What We Have in Common
Like many of you, I heard the news about Afghanistan and immediately began wondering how I could help the refugees fleeing their home country. What must they be feeling? What were their top needs? I couldn’t help but think how overwhelming it must be to start over in a completely new place, especially for women with children in tow.
It turned out just days later, my home state of Wisconsin welcomed thousands of refugees who were brought to Fort McCoy. Thanks to my mother-in-law Karen (a volunteering wonder!) I was able to spend time with some of the women from Afghanistan. It was a profound and beautiful experience—and one that I keep returning to.
When I visited to volunteer, the morning was filled with teaching English words by making crayon drawings for a small group of girls. We drew “dog” “cat” “car” “man” “woman” etc. There were a lot of smiles and nods—and a few questioning looks at my drawings! The afternoon was spent practicing English introductions with about a dozen or so women. We progressed through learning and practicing the basics, such as “Hi, my name is…” and “How are you?” and “Where are you from?”
But then we got to “What do you do?” and I did a double-take when the first woman replied, “Doctor.”
I don’t know why I wasn’t expecting that answer, but there’s something about teaching the basics of a new language that can make you forget they already have FULL mastery of a wholly different world. In my mind, I had been teaching literacy, but that couldn’t have been further from the truth. I wasn’t teaching literacy, I was teaching a second language. There’s a HUGE difference!
So I paused the lesson to ask the women one by one what their jobs were in Afghanistan. Those gathered in the circle spoke up and I heard the following answers:
- IT specialist
- Executive director of a nonprofit
- Boxing coach
- Public policy student working toward her PhD
And those are just the ones I remember!
These were beautiful, intelligent women who just wanted to be able to use their time at Fort McCoy productively. They wanted to prepare themselves to resettle.
The two women with the strongest language skills requested books; leadership content by Brené Brown and Simon Sinek. I was reminded again. These women are Just. Like. Me.
I kept thinking how naïve it was to not know this already and yet, it just hadn’t crossed my mind. The camaraderie and commonalities we shared—as women, as professionals, as caregivers, as mothers—were all reminders to me of how alike we are; how much we all desire to belong and to love our families and to succeed at what we put our minds to. The difference, of course, is that I got to go home after our lesson and they didn’t. THAT was the heart-crushing reality that swept over me when I left.
Our Afghan guests still have BIG practical needs, like having warm clothing and shoes. I mean, let’s be real… none of us in Wisconsin are wearing sandals and thin shirts this time of year. But our Afghan guests are.
The good news is, it’s not too late (or too hard) to help. You can donate time, talent, or treasure to help create a way FORWARD for an Afghan woman or child through the Catholic Charities of La Crosse or through similar charity groups in your community.
This is a time for all of us to remember: We’re not so different from our neighbors around the world! We all strive to do the best we can for ourselves and our families. We all want to build a home life that we love and careers we are proud of. And when one of us needs a hand, let’s be quick to help. We never know when we might be the one who needs help next.