The Misconception About Refugees

I always had the idea that I’ve written about this before but I can’t seem to find it anywhere. And recently, while speaking with Ms. D, it came across to me to talk about this.

Many of you know that back when I was living in Thailand for a short couple of months, I was teaching English to a group of refugees from across the globe. This group of refugees were with the United Nations and temporarily seeking refuge in Bangkok . As many of them indicated their preference to move to well-known first world countries like the US, UK, Canada, and Australia, and not coincidentally, all these nations are English speaking nations, the UN required them to learn English.

I used to have this image that refugees come from poor families and very bad environments, and that is why they are seeking refuge in other countries to escape danger and poverty. But when I was teaching to some 30 refugees, I realised that, while it’s true many of them ran away due to civil unrest, wars, and persecution from the government, a number of them actually come from very well-to-do families.

One girl, who was persecuted by her country’s government because she exposed to the UN, the dirty transactions going on in her country, actually has a husband who works as a doctor in the US. For living expenses, the UN hands out allowances to all refugees once a month, including this girl who also receives remittances from her husband. Since she is in no need of money, she can just tell the UN she doesn’t need it and they will stop handing it to her. However, she continues to go collect the money from the UN every month, not for herself, but for another family.

Apparently, the first time the group of refugees were brought to collect their allowances, she witnessed a big Pakistani family receiving an amount not too different than hers. Thinking that the amount for that family is probably not enough, she gave them her share and made sure to go collect her share of the allowance every month to pass it to this family. Such a beautiful heart.

Another story that left the deepest impression in me was when a fellow teacher P taught her class to tell time in English. After class, an Iraqi student went up to her and said she didn’t understand what was being taught at all. P asked her which part was difficult to understand and tried to revise it with her. She picked up a marker and began drawing clock faces again and began explaining to the student how to say the numbers, and it was then, the Iraqi student said she doesn’t know what a clock is. She had never seen one. So it wasn’t that P didn’t do a good job teaching, but the student was unable to grasp the concept of a clock. Something we take for granted. P then sat down after class to show and explain to her the concept of time and the clock (whoa!).

It’s been 9 years since, and many of them have set up lives in other countries. Unfortunately, we haven’t kept in contact with most of the students, but a number of them have sent me emails saying they now live in the US and the UK, writing in perfect English.

I’ve seen some of their Facebook posts before, occasionally complaining about the usual things we complain about life and I can’t help but think how much their lives have changed.

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