It seems like it’s never enough the help we can offer to the ones that had to escape their own countries because of war, sexual orientation persecution, etc.
I know this subject is a bit different from what I usually write here, but I truly want to create awareness to the people that arrive to the blog about how much good we can do to certain people that need us just by sharing a little bit of what we have.
It’s been six years since, in 2011, the conflict in Syria has started and made more than 12 million people run away to be able to live a normal life. Almost 2 million of them were kids. Countries like Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey, Germany and Italy have welcomed thousands of refugees, being a relief for some people that have lost almost everything.
Organizations and charities that work really hard to provide accommodation to those people in this situation, rely especially on volunteers (generally families) who offer a spare room in their homes and even their basements, and in owners who have a second house and leave it for refugees to spend a couple of months, until they are legally allowed to find a job or go back to their home countries.
So my questions are: What is it like to welcome a refugee (or a family of refugees) in your own home? Why is it something we should be more open to do? And what are the options to help? Let’s find out the answers together.
What is the first time like?
The most usual case is having a refugee family that had to quickly pack whatever they could and run away. It’s very common to see them arrive with just a small bag with their belongings. All your life compiled in a plastic bag. But at least now they are safe and have a bed to sleep in and a plate of food in front of them, which is more than relieving, especially when there are kids in the family.
The first time meeting the hosts is not the easiest. Let’s say you are receiving at home a person or people you don’t know at all, with a different culture, a background that has not been fortunate at all and the doubt of how everything is going to turn out. Both of you want to make everything work perfectly and the good thing is that all the members of this kind action always have the willingness to cooperate and integrate.
The culture shock
The next steps are all about learning, learning from each others. The welcoming family usually works hard to make all the shyness and insecurity go away, so the welcomed members can start feeling a part of the new routines they are going to face from now on.
It’s not easy though, the culture shock is huge: refugees have to live in a country where they don’t know anyone, learn a new language (which leads them to poorly communicate with their hosts sometimes, at least in the beginning), they have to get used to daily routines that were never a part of their lives; even the food is different. And unfortunately, how people look at them is something some refugees have to cope with as well. It’s never easy to be “the new one”, especially when there are not many foreigners in the small cities or villages they move to.
Integration has to be incentivated by both sides: they have to learn how things work in their new country, the customs, traditions, language… But it’s also a must for the welcoming family to immerse into the refugees culture, ask about their lives, be open to hear their stories and motivate them to make a mix of both cultures at home. This is, hands down, the best way to run a family with new member :)
And this is exactly why people create some extraordinary projects that are born to lend a hand to refugees... like the German idea Kitchen on the Run, which is basically a huge container where refugees and locals gather to cook together typical dishes from both sides and learn about each other’s culture. The container goes from one village to another creating bonds between people that come from all kinds of different countries.
What is sheltering a refugee like?
Hosts know beforehand that they must be very open-minded and patient. Families that welcome refugees don’t know what they have gone through to get to where they are right now. You are not receiving a person that is just visiting your country, you are receiving a person or even other family that needs support and feeling safe.
Here is when hosts have to do the biggest effort in order to connect with them. Putting in the place ot the others, understanding how lonely they feel in this situation while they can not have any contact with your loved ones… Especially when they had all their life established back then, just a few weeks ago. They had a carrier, a job, a professional status, a community they belonged to… And suddenly, nothing.
The cultural differences and the fact that refugees are not usually very outgoing, since they are struggling to understand how everything’s working now can be an obstacle first. It’s very common that they don’t know the concept of recycling and the mess up the garbage bins; that they say “yes” to everything you ask them just to be polite, because it is the right thing to do in their own country, or even that they don’t ever look in the eyes because it’s disrespectful for them. Plenty of curious cultural details you will find in this new situation.
How to help?
If you want to be active in this field, Airbnb Open Homes acts worldly to give refugees a home. You just have to register yourself as a willing host, specify your availability and they will match you with a suitable person for you to offer temporary shelter.
In Room For Refugees, you get the same deal, but they only work for now in Europe. I believe they are the perfect starting point, and you can even donate and interact with other hosts that have lived this experience.
The best thing of refugees being welcomed by families in other countries, in my personal opinion, is that you do it just out of compassion, without expecting anything in return, but you end up winning much more than you thought. The day to day may not be the smoothest thing ever, but it surely pays off.