Learning from Others Ahead of World Refugee Day

15.05.23

Every year around the Seder table, Jews ask the question ma nishtana, why is this night different? Without giving too much away, the answer is essentially because we are free.

The Exodus story marks the liberation from Egypt of the slaves who then marched with Moses into the wilderness in search of a new beginning. This story of migration, fleeing persecution and creating a new identity, although occurring some 3,000 years ago, holds strong relevance in the current day.

On Pesach we eat maror and dip bitter herbs and recount stories of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943; and the unfortunate fact is that today we are facing a global crisis of displaced people. In the first months of 2022, the number of people forced to flee war, violence and persecution worldwide surpassed 100 million for the first time according to the United Nations.

More than 100 students from across ORT’s school network – including in Panama, France, Spain, Mexico and Argentina – joined a special online session on April 20, the week after returning to school from the Pesach holidays, to hear three displaced women speak on their experiences of leaving home and arriving in a new country and having to adapt to carve out a new future for themselves.

This event was part of World ORT’s Global Citizenship International Events series. Global Citizenship is centred around the growing need for new skills and attitudes in our rapidly changing world, together with a focus on addressing the issues of our time. A first-hand engagement with the lived refugee experience engaged the students with a wider lens of humanity, nurturing empathy and other humanistic values.

The students heard from two Afghan women: Sadaf who had left six years ago and settled in Greece, and Mehreen, who had only left 18 months ago and who currently resides in Albania. We also heard from Sofia, a young Ukrainian who has made her home in Bulgaria.

After briefly sharing an overview of their experiences leaving their home countries, the students asked questions such as ‘what do you miss about your culture and traditions?’ and ‘have you experienced any form of discrimination?’. These pertinent questions, along with the emotional and inspiring answers from the panel, gave a real depth of insight.

These incredible women have all been beneficiaries of ORT projects, either through schools directly or the International Cooperation (IC) initiatives at the Irida Women’s Center in Thessaloniki or the Tirana Training Center. They spoke of their ambitions for their careers and study and ahead of World Refugee Day in June, we celebrated the courage of these women and felt inspired by their stories and words of wisdom: “Never give up in your life, it’s up to us to build our goals and our future dreams. For example, I have faced a lot of failures in my life, a lot of failures, and this was not the end point. I just stand up again and continue.”

They reminded us to be compassionate and remember that all people are seeking the ability to determine their own future and we should open our hearts, and perhaps the door, like we do for Elijah.