By Tia Will
I do not often wave, or symbolically wrap myself in the flag. I am an unapologetic “one worlder”. I feel that artificially constructed “in groups” whether tribes, or countries or religions, or any other means by which people separate themselves into them vs us, are responsible for most of the hatred, violence and harm in our world.
So what is it that has aroused my pride in my fellow countrymen?
Recently, but prior to the Paris attacks, I heard a story on NPR which embodies just why I love America and why I continue to believe in the “American Dream” as I envision it. The story was “Among the lucky few: Syrian family rebuilds in ‘American Heartland by Ari Shapiro. My “American Dream” is not based on each generation materially “doing better than the preceding”. It is about each American generation acting more humanely than that which preceded it.
This is the story of one Syrian family and their trials as they were forced to flee their homes, lived for two years in a refugee camp in Jordan, and ultimately managed to qualify for relocation to the United States. In September, they arrived in the seemingly unlikely refuge city of Toledo, Ohio. But more than the story of this one family, it is the story of those who I consider true heroes.
This is the story of a group called Water for Ishmael. It is a story of volunteers who offer free English lessons to adults while their children are being cared for by other volunteers in a local church. It is about an engineer, one of a group of volunteers who call themselves the “free loaders”, who between his hours of work, loads donated furniture and other supplies to deliver them for free. It is about those who supply food, clothing, bedding and other necessities until the refugees have a chance to get on their own feet in their new homes. After all, these are people, just like those who were attacked in Paris, who are fleeing this same kind of violence in their homeland every day.
It is also the story of another volunteer group, US Together, coordinated by a Syrian American, Corine Dehabey. She is the only paid employee. Ms. Dhabey’s goup is funded by HIAS which stands for “Hebrew Immigrant Aide Society, an organization originally founded over 100 years ago to help Jewish refugees resettle.
As quoted in the story Ms. Dehabey states, “That’s real humanity. … You want to help everybody, you put religion on the side. That’s it, we’re human before religion was formed,” Dehabey says about this historically Jewish group taking mostly donations from Christian churches to help mostly Muslim immigrants. “So that’s what makes the United States unique because everybody comes together to help this person.”
While the numbers of those Syrians being resettled in the United States is still very small compared to the numbers being relocated in Europe, it is heartening to see that President Obama is belatedly increasing the number accepted into the US and hopefully will continue to do so. For what is our basis as a nation if not as a refuge for those who are persecuted and threatened in their own lands? The actions of these everyday heroes stands in stark contrast to those who want to turn away from our borders desperate asylum seekers without so much as attempting to validate their claims. My heart felt thanks to these volunteers who represent us all so well by their willingness to look beyond fears and prejudices and extend help to those in need regardless of their language, nationality, or religion. This is an example of America at its finest and will hopefully serve as a model for other communities across our country.