The conversation I recently enjoyed with a small group of mothers was like many I’ve experienced before. Love shining in their eyes, they shared universal hopes for their children.
The first mother shared her hope that her child would be healthy. The second shared her desire for her child to be safe. The third spoke of wanting her child to do well in school. These hopes and dreams for children are on the lips and in the hearts of every parent I know.
What made these parents’ comments unique were their context. All three of them are recent refugees from Syria being resettled by RefugeeOne in Chicago.
When the first mother spoke about her desire for her son to be healthy, she shared that he is paralyzed from a sniper’s bullet. Unable to find physical therapy for him in their country, she and her husband left everything they owned and escaped Syria in order to reach a refugee camp, carrying their son.
After a long wait, they arrived in Chicago where his medical treatment has finally begun.
The second mother who longed for safety shared that their family experienced near-daily bombing in their home city of Aleppo. One day, she and her two little boys were running towards their home, dodging bombs. Her older son was holding her younger son’s hand. Just as they broke free of the bombs, her younger son was shot in the head by a sniper and was killed.
This woman’s older son is tormented by recurrent dreams of this traumatic event and loss. Her great hope for him is that he will one day feel safe again.
The third mother shared that her home village was taken over by terrorists and villagers were forced to flee. The refugee camp where her family was housed for more than three years was the site of bullying and intimidation. Most girls and women were routinely raped. Their daughter learned to be silent in an effort to stay out of harm’s way.
Now that they are in the United States, they are relieved to be in a safer environment. But her little girl is struggling in school. While her teacher is making a great effort to accommodate her limited English skills, she never asks for clarification when she is confused. She is failing in school because of her own reticence to speak up.
No one chooses to be a refugee. These families’ stories tell us about fear, loss, and having no choice but to leave their home countries in search of safety, opportunities, and a better life. And while many of us will never have to experience the perils of being a refugee, we are connected in our universal role of parents. With each story, I heard a little of myself in these Syrian women who have experienced hardship to protect their children and advocate for their best opportunities. They are willing to face difficult sacrifices made in hope the next generation will have a chance to leave the world better than it is today. While their life experiences are completely different from mine, we are universally bonded by our role as parents and protectors of our children's future.
We parents love our children dearly, and would give up most anything for their health, safety, and success. The realization of my own good fortune does not escape me when I recognize how the country I was born in has made it so much easier for me to provide these things for my children.