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My Reflections on Our Themes

I have finally caught up with the reflections for the themes posted over the past few week and I wanted to put them out there into the universe…and to you all.

THEME 1: SYRIAN REFUGEES AND INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE

I’ve spent a good amount of time exploring the current global refugee crisis with my Global Studies students this year. Often our work was looking at larger themes such as human rights and specifics like the current Rohingya refugee crisis. In looking through the resources Paul and Elley provided, I learned more about the recent specifics in Syria, but what sticks with me are the personal pieces. The journey interactive with the stories at the bottom and the On Being piece, Love in a Time of Refugees. What frustrates me is the lack of humanity in the discussion of refugees from what most people see…it is all Trump bans this, ISIS does that. Yes, this is important information, but it too often becomes mind-numbing background noise.

When I recently asked my students what event we attended this term (there were many covering a wide array of topics) most stuck with them, most responded either a field trip to see the movie Human Flow by Ai Weiwei that puts you in the midst of refugees and our Skype with Ghenwah, a Syrian refugee woman through the organization NaTakallam. Our talk with Ghenwah gave us insight and new perspective as she shared her hopes, fears, and experiences. Her story wasn’t what we expected (a land or sea escape) but rather a plane to Turkey with a visa and how falling in love with her husband that kept her in Turkey. Her fears for her safety even as she lives with refugee status in an apartment, her loneliness with her family spread through Europe and Syria and ultimately her optimism despite it all…that is what I wish people could see…really see when they disparage refugees, ignore the news or fearfully cling to nationalism. As Warsan Shire wrote, “you have to understand, that no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.”

 

THEME 2: SYRIAN REFUGEES IN JORDAN

ABC News and UNICEF video: What issues do you think face Syrian children living in a refugee camp in Jordan? Children are resilient. They can play and create games out of just about anything. But I would think beyond the expected challenges related to food, health, education and sanitation, dealing with the trauma related to their journey as a refugee and the anxiety resulting from the challenges their parents face must deeply effect them.

NRC video: What issues do you think face Syrian refugee families living outside the refugee camps? I think that issues related to basic survival like housing food and healthcare would be most critical to families outside the refugee camps.

After watching both videos, what differences do you notice between the experience of refugees living in a camp and those living in host community areas? Camps seem to provide some relative stability. Surrounded by people experiencing a similar situation allows people to let down their guards, children to interact with others more and allows for the creation somewhat of a settlement (e.g. bakery).

Key needs and challenges? Responses are required? Actions required by government agencies, donors, the UN and NGOs? Gaps?

Full funding to UNHRC. Reduced healthcare rates for refugees not already covered. Protections and access to supports for sexual and gender based violence victims. Aiding refugees in rural areas that can be cut off from access to supplies. Access to education (teachers, schools and safety). Employment opportunities for refugees. Minimizing financial and infrastructure load on Jordan.

 

THEME 3: REFLECTIONS ON GENDER.

I have had few instances where my gender was an issue or even a thought while traveling. On my first travel experience doing field work in Puerto Rico, I was surrounded by men and women working together…equally. Yet once while hiking with a Puerto Rican male colleague through an area I had traveled extensively, my opinions on the best path to take were dismissed in a way that I interpreted as due to me being a woman. Given I had more experience and was the same age, I attributed his actions to stereotypical machismo. Cut to the two of us covered in mud from from clawing our way up a landslide that was to the right of the path I knew, he gave me a smile that said, “Yeah, I should have listened to you.” In rural Mexico, I felt that sense of a 3rd gender, free from gender-specific expectations and oddly able to interact in ways the Mexican women around me couldn’t. In Uganda, I am keenly aware of gender but mostly from the perspective of what my male students and co-chaperone can’t do (e.g. clean and cook) and how they struggle wanting to contribute in ways they do at home. It takes a little education to train them that they are being polite by not helping when we visit the homes of our friends for a home cooked meal.

I am mostly curious about women perceive the expectation to wear a hijab. The Muslim women I have known in the US have either never worn one or have worn them for periods of time as they have explored their own faith but ultimately deciding not to. In cultures where “choice” is either doesn’t exist or is rarely exercised, I wonder how women even perceive the idea of “choice”. Recent protests in Iran with women taking off their hijab also make me curious, but I come from a culture of choice (how do you take your coffee?). Do I see choice differently from someone in another culture? I am forgetting the interplay with faith?