The only information I was given initially was that they were “Pakistan refugees who wish to learn English and Chinese.” Since the basic requirements matched with my dream of becoming an educator, I did not think twice and gladly accepted the opportunity given.
On the very first day, amidst the two interminable hours of relentless transition from bus to subways, I began to wonder what my students’ families would look like. I pictured brown-colored figures physically exhausted and mentally depressed following persecution in their homeland. Additionally, due to their unfavorable financial condition, I sketched in my head a cold, gloomy and shabby house. Yes, I expected families deprived of hope and laughter. Slowly my imaginations were tainted with colors of negativity and sympathy.
However, my “childish” imagination shattered by their genuine welcome. The students were bright, passionate about learning, and positive about their future. I cannot deny the difficulty of their circumstances or the fact that they had to suffer from cultural barriers, but their minds and souls did not seem to wither. After two months of scheduled teaching, one of the families invited us for a home-made meal. After serving the delicious Biryani and Mutton Curry, the youngest girl in the family was eager to show us pictures of their life in Pakistan. This family consisted of a father, a big brother and four sisters. My curiosity about the missing presence of a mother over the past two months was finally answered through the pictures. I then heard from the brother that their mother was beaten to death in front of them during an attack by the religious extremists. The brother himself also had scars on his lip and back. I was moved by their kindness and openness, and, at the same time, astonished by the fact that they shared such a tragic and personal story to third parties. This came to me that this family was at least able to voice out their deepest grievances and move forward.
I questioned myself: “what held them together?” The answer was rather simple. The very fact that the other family members were still alive allowed them to console, support and encourage each other. I heard from my UNHCR supervisor that other refugees who were estranged from their parents were completely different from the ones we have been tutoring. I realized the importance of family and was reminded of the fact that no one can stand alone. Even the God himself created other being despite his almightiness. I began to remember the times when I was rude to my family. Truly, we oftentimes neglect or disrespect the warm cocoon our “family” provides because we believe those who are close to us will somehow understand us. However, it is indeed due to this closeness that we must cherish and hold dear those we have now.
(*Refugee volunteer work for 2 years at the Beijing UNHCR)