Starting over: what traits make you sink, swim or soar?

Written by Varouna Baroud on Tuesday, 12 December 2017. Posted in Inspirational


Photo by Dimi Katsavaris on Unsplash

Who hasn’t dreamed about this:  

Leaving your current life behind. Start over somewhere new, where no one knows you and everything is possible again? After a day of your boss micromanaging you, your partner nagging and your child blearing, most of us find ourselves secretly planning a one-way trip to freedom.  

But what if that decision was made for you? If you had no other choice than to start over because everything that you knew as life was destroyed. Would you sink, swim or soar? 

This was the exactly the challenge of the boys and girls I got to work with as a counselor of unaccompanied minor refugees. I realize that migration and refugees are currently hard and polarizing topics. But this story is not about politics. It is about people. About every day kids that can teach you a most humbling lesson about gratitude, commitment, and true resourcefulness.  

When I appear in the life of these kids (ages between 13 and 18), they just arrived in Holland to the refugee center. Most kids come in with nothing but the clothes on their back. And their mobile off course, because war or no war, poverty or no poverty, a mobile phone is considered as a basic need in a teenager's life.  

What they know about the future at this point is that they will live in a special shelter 50 -200 with other strangers under 18,  all young teens waiting for their request to be denied or granted by immigration. Some have been wondering through the world for years. Others still have the tarnish of fresh trauma in their eyes.

Not one kid has the same background. All had a different journey that brought them here. In a melting pot (that at times feels more like a pressure cooker) of different religions, cultures, habits, languages, beliefs, values and ages. All completely different personalities. 

From the outside, we counselors recognize things they have in common. Like the translucent glow of feeling lost. Lost in the shelter, lost in this new country and culture, lost in this world, lost in an incomprehensible life. A few seem the most lost you can be, lost inside themselves  As all teenager, they were already struggling to find their own identity. But suddenly being stripped away from all basic things that make up your sense of identity, especially at that age, like friends, sports, family, heritage, plans for the future and hobbies, can make that somewhat challenging. Most will tell you that they have forgotten what it is like to be a real person. That empty feeling mirrors the expression they see in the eyes of most new people they encounter: you are just another refugee, you don't belong here, you are nothing more than a nuisance.  

But there is one other thing they share: they all have a similar dream. When they walk in that first day, they all have a similar glimmer of hope in their eyes that reflects a shared: “This country will bring me new life.”   

I calculated that over the years I saw more than a thousand boys and girls with this dream walking over the threshold. All survivors just for making it even that far. Some kids I struggled with, some I connected with and some stole my heart. I tried to never judge. After all, I always wondered, who would I have become if the tables had been turned

As the years past, I saw some sink, some float, some swim, and some soar and I wondered. What was the determining factor for success? Why did some make it where others kept struggling or gave up completely?  

refugee 2Eventually, I realized isn’t what we would like to believe. It is not culture, education, or social status. It is not money or religion. It is not the amount of violence, pain & suffering they endured. The ones that make it are those who, even when placed in a situation with next to no resources, knew how to maintain an unshakable trust in the power of their own resourcefulness. 

The determined kids like Mohammed that come in with the unapologetic commitment to make it. Not even considering giving up as a possibility.  

The brave girls like Marina that had enough faith to live in the moment. Cherishing where they came from but refusing to let their past nor their insecurity of the future define them. Instead, they focus on the current step. Making it through this day and knowing they will do it again the next. 

The people like Sabri, who are strong enough to swallow their pride, stop gobbling in what they lost and then simply start working with what they were left with. 

The tenacious like Hussein, who acknowledge the horrible situation they are put in, without losing themselves. Finding the courage to take ownership despite the unfairness of it all and hold themselves accountable for their future.  

The go-getters like Abdulrazak, that are not waiting for others to give them a chance but persist in creating their own opportunities.  

The whole-hearted souls like Safi who dare to connect with others with open heart and soul after all the hatred they have been through. 

The survivors like Mauro that despite their pain and suffering, worked hard to find gratitude in the darkest of places and good in the worst of people.  

Whatever you think about the political aspects of immigration. I am grateful for meeting all of these wandering souls. Each individual taught me a lesson about who I was. All of them together showed me who I was supposed to become. Someone that has not only the potential but the resourcefulness to create a positive contributing life. If they can do it, who am I, with all my opportunities, not to make the best of it?  

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