A week ago, my girls and I stood in a modest apartment where a refugee family has made their temporary home after fleeing their real one in Burma. Now in Salt Lake City, they are learning English, trying to find jobs and hoping to build a life for their young son in America.
We were there with gifts as part of our annual service project, but the few things we had brought suddenly seemed so small next to the obvious need of this family.
But it was something — and that’s a start.
I think that’s the thing I have been learning most about how to help refugees in our community: Do something. Do it now.
A few months ago, I tried to explain to my daughter what a refugee was when she found me teary-eyed watching The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' video about refugees titled "Refuge from the Storm."
My definition of someone who has to flee their home, sometimes in the middle of the night with nothing, because of war or danger made no sense to her. How could they leave their home? Why do people let this happen? Why can’t they take their money and clothes with them?
But the question she asked that jumped out to me was this: “What are we going to do?”
When I told her that we should think about ways we could help, she said again, “What are we going to do now?”
Inspired by an idea done by my sister, we organized a neighborhood service project to make children’s medical kits for local refugees. Our neighbors each brought one of the supplies on the list and in no time at all, we had 20 kits assembled, along with bags of toys and cards welcoming people to Utah.
In the grand scheme of things, those 20 boxes and the simple holiday gifts we delivered were so small. There is so much need and hurt right now for our displaced friends who are leaving their homes and starting uncertain journeys as refugees.
But we did something. And if everyone did just one something, think how many lives could be touched or changed or calmed.
If you’re like me, it’s hard to know where to start with something as massive as “help the refugees.” So below is a quick roundup of ideas and services that you can start doing, now.
As Elder Patrick Kearon, general authority Seventy for the LDS Church, said in April: “This moment will not define them (refugees), but our response will help define us.”
• Contact the International Rescue Committee. The IRC works globally to help refugees and has many local offices that can connect volunteers with families. The organization is also in need of medical and home kits for newcomers and can direct you to where your skills can best be used.
• Donate money. CNN.com's article "How to help Syrian refugees," published September 2013, includes a list of organizations providing relief to refugees.
• Read and share their stories. Become informed and aware of the situations happening globally that are creating refugees. Use social media to share what you learn and inspire others to help, too.
• Learn about the LDS Church's initiative "I Was A Stranger" at lds.org/refugees.
• Collect and donate items. I have seen so many people starting collection drives for refugees, from sports equipment to school supplies to the woman behind carrythefuture.org who had the ingenious idea to send baby carriers. Find a local collection site, or if you’re in Utah, visit: Utah Refugee Services, Catholic Community Services, International Rescue Committee or Asian Association of Utah.
"Refuge From the Storm"
Tens of millions of people have been displaced from their homes due to conflict and famine—half of these individuals are children, according to the Mormon Channel.
Erin Stewart is a regular blogger for Deseret News. From stretch marks to the latest news for moms, she discusses it all while her daughters dive-bomb off the couch behind her and her newborn son wins hearts with his dimples.