By Lindsay Lipschultz, Pacific Northwest I 2017 Participant
Before Mitzvah Corps Pacific Northwest began, we were a group of 33 high school students who had an interest in social justice, but didn’t fully understand what that meant or implied. Many of us had spent time volunteering in various ways at home and knew about the disparities in wealth, power, and education that existed in the world. What we didn’t know was how many refugees there were in our country, how difficult many of their lives had become due to crises in their home countries, how challenging it is to get into a third country (such as the United States), and most of all, how much the refugee children we got to spend time with would touch our lives.
Now that we have spent almost two weeks learning about the struggles that refugees face due to conflicts and persecution in their home countries, how difficult it is to find a new place to live, whether temporarily or permanently, and the challenges refugees face when they have to assimilate to a new country’s culture, we have a much better understanding of the refugee crisis and how imperative this work is. While volunteering at the IRC summer camp, we gave the children a chance to just be kids with no responsibilities or worries. Many of them had experienced trauma while fleeing and resettling. While they were at camp, we were able to give them positive childhood memories they can look back on for the rest of their lives. While most of them didn’t tell us about their pasts, we knew about the environments many of them came from and were touched by their spirit, generosity, and excitement.
As our time here is coming to a close, we have been discussing the question of “What do we do now?” While the future is unknown, I do believe that we will bring the information we have learned and our experiences from here in Seattle back to our home communities. Some of us may become volunteers at the IRC centers near our hometowns, and others may plan clothing drives to donate to refugees that enter our country with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Even if some of us don’t make any more major efforts to help refugees when we get home, we have all been touched by the refugee children and the IRC. Our experiences on this trip will be in our memories forever. We may hold drives or donate more to charity boxes at grocery store checkouts. If nothing else, we will be more inspired Jewish adults, forever changed by these two weeks.