There is something about hearing a refugee pray which humbles my heart. Their prayers are so genuine, so heartfelt, that sometimes my eyes tear up. I doubt that if I was in their place I could be as grateful as they are. They thank God for their safety, and I wonder if they are safe in this place, what must it have been like in the “unsafe” environment they came from. They thank God for the school they have started, and I wonder how you can be thankful for a school without resources. And when they thank him for the food before we eat, they are not sure when they will be eating again once we leave. Theirs are gentle, and humble prayers born out of hardship. They are connected to the heart of God in ways I cannot relate to in the least. There is a dependence which is rooted in faith that God will come through…because he has to.
Not all of them believe, but they all bow their head in respect for those who do. Some are bitter, or discouraged at their circumstances, and I would bet that they feel altogether abandoned by God. It is a harsh place they are living. Being there for the few days I am there is the limit of what I can handle. The climate alone, sucks the life out of me. Heat, dust, and the absence of any creature comforts at all makes the hopelessness in the camp heavy, like a wet blanket. It smothers the sparks of hope and vision. If opportunity springs up at any point, it goes unrecognized, or fades away when the first step towards it cannot be accomplished. If the heat itself isn’t enough, the continual beating down of ideas which are not possible, creates a why-even-try mindset.
Their reaction to one activity we did in our training was a surprise to us. We grouped the teachers into groups of 3, gave them 2 pieces of paper, 2 paperclips, and a 12-inch-long piece of masking tape. They were to create the tallest structure that could stand on its own for 15 seconds. We gave them 20 minutes to complete the task. This activity was designed to stimulate higher level thinking, and collaboration. In about 10 minutes, they were all finished. We continued to let the timer run, but it didn’t seem to occur to them that they could continue once they had made their tower. If we looked around the room it was obvious there were only two towers that were close in height. All the rest were shorter, yet they didn’t attempt to rebuild or redesign their towers, even though there was an excess of time. One group didn’t even use all their materials. Afterwards, we reflected with them.
We asked, ‘Knowing you were beat, why didn’t you continue trying?’ Their answers taught us much about their thought processes.
‘We didn’t think there was time.’
‘We didn’t know what else to do.’
‘We needed more materials.’
‘It was no use, we were beat.’
This why-try mindset was common, and though it surprised us, it really shouldn’t have. We are quite American in our ways of thinking, and they are not. Refugees are in survival mode. Many of them have given up trying new things and just wait for organizations to give them what they need rather than try themselves to get it. One of the reasons Hope Primary School is such a unique place is that the refugees started it themselves. They saw a need and they moved to meet it without waiting on outside help. They knew their children couldn’t wait.
When we asked them, ‘What would have happened if you had opened up the paper clip and put it on the top of your tower?’, or ‘What if you had used the tape to tape it to the desk so it wouldn’t fall over?’, they were surprised. To think in ways like that gave them new eyes. There were some ah-ha moments. If we had had the time to do the activity again, I know they would be thinking differently the next time. The lessons they learned, that they can share with their students, were invaluable.
Despite their limitations in thinking because of their circumstances, their hearts are open. Their reliance on God is a requirement for survival. Their prayers are a sweet-smelling sacrifice. Somehow, when they pray, I feel the need to get on my knees. The dusty dry ground becomes a holy place in which communion with God is felt rather than seen. The hot breeze feels like the stirrings of grace, and the little mudded classroom becomes a cathedral. The tears their broken hearts have shed are stored in bottles beside the throne of God, I am sure of it because humble prayers like these are precious gems.