By Denise Walker


a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster

An unprecedented 70.8 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 25.9 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18.

When these people come here they have to learn a whole new way of life. Often times they are leaving behind jobs such as being a teacher or a doctor to come over here to clean or do landscaping.

When they come most of the time all they have is a backpack with their belongings. They are leaving families and their culture behind as well. Some have been living in refugee camps for a long time.

when I was in Charlottesville Virginia I had the opportunity to get to know some people who had been refugees in Burundi and Tanzania. Originally their families came from the Congo. To just say that times were hard for them is a big understatement. One girl I know came with her brother and her daughter. All of her other family members had been killed except for an uncle who is now in NC.

One family that I know came with their children and I had the privilege of being able to help them get used to life in our country.

It was so very interesting the things that they had to learn. Not only did they have to learn a new language, but I remember driving down the road and they asked me why there were so many trees. They were saying that it made them feel a little bit claustrophobic because where they came from there were no trees.

one day one of the girls wanted to learn how to make cupcakes. So, I got ingredients to make them from scratch and then I got just a box mix. When I brought the muffin pan in, the father came up to me and said “Oh is this a game?” I told him that it was for the cupcakes that we were going to make.

When I went to crack the eggs, the girls were amazed at how I could tap the egg on the side of the bowl and pop the egg into the bowl. They all wanted a turn to crack the egg.

One day we were driving to my home which was in a rural area. One of the girls looked out and told me she had never seen the “white” before. I looked over and realize that she was talking about fog. Who would ever think that someone had never seen fog before?

This particular family was from Burundi and a lot of their foods they eat with their fingers. On one occasion, we were at a picnic and there was fried Chicken. So, one of the girls in the family wanted to make sure she was eating things “correctly” and started to eat the chicken with a knife and fork. I told her that she could eat fried chicken with your fingers, but she still wanted to do it “correctly “. So, then I had to pick up the piece of chicken with my fingers… take a big old bite… and show her that it was indeed correct to eat fried chicken with your fingers! You would not believe how big her smile was!! Of course she picked up her piece of chicken and ate it with her fingers!!

I could not believe all of the very small things that refugees had to learn when they come over. It has helped me to have a true appreciation and empathy for those that have to leave their homes and their families and start life over in a new country.

My son decided to learn Swahili and now is an interpreter. He taught himself. But he also immersed himself in the culture and the language.

I have learned “kidogo”(a little ) Swahili.

Did you know that there are refugees even in our area that speak Swahili? There are some in New Bern and a huge population in Raleigh.

Here are a few words if you want to know how to say a few things:

Jambo( jahm bo) Hello!

Asante ( ah sahn tay) Thank you!

Habari gani ( hah bah ree Gah nee) How are you?

Nzuri ( in zoo ree) I’m fine!

Karibu ( kah ree boo) Welcome!!

Kwahari ( kwa heh ree) goodbye

Ndoto Tamu ( In doh toh tah mu) Sweet Dreams

Lala Salama ( lala sah lah mah) Goodnite!

Of course not everyone is going to learn the whole language like my son did. But, how cool would it be if you met someone who could speak Swahili and you could say a few things to them! What a cool way to welcome them here!

here is a great book for young ones about refugees. Won’t you check to see if this is at your local library?

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