Welcoming refugees and migrants into our communities can transform lives—including our own.
Across our newsfeeds, racism, xenophobia, and fear, often stirred by politicians and power-holding elites, are intended to fuel hostility toward people who join our communities. Rather than promoting constructive ideas and collaboration, these political tactics opportunistically prey on fears and vulnerabilities to draw support.
My own experience has taught me that we need to be welcoming if we want to thrive collectively.
For too long, public discourse has oscillated between two types of refugee narratives: those that depict them as dangerous people who take resources from us, or those that frame them as heroic and exceptionally talented contributors.
Refugees are human and—just like you and me—don’t exist at opposite ends of a spectrum.
The truth is: all communities are dynamic. The good news is that we’re not limited to being reactive to our surroundings. Everyone has the power to make choices every day about how they show up for themselves, their neighbors, their colleagues, and society. It will take all of us to craft constructive narratives about families emanating from different corners of our beautiful planet. And a deliberate commitment to support refugees in our communities, as research shows they already do in their second homes. In the United States alone, the almost 2.4 million refugees earned a collective $93.6 billion in household income and contributed $25 billion in taxes, according to the American Immigration Council. That’s just one glimpse of their contributions, of their renewal stories, and there are many.
Isra, who left Sudan at a young age, dreams of going to university and studying social work. She envisions herself returning to Sudan to uplift others.
Abdelrahman, a talented student from the West Bank, finds solace in spreading joy through melodies that touch hearts. “When I sing, it feels like magic!”
Munjura, a Rohingya refugee in Bangladesh, prays daily for a brighter future for her newborn son—a life free from hardships.
My narrative starts with my mom and her siblings who fled Portugal in search of freedom and improved economic conditions during the brutal dictatorial regime of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar. I was born in France, where I lived with my Portuguese immigrant family. There were times when kids and adults showed me how inferior they thought I was because of my parents’ jobs, the clothes I wore, and the neighborhood I lived in. I later moved to my mom’s tiny village of Britelo in northern Portugal. There, I was also made aware that I didn’t belong, whether it was because of my accent or my awkward approach to washing clothes in the communal laundry. When my uncle became a United States citizen, that opened up more opportunities for my family. Just shy of my 10th birthday, I stepped into a multicultural classroom in Massachusetts—and it changed my life.
The power of acceptance
Knowing fewer than 10 English words, I was enrolled in a bilingual class with students from Angola, Mozambique, Brazil, and Portugal. We existed within an English-speaking ecosystem, bound together by our excitement, fear, and lack of English fluency. I was overwhelmed by my new school and American surroundings. Lucky for me, I could retreat into a rich and supportive microcosm with much to learn from a diversity of Portuguese dialects, new slang, games, music, customs, and food.
Our differences united us. What we had in common was that we were different from our non-immigrant and non-refugee counterparts. And this blurred the distinctions among us in terms of nationality, race, and upbringing. If one of us got picked on, we felt it as a group. We supported each other. When I arrived, I was greeted warmly with curiosity. And, in turn, I extended that welcome to other newcomers. We eventually improved our English skills, moved schools and communities, and transitioned to other life stages. But I continue to carry those important lessons into my life, work, and experiences with people around the world.
Holding on too tightly to a fixed idea of culture can create an “us versus them” mentality. And it can lead us to think of people who don’t look like us as having less value and worth. We can counter that by designing supportive and resilient communities. Research shows that diverse groups are more creative, innovative, and better performing in the workplace, health care settings, and beyond. The countless richly diverse communities that include newcomers teach us that we can create different and healthier realities.
At GlobalGiving, we put people first—and this includes refugees, migrants, forcibly displaced, or host communities. We were founded on the principle that good ideas can come from anyone, anywhere, at any time. GlobalGiving comprises a vibrant collection of nonprofits, companies, and social enterprises—including refugee-led organizations and businesses.
Led by a vision for a safer, kinder, and more abundant reality, teams across the GlobalGiving community provide programs and initiatives to counter harmful policies and racist rhetoric.
Cyprus hosts the largest number of refugees per capita in Europe, but increased racism and xenophobia are having a negative impact on the lives and well-being of refugees there. That’s why Sistema Cyprus offers music programs that support refugee children experiencing social isolation. Their work also builds awareness and respect for refugees.
Reclaim Childhood, Inc. creates safe and inclusive spaces for girls in Amman, Jordan, a city I once called home. Jordan hosts the second-largest refugee population per capita in the world, but opportunities for these families remain sparse. By playing sports, girls spanning eight nationalities form friendships, learn through team building, and develop socioemotional and leadership skills.
In Colombia, Fundación Interpreta is working in partnership with other organizations to shape narratives and address xenophobia and hate speech targeted at refugees and migrants. Their efforts cover digital platforms, social networks, and the media.
Human history has demonstrated time and again that we are stronger together. That’s especially true when we respect, accept, and support people with diverse backgrounds, abilities, and perspectives. It’s incumbent on all of us to address inequities and embrace refugees and migrants so that our communities can flourish.
A warm welcome in a foreign land changed the course of my life. Every 9-year-old fleeing conflict, every child forced to leave home by a crisis, and every migrant and refugee deserves that chance, too. Who will you welcome today?
Find a project in your area to welcome refugees.
FIND A PROJECT
Featured Photo: Build Community through Sport for Girls in Jordan by Reclaim Childhood, Inc.