling so much emotion and connection to these refugees, I feel more empowered to advocate even deeper than before this experience. Although everyone in the world isn’t able to have the same experience as our class did, we have the power to share our lessons and emotions with others. We have so much power in our hands; I have hopes that our class will be able to spread love. While I’ve always tried to do this even before our trip, after our trip I feel so much more empowered to do so.

What’s next?

Making my experience in Arizona worth it by spreading knowledge, love and understanding regarding the issues that refugees are faced with.

-MAO

Wired to Connect

Processed with VSCO with b5 presetA photo inside of the Phoenix Hostel we stayed at during the week

Last week our class journeyed on an ASB trip to Phoenix, Arizona to serve the refugee population. Through our partnership with Catholic Charities and The Welcome to America Project, we were granted the privilege of participating in home visits with newly resettled refugee families. By listening to the stories of their lives and exchanging our cultures with each other, the week served as a testament to the power of human interaction.

During our second home visit of the week, we brought a brand new crib and stroller to a family from the Congo whose eldest daughter had given birth to a baby boy just one week prior to our visit. They had recently arrived to the US this past January after seeking refuge from their home country for nearly 6 years. From the minute we walked into their home, I felt an instant sense of belonging and openness. The family welcomed us into their living room and through our amazing translator, Ntimpa, we were able to listen to their stories and answer any questions that they had for us.

After about an hour of talking to each of the family members and listening to the details of their lives back at home and their journey to the United States, something that stood out to me was their enormous appreciation towards the people of Phoenix for being so welcoming to them. When we asked them if they felt welcome upon arrival, they gushed that they are so thankful that America has welcomed them with open arms.

In light of the recent political climate (i.e. the executive ban), I’ve so often been disheartened by the potential perception of the United States as a place unwelcoming to outsiders. To hear that we as a nation have served as a beacon of safety for this family was enlightening and inspiring that in this one instance, we may be doing something right.

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Before we parted ways with the family, we demonstrated the basic functions of the crib and stroller and had them practice with the baby to ensure that they understood the instructions. As we started saying our goodbyes, the mother of household told Ntimpa that she would like to pray for us before we left. In the span of the 2 minutes that followed, I was transported into another dimension of human interaction that I’ll never forget for as long as I live.

Everyone in the room paused and bowed their heads as the woman began to pray for us in Swahili in such a passionate and affecting manner that swept the room as a palpable presence. In the moment, it was like she was speaking a universal language of human connection that every person in the room understood.

As Ntimpa translated her prayer, we learned she was expressing her gratitude for us visiting them and bringing them gifts that they never could have imagined. She admitted that they had nothing to give us in return, but as their little baby boy grows up, they promised to tell him the story of our visit, how he was blessed by us, and how she hopes that God blesses us. Across a room filled with differing races, nationalities, religions, languages spoken, and past experiences, I felt the true power of human connection.

As individuals we have the opportunity to add value to our own lives and others’ lives through the way we engage with each other. Connection can take multiples forms whether it serves as a source of healing or as a point of learning. As I reflect on the experiences we gained on the trip interacting with multiple refugee families, agency workers, and even employees of the hostel we stayed at, I realize that we are all so capable of creating engagement among each other as long as we take the time to do it.

We are wired to connect.

It’s human nature that we all flow along with this innate quality to build upon these interactions with others and ultimately experience the fueling power of human connection.

– KB ☮♥

FullSizeRender-2Our group standing on top of South Mountain on the last day of our trip.

 

Not just a Story

Well, we are back in Virginia, where there is snow on the ground. No more dirt and Cacti, or 80 degree weather. Boy, it is not easy to be back. Although, growing and learning is not always easy either.
 
For those of you who do not know, our class went to Phoenix, Arizona over Spring Break to do some service related activities. While there, we did house visits with refugee families, delivered donations to said families, sorted donations, worked with a few companies based around refugee resettlement, and explored Arizona a bit. It was amazing. YEEE YEEE.
 
BUT, now we have returned to JMU. Back to the cold. Back to the rush. Back to school work and barely any sleep. I want to go back, yet I know I need to be here. We are fortunate to be called to go to college and interact with our peers. 
 
With that being said, now what? How do we take what we learned in Arizona and put it into action here in Harrisonburg and back at home?
 
For starters, I think the first thing to know is: do not assume. Every single person has a story. Not just one story though, but many. And not just many stories, but they also have passions, likes, dislikes, fears, hopes, dreams, and feelings. They are a human being, just like you and me. 
 
This video displays this in a way, where the speaker describes her experiences of people assuming there was only one story to know about her since she came from Nigeria. 

SO… Ask questions about people’s lives. Get to know who they are. See how beautifully they have been crafted together. Find similarities. Accept differences. Love one another.
 
Realize that there are so many people on this Earth. That we were all created uniquely, for a reason, and have been purposefully placed together. 
 
Let time not be an issue. Take a seat.
 
In Arizona, we were able to sit down, speak with the refugee families, and get to know each of them as a person, not just as a refugee or a story. The gratitude they displayed from this small act blew me away. All we did was ask typical questions, yet they were so joyful. This image will always stick with me.
 
Refugees or non-refugees, people are people.
 
People want to be known. They want to be heard. They want to be loved. 
 
Overall, let us be open to the people we come in contact with. Be open to sharing your life. Be open to hearing about others. To asking questions. To show love in a way that will make others light up.
 
We have been blessed with what we have been given, so why not use it?
-A.R.

Acting and Living Advocacy

 

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This week I learned the value of small acts of kindness. We walked into class and saw ten $10 bills laid out. Our instruction was to each take $10 and do something with it in the community. The catch was that we could not just donate it, instead, we had to figure out a way to make that little bit of money make the biggest impact. We could pool the money if we chose to, or we could individually do something with our $10. Our first idea was to go buy as many sanitary and food products as we could, based on the needs of a couple of selected shelters and drop them off. As soon as we split into cars we began questioning if we were really getting the point of the activity. We were concerned that by donating goods we were essentially just donating the money, as we had been instructed not to do. We were running out of time, though, we only had 2 and a half hours total to do something with the money.

We finally decided to each take our $10 and buy a gift card with it from Walmart and give it to a stranger. On a piece of notebook paper, I wrote a quote by Neil Gaiman, author of Coraline, and it goes like this:

I hope you will have a wonderful year, that you’ll dream dangerously and outrageously, that you’ll make something that didn’t exist before you made it, that you will be loved and that you will be liked, and that you will have people to love and to like in return. And, most importantly (because I think there should be more kindness and more wisdom in the world right now), that you will, when you need to be, be wise, and that you will always be kind.

 

I sealed this note along with the gift card in an envelope and took it back into Walmart to find someone to give it to. I really wanted to give it to a worker, someone who spends all day working for other people without receiving many thanks. So, I got in line where a small, smiley elderly woman was ringing up another woman. I waited until she finished and walked up, handed her the envelope and said

“Hi, I am not buying anything today but I wanted to say thank you for your work and have a wonderful rest of your day.”

She smiled, said thank you and I walked away. Although I wanted to see her reaction, I knew the purpose of the activity was to normalize small acts of kindness in our daily lives so I did not linger. As I was leaving I noticed the woman who had been in front of me watched as the elderly woman opened the card and although I do not know how the act was taken, I can only hope it inspired her to do something kind in her day.

I felt like I was on a high as I walked back to the car. I hadn’t even done anything that significant, but just the fact that I acknowledged someone and maybe made their day a little bit better made me feel happiness beyond my control. When the class reconvened, the feeling was mutual among all of us. It was amazing how long it had taken us to decide on such a simple act of kindness and the magnitude of the satisfaction we all felt for having done it.

 

The takeaway: You cannot be an advocate for large-scale issues if you cannot be an advocate of kindness and demonstrate concern for others throughout your daily life.

Assumption vs. Understanding

What are some images that come to your mind when you think of Africa?

Do you think of a desert? Do you think of an undeveloped place? Do you think of war?

Do you think of images like these…

Yes? Okay, do you know what is going on in each of these pictures? Do you know what is happening and why it is happening?

Probably not, right? Okay, so what you are experiencing is called scene-act approach to humanitarian advocacy. Fancy title, so let’s break down what it actually means and how it impacts our daily lives.

Scene-act is essentially a type of advocacy that puts more emphasis on the location rather than the individuals and humans who are suffering. So, in  those pictures above, when you think of Africa, you think of war and an impoverished continent but, not of the individuals there suffering. You think of “saving Africa” or “X country” but not taking the time to first understand why those individuals in those countries are suffering. Subconsciously removing the blame from those corrupted governments and individuals who are doing the killings.

For example, when someone states that “Sudan has always been like that.” This is a prime example of one of the risks of scene-act advocacy because they are stating the country has always been like that and will continue to always be like that. Therefore, making it more difficult to separate the country from the horrible acts. It becomes apart of the country’s identity, something that defines it instead of something that should be changed.

Another result is the loss of compassion and empathy that motivates us to want to help. Rather than taking the step to put ourselves in their shoes and trying to make the issue something we can relate to, it creates a barrier that makes the issue more distant from the lives we lead.

So, what are some steps to overcome this? 

The first step that we can make towards understanding is to open our eyes, hearts, and mind to the sufferings that other people experience is by being actively engaged in small acts. This is a simple concept but a very impactful one.

small-act
By engaging in these small gestures we accept the fact that we aren’t mind readers. We are not able to know what someone is feeling and what obstacles and struggles their life has consisted of but either way we still care. We care about them because they are humans like you and I. We care because we know they deserve to be shown kindness like we want to be shown.

This is why.

This is why it is so important to not only show compassion to others but to never assume you know where they come from, because you don’t. Just because they come from Jordan or Sudan, or Syria, doesn’t give us a right to judge them and their country based on the things we read in the media. Instead of assuming that their country has always and will always remain war stricken, take the time to listen to their stories and learn the real reasons as to why there is war. Just as we wouldn’t want others to assume things about our country, don’t stereotype theirs.

 

-ValCat