Today I had a pretty silly post I was going to share about what I’ve been loving lately, but it just felt too ingenue to post with everything that’s gone on in the world this week. I feel like every time I check the news, or Facebook, or catch a glimpse of the TV in my office, it’s not good – and it’s made me a little bundle of nervousness all week long. I’ve seen so many of my friends justifiably go on Facebook rants, sharing how sad, unabashedly mad and scared they are about the state of the U.S. and our future – and our future children’s future. And I get it, I’m scared and sad too – but I’m trying my best to put those feelings into action.
A few months ago, my boyfriend and I decided to start volunteering together – and with the terrible crisis in Syria we were both drawn to volunteering with refugees in the Chicago area, tutoring kids, helping new immigrants understand the new world of Chicago, and getting to know their incredible stories of adversity and strength. We found a local organization called RefugeeOne, and signed up to attend one of their informational meetings before being paired with a family. And I’ll admit that I was pretty nervous about getting out of my comfort zone, especially knowing that whoever we were placed with would have a whole life full of hardships before they moved here – only to have more challenges presented to them – learning English, learning how the El works in a foreign language, not to mention navigating public schooling, paying bills – the list goes on and on.
So Tom and I were placed with a family – a strong single mom with 5 kids between the ages of 7 – 18 originally from Rwanda. And they were immediately warm, and inviting and so excited that we were there – and as their tutors Tom and I took turns trading off homework assignments (he’s good at math, I’m good at anything else…), watching these kids work their hardest to catch up on the schoolwork and the lessons they missed spending years in refugee camps in various African countries before coming to Chicago a few years ago. They’re kind, good, incredibly wonderful kids with dreams of going to college and living the American dream that they deserve – and all I want to do is help them get a little closer to getting there by doing anything I can do to make a difference.
And what inspires me most of all is their mother who wakes up every morning at 3 AM to take a train, and then a bus, to work a 12 hour shift in a factory in a city an hour and a half outside of Chicago. She’s thankful, and hopeful, and does everything she can do to give her children the American dream too – even if that means 14+ hours a day traveling and working to make it happen. She’s always home when Tom and I stop by to tutor, greeting us happily as we enter her apartment, with her kids excited to have us there to help them learn. And she goes out of her way to cook a meal for us – letting us try African fufu and always asking us (through her children as she’s still learning English) if we want more, excited that we’re excited to try something new.
One of my favorite Winston Churchill quotes is, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give”, and I feel eternally lucky to have the privilege to be a part of this remarkable and inspiring family – especially after the past few weeks. While I’m the one volunteering and helping out, I feel like I’m getting the better end of the deal – learning, growing and being so inspired by a family who’s come here to live the American dream – a dream of freedom, and prosperity through hard work and determination, and being welcome no matter who you are. And it kills me that anyone would think that this incredible family isn’t welcome here, that America is anything but lucky to have their energy, talent and passion. They are the ones teaching me so much more than I could ever teach them, and welcoming families like theirs is what makes America great – and diverse, and inspiring too.
I understand being mad – believe me, I’m mad as ever these days. I will march, and call my congressmen and probably put up a sassy Facebook status or two letting people know just how mad I am. But I’m also going to do something about it too. Not because I’m a saint, but because I believe that everyone has the fundamental right in this country to live out their own version of the American dream. And maybe because I’m selfish a little bit too, because being with them gives me more joy than I ever could have imagined. In the wise words of Winston Churchill, giving helps give me a life – while hopefully helping their life too.
I challenge you (and myself) to continue to give during these times of frustration – not only to make the world a better, kinder place – but to help give yourself a little more gratitude and joy too. If you’re in Chicago, volunteer or donate to RefugeeOne (they can always use supplies!), or Off The Street Club, PAWS, or any of the other incredible organizations that do their part to enrich people’s lives in this city. And even if you’re not in Chicago – find a local cause or organization that inspires you – because putting your worry and anger to action is the best way to move forward, no matter what your political beliefs might be.
So while the news is terrible and I still have a pit in my stomach every single day, I also know that I am so lucky, and grateful to help them as they chase the American dream they so deserve. Every week they inspire me to be a better, more compassionate person, and I hope they get a portion of the joy I get by being even a small part of their lives. xx