Friday, August 19, 2011

Yearning to breathe free

This summer I'm volunteering helping refugees find work. When I ask, "What was your last job?" I'm often surprised by the answer from people who are now applying for jobs as dishwashers or housekeepers.

"In South Africa, I own clothing store."

"I taught at a university in Angola."

"I distributing rice in Haiti after earthquake."

"I never had a job - I was studying to become a teacher. My parents already came here, so I was running the house for my brothers and sisters."

It's amazing how versatile they've had to be. Today I listened to a worker writing a resume with an Afghan woman. "What languages do you speak?"

"Well, Farsi and Tajik and Russian. Now English."

"Wow. Tell me about your work history."

"I was gynecologist seventeen years. When I live in Russia I doing massage. Also, I make all clothes for my family. Also, I make carpets."

"You make carpets? With all those little loops?"

"Yes. Also, I can cut hair, but I don't have license."

These people have been through things I can't imagine. They've started over and over again, fleeing from one country to another. By the time they get here some are still proud, still trying to find jobs worthy of their qualifications. Others are more pragmatic and fill out application after application. The hardest part of this work is not breaking down in tears when I help a professor or doctor apply for a job cleaning floors.

America, be grateful. The professionals of the world are lining up for visas. Their English is often faulty, but they are not. How will you welcome them?

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