There is a bright yellow sign hanging in the middle of the offices of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) – Missoula branch. It reads: “NO HATE. NO FEAR. REFUGEES ARE WELCOME HERE. #ChooseHumanity.” This sign lays out the perfect structure for me to use for self-reflection on my first month of service as a Montana Campus Compact AmeriCorps Leader.
NO HATE. There is simply no time or place for hatred when serving as a volunteer with the IRC. I am fortunate to work with and serve a variety of different groups of people at my service placement; I interact regularly with IRC colleagues, state and local officials, members of nonprofits, and of course, the refugee clients. The common thread that weaves all these different groups together is love – the opposite of hate. The community in Missoula that provides support services to refugees is truly incredible, and the people that make up this community are hands-down the nicest people I have ever met. We are all helping to resettle and support individuals and families that have endured more pain, turmoil, and stress than many of us can even imagine.
Unfortunately, the reality is that there is hate. So far, I am lucky to not have witnessed any acts of hate, but my colleagues have shared some truly gut-wrenching stories of hate towards the refugee clients. There is simply no evidence to justify the generalizations that refugees are unvetted or dangerous. Hate underlies these assumptions and will continue to lead to discrimination if it is not addressed. I hope to combat some of this hate throughout the rest of my service year.
NO FEAR. AmeriCorps members need to be fearless. Volunteers commit to a full year of service during which they are given a small living allowance and are required to make personal sacrifices to serve others. AmeriCorps members often serve far away from their friends and family and are forced to make new connections and forge new relationships with complete strangers. We are placed into well-established, tight-knit communities and are expected to make an immediate and positive impact.
These are just a few of the aspects of being an AmeriCorps member that require fearlessness. However, nobody gets anywhere in the world by simply being content and nothing ever gets done unless the bold act. I find my service to be incredibly rewarding because I know that I have made sacrifices to help improve the lives of people who need help the most.
REFUGEES ARE WELCOME HERE. After the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in August of this year, many Afghans fled the country as the Taliban gained control of the country’s government. Over the next few weeks, the International Rescue Committee and our partner organizations will be working diligently to resettle these Afghan refugees into our community. I’ve found that most Missoulians are open to having refugees resettled into their community and are very supportive of our efforts. We need to continue to show that these Afghan refugees, as well as all the other refugees fleeing countries around the world, feel welcome here in Missoula.
America has an abounding history of racial animosity, bigotry, violence, and hatred that most people can agree are horrible aspects of society. However, America also has a rich history of tolerance, acceptance, and cooperation. We need to be on the right side of history and stand up for our belief that refugees, those who are fleeing their home countries to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster, have their rights and dignities protected.
#ChooseHumanity The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines humanity as ‘compassionate, sympathetic, or generous behavior or disposition: the quality or state of being humane’. This hashtag offers a reminder to choose humanity. That is, choose to be sympathetic and compassionate towards others, choose to be generous and put others before yourself, and choose to be humane, because we are all part of one big community, the human race.