During my Hesburgh-Yusko Global Inquiry summer, I had the chance to meet with NGOs in Jordan and visit Iraqi and Syrian refugee families and hear their stories. Recurring throughout their stories is a description of fear that drove families to a foreign country where they are far from friends and relatives and can't work but at least have security. When I look into the eyes of a Syrian father in his late 20s, I see him as a brother with the same hopes and dreams I have. When I only hear his story in the news sitting at my desk at Notre Dame, I see him as a statistic in a large crisis.
One of my greatest takeaways from my studies at Notre Dame and my experiences with The Hesburgh-Yusko Scholars Program in particular is the drive to ask challenging questions about what it means to pursue justice and peace in the world: How can cultural and religious identities become a source of common ground rather than dividing walls? What strengths and weaknesses do I carry as a foreign student in the Middle East? And what does it mean for international development to be a genuine quest for human dignity instead of an imperialist enterprise?
The key impetus for my research project came when I stumbled across an article showing Syrian refugee children raising their hands in the air when they mistook a camera for a gun. The pictures were powerful but the sidebar running alongside the article was horrific. Placed side-by-side with celebrity gossip, refugee children were utilized as yet another sensational entertainment product. I refuse to accept that this is simply the way things are in my generation. Building off of my experiences teaching English with Caritas Jordan last summer, I have used this summer to grapple with what it means to portray refugees as people with dignity rather than merely as victims. In Jerusalem I worked on my colloquial Arabic for a month and then came to Jordan where I have worked with the NGO Road to Mafraq to visit educational projects and meet refugees. In turn, I hope to take these narratives back to Notre Dame to promote advocacy and awareness for Palestinians, Syrians, and Iraqis displaced by conflict.