How to tell if your heart has gone cold:
Take a taxi to a crowded, chaotic neighborhood in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Find a dingy concrete staircase beside an Iranian restaurant that serves complete lunches for US$2. Climb up three floors. Although it’s sweltering, there’s no elevator and you have no choice.
Follow the shrieks and laughter of 400 energetic kids who are refugees from Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, Somalia, and other war zones. They range in age from 4 or 5 to late teens. They’re all jammed into small, crowded schoolrooms with peeling paint and tattered books, along with dirty discarded or donated plastic toys. These kids are waiting for word that the UNHCR has finally placed them in a country that will welcome them, perhaps Canada, or somewhere in Europe or Asia. Many have been waiting for five to seven years.
If seeing these kids doesn’t break your heart and make you want to help in some way, your heart has gone cold.
These are not just pictures of refugees or mere statistics; these are real people. Children who have no grasp of world politics. Their only reality is this refugee school, which would disgust and depress you if you visited.
My fellow volunteers traveling on the “Together We Can Change the World” tour of Southeast Asia invested their days to inspire and entertain these children, who’ve done nothing to deserve being held in this holding zone for years, waiting for a chance to live new lives somewhere in our world.
We play with the kids, sing with them, Scott Friedman invites them to “Do the Hokey Pokey” and they’re quick to join in with peals of laughter. Jana Stanfield strums her guitar and teaches them the lyrics to her “Every Awesome Woman” inspirational song.
Raju, an Indian volunteer now living in Manila, goofs around with a silly song.
The kids are joyful and grateful for this comic relief because they don’t normally get to just play. Their families are hanging on, barely able to feed and house their children. Whatever they possessed back in Afghanistan or Syria or whichever war-torn country from which they escaped, they sold in order to purchase boat or plane tickets to Malaysia, where they await resettlement as refugees. These are the lucky families who were able to escape.
Malaysia is not a wealthy nation. So, why are these children here, rather than in one of the world’s wealthy super-power nations? How is it that wealthy nations are stingy, while this non-wealthy country takes in war refugees awaiting resettlement?
One of the teachers, some of whom are themselves refugees, explained why the kids are smiling and laughing, despite being in this dismal place. She said, “No, they’re not sad. They don’t have any idea that this place is bad.” Come to think of it, if you’re a child in Yemen with no food, and bombs dropping as Iran and Saudi Arabia fight a proxy war in your country, this crowded, hot, dingy school is a paradise.
Some of the refugees had been approved for resettlement in the USA, had plane tickets and UN documents, and were jubilant that they were just about to become Americans. And then, Donald Trump was elected President and their plans were cancelled. Even worse, the USA reported that their resettlement documents had been lost.
Many of the refugees are Muslims, girls with scarf-shrouded heads. Terrorists? One teacher explained that Malaysia is a Muslim country. The law of Islam requires Muslims to help anybody in need, regardless of their faith, nationality, or skin color. If there are humans in need, Muslims must help. (Is this a basic tenet of Christians?)
An extraordinarily generous donor, Mark Bayoud, a semi-retired financier, lives in Kuala Lumpur and oversees this school’s functioning. When asked how he can be sure the money we’ve donated isn’t pilfered by corrupt officials, he says, “Are you kidding? I’m a banker. I audit their books. I don’t trust anybody when it comes to finances.”
If Malaysia can welcome refugees from continents far away, how is it that the Unites States, the wealthiest nation on earth, cannot make our next door neighbors welcome as they escape horrific living conditions in Central America?
How is your heart? Cold?
When you have a chance to help war refugees by making a donation, or perhaps by joining with us on the next “Together We Can Change the World” tour, please do. Google TWCCTW.org to make a donation, please. And if you’ve given already, this is where your funds have gone.