Over the past year I have heard on a number of occasions the genuine appreciation from those we serve for not what we give but how we treat those we give to. Very often JRS is unable to provide anything other than an open heart, a friendly smile and the time to listen to peoples’ stories of displacement, trauma and loss.
I have been deeply impressed by the strength and resilience displayed by those we serve; I have also been impressed by the depth of spirit and passion displayed by many of my colleagues.
Since arriving at JRS I have learnt more than I have given. I find the words of William Yeomans SJ humbling as he observes, “I go to work with the refugees not as one who is bringing something to them, but as one who has first of all to learn what I should bring.” This is where I find myself; wanting to give but knowing that I must first listen to those we serve to determine the best course of action.
Refugees and displaced people have often lost everything. Through conflict, economic hardship and environmental disaster they are forced to leave their families, friends, homes and worldly possessions. Often treated poorly and forced to live under inhumane conditions, they are forced into situations that strip them of their self-sufficiency; they are dehumanised in the press and arrested and detained like criminals.
The greatest thing we can do at JRS is to meet these people like the equals that they are. To show them love and compassion, to be present in their pain and anguish, to stand with them shoulder to shoulder in their time of need.
As JRS marks 30 years of service to refugees I think of the many people, staff and refugees, past and present, who have formed connections with each other over the years. Hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of people have reached out to one another, have placed trust in each other and opened their hearts amidst conflict, trauma, pain and loss. This it seems is the core of JRS work. Accompaniment. Accompaniment by itself can be a powerful force, reinstilling a shattered faith in other human beings. But if we are to assist effectively we must share in their lives whilst ensuring we don’t foster dependence. From the moment we meet we must be mindful of how we are going to say goodbye. Those we serve are initially friends who need us but we look forward to a time when the friendship is one of choice rather than necessity. Until that day, we strive to meet those we serve as equals, with love and respect.
Oliver White, regional advocacy and communications officer
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