“Flygtnings” is the Danish word for refugee (Pronounced “flute-ning”, with “flygt” meaning “flee” or”fleeing” in English). At this point in my linguistic journey, most Danish words sound like garbled nonsense to me, but the first time I heard the word flygtning, it stuck in my brain–something about the sound of it evoked perfectly for me the image of the Syrian refugees.
Weeks before my two oldest kids–Jeffrey and Arabelle–began their first classes in the language program, I learned that most of their classmates would be Syrians. The teachers said that they didn’t even receive notice beforehand that these kids would arrive–a group of them would just show up suddenly.
Before classes started, I made sure to talk to my children about how school would be different here in Denmark and in the language program, how at first they wouldn’t understand the language of the other students. I decided not to give my kids any more specifics about the other students–at least to begin with–because I wanted my kids to see the refugee children as regular kids. (I was also worried that J and A might try to ask them something about their situation, and that this might upset those kids who have obviously been through a lot)
I felt glad that my kids would be in contact with these refugee children, that Jeffrey and Arabelle would learn and play with them and they would see each other as just regular kids. And that is just what happened:
In Arabelle’s class there were about 15 Syrians, 2 or 3 Somalians and a couple of eastern Europeans–oh and one American ;). They learned and played together and Arabelle was starting to make a few friends. It wasn’t until a few weeks into the school year that she came home and said, “It seems like most of the kids in my class have black hair. Why do they all have black hair?” To which I responded, “It’s because most of them are from a country called Syria, and because of genetics, most of the people born there have black hair.”
It seemed like the right time to have the conversation. So I gathered Jeffrey and Arabelle together and we talked about the civil war in Syria. We talked about these children having to leave their homes and everything they knew. I told my kids that we were fortunate because we had chosen to come here to Denmark for a job opportunity, rather than winding up here after being forced out of our homes.
I attended a brief Parent-Teacher meeting before the first day of school. Several of the Syrian parents were there as well. I kept thinking: should I be doing something to help these people? What can I do?
In the United States, most of us are familiar with the Refugee Crisis in Europe. However, it’s not immediately on our doorstep, so it’s much easier for us to ignore. There was a hullabaloo a while back in the U.S. about whether or not we should be accepting refugees, and my understanding is that we are planning to take in about 10,000. It is a small number for a country our size, but then again we aren’t exactly close with convenient access, and we do have a constant stream of other immigrants and refugees.
Back in the States the church I attend was an outspoken advocate of our responsibility–as brothers and sisters upon this earth– to help the refugees. Members of the church in my area participated in a large-scale project to create humanitarian kits for them; these were 20-gallon totes filled with a variety of items from rice cookers and extension cords to crayons and coloring books. I actually don’t know where these kits ended up, but I know hundreds if not thousands were put together. So I would say that even before moving to Europe, I did feel a bit of a responsibility to do my part in helping with this crisis, but I can’t help but wonder now:
Is my responsibility to help the refugees greater because I actually see them on a regular basis?
Because I share a community with them?
Because my children are their friends and are attending class with them?
It sure feels like the answer is “yes”.
On the other hand, I can’t help but recognize that there is constant and widespread suffering in the world–violence, natural disasters, sickness, poverty. It becomes overwhelming to think of it in a broader sense, and one feels paralyzed with the logistical inability to make a significant difference.
But I’m reminded of the question/riddle: “How do you eat an elephant?”
And the answer: “One bite at a time.”
It only makes sense to assume that one’s responsibility lies within one’s means and one’s sphere of influence. (You take a bite or two of the problem, and you hope everyone else will do the same).
Unfortunately the things that I would normally do to help people such as the Syrian refugees, I am incapable of doing here in Denmark. Normally if I were confronted with a person who had lost everything and was starting anew, I would go through my house and pick out items to give that I thought would be useful–in fact I have done this on multiple occasions in the past. I can’t follow this course of action here because at the moment I have few possessions–turns out most of the clothes I brought aren’t suitable for the weather here anyway and I have very little as far as household items.
Another thing I might normally do is try to help the refugees adjust to their new lives and become acquainted with the community. Again, this is something I am incapable of doing here since I am currently on the receiving end of such assistance myself. (And that reminds me: Thank you to the kind Danes who have been notifying us of community events and helping John and me decipher our bills!)
So what, then, can I do to aid in the plight of the flygtnings?
I have been unable to think of much.
I can encourage my children to befriend their children.
I can offer a smile to their mothers–and it may be that this smile is the extent of the language we share–but it’s a start.
I will try to think of it as one (infinitesimal) bite…