I’ve written before about how to help our kids avoid racism. One key to that is through friendships with those who are different from them. There’s nothing like playing soccer, competing in Uno or simply hanging out to build bonds that make the “different” seem not so unusual after all. And the power of friendships applies to us as moms too! We’ve got to model this type of intentional friendship to our children. One way to start is by getting to know some Syrian immigrants or refugees.
With all the recent hysteria about Syrian refugees, we thought it important to move the conversation from the merely political to the realm of the personal. Tabitha McDuffee, the founder of Faith and Forced Migration shares a story of her friendship with a Syrian mom, and how special that relationship was: “In my short time living in my suburban community, she, of all people, was the one who made me feel most welcomed, and most loved.” Tabitha reminds us that many of these Syrians are women just like us. They’re concerned moms, dedicated teachers, loving wives.
May this story challenge you to befriend other moms on the fringes of American society like Lubna, learn their stories, and then advocate on their behalf.
I met Lubna* in October 2016. Like her, I had recently moved to our sprawling suburban community, and I was struggling to make friends. My mother-in-law, a community college ESL teacher, mentioned that she had a quiet Syrian woman in her class who wanted someone she could practice speaking English with. I was working with a local refugee resettlement agency, so I assumed that Lubna, her husband, and her two sons had come to the US through the State Department’s resettlement program just like 10,000 others. On the first day we met to practice English, she began to tell me her story.
Lubna and her family lived in Damascus, the capital of Syria. She was a successful elementary school teacher and her husband owned a small business. Damascus has been one of the safest cities in Syria throughout the civil war and Lubna didn’t think her family would have to flee the country. But one morning, in the middle of a grammar lesson, a bomb was dropped a few blocks away. Lubna quickly gathered her fourth grade students into the basement bomb shelter. They waited for hours until the shelling stopped and it was safe enough to go home. Lubna didn’t make dinner for her family that night because her hands still hadn’t stopped shaking.
For the first time, Lubna and her husband talked about what it would look like for their family to leave Syria. They had friends from other parts of the country who had already fled and they had heard about the difficult conditions in Jordan and Lebanon’s refugee camps. Lubna and her husband also learned that less than one percent of nearly 6 million Syrian refugees would ever be resettled in a country like the US, Canada, or Australia. Staying in Syria, with bombs dropping around them didn’t seem like an option, but neither did fleeing across the border to live in a refugee camp with no right to work, limited access to education for their two sons, and a 0.5% chance of being chosen for resettlement. So Lubna and her husband decided to risk a third option.