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Welcoming Refugees with Empathy – Rwanda Part 2

Compassion It - Rwandans Welcome Refugees with Empathy

What are skillful ways to manage the refugee crisis our world faces? As the number of displaced people rises each year, it’s a pressing question that needs thoughtful and compassionate answers.

This past summer, I saw first-hand how Rwandans welcome refugees with empathy, compassion, and open arms. And I realized we could all learn a thing or two from them.

If you live in the United States, you’ve seen headlines and shocking stories about the refugee crisis at the US/Mexico border. Many refugees from Latin America have fled their homes in order to find better and safer lives for their families. 

I’m far from an expert on immigration and refugees, and I realize it’s an unbelievably complicated issue. Nonetheless, I witnessed what happens when a nation embraces its displaced neighbors. I saw what is possible when people meet refugees with compassion instead of fear and skepticism. 

Learning from Rwandans

Compassion It - Rwandans Welcome Refugees with Empathy

Alight’s Jacques Rumanyika and me

In August 2019, I joined a team of bright thinkers who traveled to northern Rwanda to figure out how to unleash compassion within a refugee camp’s medical center. (Read more about that trip here.)

Our first meeting in Rwanda took place on a Monday morning, and I’ll never forget the story Jacques Rumanyika shared with us. As manager of the Mahama refugee camp in the eastern province of Rwanda in 2015, Jacques learned one Friday that his camp would soon be taking in thousands of Burundians. In fact, he could expect 1,000 refugees to arrive in less than six days.

Because those six days included a weekend, he didn’t have nearly enough staff members or hours to prepare the camp. He needed to clear land, prepare housing, find beds, and more. How could he possibly complete everything in time?

What happened next touched Jacques. The Rwandans who lived nearby brought their machetes to clear land. They spent their weekend erecting structures, hauling equipment, and making sure there was a place for the Burundians to go.

Why would these Rwandans do that?  Because they have been there. This past April marked the 25thanniversary of the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsis. One million Rwandans died in only 100 days.

Many Rwandans became refugees before, during, and after the genocide against the Tutsis, and they experienced not only the atrocities of genocide but also the power of compassion. They could put themselves in the shoes of the Burundians, and they extended their hands to help.

It’s our turn to help

In the United States, most of us don’t have first-hand experience of being refugees. Perhaps we need to dig a little bit deeper in order to feel empathy for those who enter our country. Keep in mind, though, that most of our ancestors left their homes seeking a better life. Where would we be if they were kept in detention centers or held behind a wall?

Let’s recognize that we’re all citizens of the same planet, and we need each other. Right now, it’s our turn to help.

***Want to help? Just Compassion It! Learn more and support Alight’s efforts at the US border, and support their efforts to unleash compassion in refugee healthcare. Be sure to note in your donation which effort you’d like to support.


About Compassion It

Compassion It is a nonprofit whose mission is to spread compassion and inspire compassionate actions through workplace training, personal development training, tools, and content. We envision a world where compassion is practiced by every person, for every person, on every day.

Learn how to “Compassion It” and build a more compassionate world. Share our mission and become a Compassion It Advocate.

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