By Jacob Rosenzweig, Mitzvah Corps Pacific Northwest II Participant
July 25, 2016
I think quite often our news programs like to scare us. Popular news outlets very much serve to entertain, and unfortunately, the violent, vicious, and extreme are often the pinnacle of modern American entertainment. Neil Postman wrote a social commentary in the 1980’s called Amusing Ourselves to Death, greatly drawing upon examples of this concept of news sensationalism. The side effect of “sensational” news is the great degree to which the goodhearted American becomes swayed by the dramatic extremity.
Today, Mitzvah Corps Pacific Northwest met with the International Rescue Committee at their Seattle base. The IRC is an agency specializing in assisting refugee populations in whatever they may need. We were presented with interviews of children our own age facing problems incomprehensible to the outsider. These individuals have fled from authoritarian regimes, failed-state governments, and for some, even genocide. Refugee policies are at the top of our current events; the lives of individuals are constantly spoken about and presented by the media as numbers and dramatic statistics. Yet today, as we prepared for our first day working at the IRC’s summer camp for refugee children, we heard their stories – stories of success, perseverance, and resilience. The refugees, so often talked about but never talked to, became so incredibly human.
July 29, 2016
Our orientation earlier this week with the IRC gave new meaning to the job we would be performing and turned the commonly thrown-around word of “refugee” into a group of legitimate individuals sharing the common experience of facing immense persecution. Yet prior to the summer camp starting, all these newly formed ideas were still void of actual people. As someone who very seriously studies history, culture, and politics, I had no idea of what it meant it really meant to be a refugee.
Pages can be written about the individual and unique experiences of each Mitzvah Corps participant working with the campers here. Understandably so, many of the children were initially shy to express feelings and communicate ideas. Yet many individuals opened a new world for these children by offering out a hand, assuring them that camp is a safe space, no matter who you are. Many campers come from families that have fled places where people are being persecuted for their identities, be it religious, ethnic, or otherwise, and this may have undoubtedly contributed to their initial shyness. Campers joined us in majority from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Burma/Myanmar, and Somalia, nations that have certainly had their fair share of air time on the news.
With all the wonderful and personal stories to be shared around camp, to me, the most beautiful sight to be seen at camp is the peaceful coexistence and friendship of children of nations so often described in aggressive and violent language.