The Audacity of the Ordinary: What Refugees Long For Most

You rise early, in that moonlit wedge of morning, the sun still hidden on the horizon, the sky a purple bruise. You set out the bread and scoop yogurt into bowls, start the coffee and peer out the window, the sun now slung low in the sky, hung with clouds. Just as you wrap your hands around that first cup of coffee, you hear the baby stir.

Soon the home is full of noise, children wrestling on the floor, jostled elbows at the table, tears and tantrums and belly laughs. Bread crumbs scatter the table, yogurt drying in a crust around the edge of bowls. There is the final push to get the children out the door to school—shoes to find, hair to brush. Your coffee is forgotten, long gone cold in your cup.

Then it’s back in the house to start the day, cleaning up breakfast dishes, sweeping the floor. Then to work in the kitchen—measuring, mixing, pouring, and cutting. You spend your day here in the small circle between sink and counter and stove, your hands moving in a steady rhythm you know by heart.

There is a break for tea, talk with the neighbors, then back to the last bits of work, cleaning up, putting away bowls, wiping off counters. The children are home, a rising chorus of voices and bodies, hands wrapped around your waist and legs, questions to answer and disputes to settle and dinner to make.

This is the day of a mother, the steady pull of children and tasks—an unending, exhausting, miraculous outpouring. Untied shoelaces, sticky kisses, scrapes to soothe, fears to calm.

It’s the same here in the refugee camp, filled with jumbled rows of tents and huts, of dusty streets under the bald and burning sun.

Photo by Erin Wilson/Preemptive Love

It’s also completely different.

It’s waking up in a home made of cinder blocks or tarps stretched over poles—another morning in the same camp where you’ve been displaced for years.

It’s starting the day without coffee, because you don’t have the means or the option to buy it, a constant tally in your head of expenses out versus money in. And with fewer than half of all refugee children able to attend school, you spend the day with kids underfoot, a constant worry over their development, their ability to learn and thrive and become more than a statistic, a handout, a cause.

It’s remembering the home you left, the home you fled. It’s wondering if you’ll ever return, if there’s anything to even return to.

Because you know most families like yours aren’t forced to flee for a few months or even a year. When a family is displaced by war, it’s an average of ten years or more in exile. And for so many families, it happens during that crucial time between toddlerhood and adolescence. It’s spent in a refugee camp instead of a home, attempting to cobble together something resembling a stable rhythm of life.

Refugee parents want the same things for their families, their kids, as everyone else—a life where they can grow, play, laugh, and learn, together.

Photo by Esther Havens

You don’t have the luxury of waiting to go home to restart your family’s life. You have to take it back up in the refugee camp, as best you can. There in the chaos and uncertainty, among so many other families, you are digging in to make a place for yourself. To remake home.

It’s making yogurt and baking bread to sell—starting your own business and earning income, right here in the refugee camp. It’s having the coaching and support you need to keep that business going when things get hard.

Photo by Erin Wilson/Preemptive Love

It’s having a place to send your youngest kids each day, a place where they can learn and play under the watchful care of trained counselors and caregivers. A place where they can work through trauma, make friends, sing, and create—instead of idling away time as their future slips further from reach.

It’s using that tiny kitchen in your makeshift home to make soap, fragrant and pure, to carry out the generational legacy of your ancestors who made some of the very first soap not far from where you lived. It’s using that soap to build a new life.

Faris holds soap he has made. Photo by Matthew Willingham/Preemptive Love

It’s having a place to send your older children to get training and education in high-demand tech skills that they can put to use right away as freelance coders and designers—so these innovative young adults can build a new future for themselves, for their country, for the next generation.

It’s easy to care about the displaced and the refugees who made it, the Nobel Peace prize winners, chefs, business owners, and entrepreneurs. But here in the camp, where families take unseen steps to build a new life, to flourish—where mothers wake early to start a day that looks so much like ours, yet so different—here are the refugees who still need our attention, our care, our solidarity.

These men and women and children are capable, imaginative, bright. They have hobbies and favorite foods. They have special skills and infectious laughs. They like schoolwork and friends, community meals with neighbors, work that is meaningful. They have dreams for where they want to go, what they want to do. They have the fire, the grit to achieve it.

Photo by Matthew Willingham/Preemptive Love

They need more than a token day’s worth of attention. They need a partner. And that partner can be you.

This World Refugee Day—and every day—look on our refugee friends not as people who need saving, but as families working to create a new life, one of peace and possibility. With the right opportunity to work, to earn a living, to educate their children—these families have what it takes to rise above their displacement, to remake home, and to have a life that cannot be contained by the borders of their camp.

To rise in the morning just like you and start an ordinary day, with extraordinary possibility.

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