Notes from the Now

“They Are Terrified To Be Away From Their Families”

In Chicago, Education, University of Chicago on March 2, 2017 at 5:28 pm

I was at a local public school this morning, as part of my day-job I’m the University’s person that supports local schools, and the principal asked if we can get her additional foreign language support for a group of refugee children that have recently joined the school community.

She, a no-nonsense CPS principal said, “They Are Terrified To Be Away From Their Families”, in a way that made me stop cold.

As the local world-class university, this is a thing that we’ll be able to help with – our university students will be able to spend time in the school working with the students and helping them acclimate by giving them some measure of familiarity in language, just as the school continues its process of welcoming the children into the community and helping them feel safe, secure, and loved.

Still, I don’t know how anyone who stops to think about these issues can trivialize the amount of pure anxiety/fear/terror that must be enveloping each and every one of the kids.   The experience of the overlapping traumas, and here I recognize that we are in a space that is occupied by many (not just refugees), requires our systems to be resourceful, nimble, and provide a caring context.  Each of which can be a challenge unto itself for our systems.

It’s easy enough to lash out at the people who are taking the purely anti-refugee stance, such an approach is callous to human suffering and demonstrates a willful ignorance of the issues at hand.  It’s much more difficult to get them to change their minds on the issue, particularly when they are insulated (often by several degrees) from any kind of real human interaction.

But, this isn’t a space where there’s an easy dichotomy – I’d also remind us that these are not spaces where our moral or ethical obligations are satisfied in half-measures.  If a city is to be accepting of refugees but is not attempting to properly outfit their schools to support the needs of the children – it can only be a partial success, and perhaps not enough of one to hold.

In this particular case, we’ll be able to mitigate this in some way through partnerships between institutions, and the good hearts of volunteers, but it feels like a patch to a process — when, if all the resources were considered first, maybe we could have reduced one bit of tension (for all involved) by building these kinds of supports into the plan originally.



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