Hi GAIA Family, Paula here! I wanted to take a moment to write about something close to my heart.
Since founding GAIA in 2009, I’m often asked “Why refugees?” There are so many people out there who need help, what is it about this group in particular that made me want to advocate for them?
Well, I definitely didn’t wake up one day and decide to create a business to employ refugees. GAIA was inspired by a personal experience that greatly affected me, which grew into a deeper understanding of why and how resettled refugees in our community should be lifted up and encouraged to thrive.
I never would have created GAIA had I not met and mentored Catherin, a Burmese refugee. She had just recently arrived in the United States, after spending more than a decade in a refugee camp, where her first two children were born. She was shell-shocked, shy, and a bit stoic, but with a quiet grace and warmth I came to know as we spent time together. I also came to see the immenseness of the challenges she faced in her new home — this is what planted the seed for GAIA.
So why refugees?
1. Refugees are success stories waiting to happen.
Most refugees arrive here with next to nothing — few belongings or resources, and limited exposure to the Western world and our culture. Some, as in Catherin’s case, have never even used a stove or an ATM, but many have left behind lives more similar to ours, where they had microwaves and cars — and jobs.
Although each refugee group is different, what unites them is the desire to work. They don’t want to just “receive,” they want a job that allows them to support themselves and their families, that gives them a sense of purpose and belonging in a foreign land. When Catherin began sewing napkins for GAIA, I could sense her confidence building and her happiness level growing. She began to smile!!
When refugees come to the U.S., they grasp at every opportunity to thrive. Many have had to rely on aid to meet their basic needs when living in refugee camps. If they are lucky enough to be resettled here (our vetting system is the world’s strongest), they’re eager to integrate and become productive members of their communities.
Yet, all too often, their enthusiasm can be diminished by the feeling that they aren't welcome here — that they should "go back to where they came from." Can you imagine being forced to flee your home, wait in limbo for years to finally be offered a safe haven, then arrive to a new country only to find that people don't want you or your children there? Even though you fled the same horrors they're all afraid of?? It breaks my heart. Such lack of compassion and humanity is not what this nation was founded upon.
Remember, our country was built by industrious immigrants; helping today’s immigrants become engaged members of our community is a win-win for everyone.
2. It’s important to remember where we all come from.
America’s founding fathers were refuge-seekers! Our country has a proud tradition of providing a safe haven for the world’s most vulnerable, helping them settle in a new land, the way many of our parents and grandparents did. We're a nation of immigrants, from all nationalities, backgrounds, and faiths.
The inscription on Lady Liberty reads, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
3. Politics aside, we were taught to love thy neighbor.
As a Christian, my faith and understanding of the Bible are constantly evolving (I still have a lot to learn), but one of the first lessons I recall was “love your neighbor as yourself.” This is taught across virtually all of the world’s religions. The Golden Rule! We may have different beliefs and different places of worship, but we have a shared humanity. Refugees are people just like us who have been forced to leave their homes, their lives torn apart. Let us welcome them with open arms!