“Teacha, I just want to go home”
A 17 year old boy stood looking at a river that he was no longer allowed to cross due to the fact that he would most likely be killed. His home, just out of reach, now echoed with explosions and screams.
What is a home?
Think about it, what is it that makes a place your home?
Now, I’m not the biggest homebody in the world, but you can ask anyone, I swell up when I talk about Buffalo. Im not even originally from here, but something just got to me. I had been traveling my entire life, and never had I been so welcomed and accepted. The transition process was almost nonexistent when I first migrated to Buffalo. This is ridiculous, but I remember the first day I ever walked into a Bills tailgate. I absolutely could not believe it. I had never seen such collective happiness. It wasn’t even about the team, it was about the people. It was our community coming together and being happy with each other. I knew this was my place. This was my home.
Seven years ago, I started teaching refugees on the West Side of Buffalo, and have since taught in other places around the world. You cannot even imagine what these people have been through. They come from the worst places on the planet. Absolute hell. I have had students who have been beaten and raped in refugee camps, I have had students who have been castrated. I’ve had students who have seen their children shot right in front of them, THEIR OWN CHILDREN killed in front of their eyes.
You don’t really fully recover from something like that. But they are strong. More than that they are thankful to be alive and appreciative to everyone who has helped. It’s that appreciativeness that forms the base for a positive change. The chance that they were given by this community has driven them to make a positive impact.
When given the opportunity and the desire, an individual as well as a community can transform into something special. Students that came here seven years ago with nothing, that couldn’t even hold a pencil or speak a word of English, now organize community events and help teach others. A neighborhood that was once beat-down and drug-ridden is now colorful with international markets and ethnic clothing shops. I walk through the West Side and feel like every corner of the world has somehow found its way to us. It’s truly amazing.
Buffalo you should be so proud of yourself – you are per capita the largest refugee hub in the entire country. The chances that have been given here have changed so many lives. And to think, IT’S BUFFALO. Picture a farmer from Somalia trudging through snow in February. The world could never picture it, but it happens, and they do it with smiles on their faces while wearing large colorful hats. It’s a chance that many others like them could never have. It’s what you are good at Buffalo: making people feel at home.
My whole life I have heard that WWII was the last great American generation. That they sacrificed everything to help those who needed them the most, and the world was a much better place because if it. Now we are faced with the largest human migration since then. This is a new world, things are not as simple as picking up a gun and fighting for what is right. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a right to fight for. There is always a right to fight for, you just have to be brave enough and smart enough to find it. It usually starts with helping those who need it most.
At the beginning of this article, I asked you what makes a place your home.
Now I want you to stop and think. Think about what it would mean to have someone come and take your home from you. With all of the fear and hate that is continuously sprayed at us, it is hard to see what has actually happened and is happening. These people have lost their homes.
When I talk to my students, I can see it. I see tanks rolling down Delaware Avenue. I see people running. I see my mom crying. I see my friends trying to fight, I see them laying in the street. I can see it, there is no more Mohawk Place, there is no more Osteria 166, there is no more Buffalo Bills, “Shout” song, chicken wings, shoveling snow, Beef on Weck, Chippewa, KanJam, Niagara Falls… It all belongs to someone else. Someone has come and taken our world from us.
Can you see it?
It’s horrible to think about.
This is the reality for refugees. They have lost their home. They have lost their world.
The absolute least we can do is let them into ours.
Evan Thompson moved to Buffalo from Melbourne, Australia, when he was 13 years old. After continuously relocating to different countries around the world, his family fell in love with the charm of the City of Buffalo and the people who call it home. After high school, Evan attended Indiana University and studied politics. Upon returning to Buffalo he became an Adult Education Instructor for BOCES before teaching ESL to refugees for Buffalo Public Schools. Evan then taught and volunteered abroad living in South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam. While in Thailand he lived and worked in a refugee camp teaching Burmese refugees. He has since moved home and continues to teach refugees for Buffalo Public Schools. Evan is happy to be home where he has pursued music with a band called “The Buffalo Folk Heroes” and became part owner of Handlebar restaurant downtown.
Click here to check out Evan’s music video that shines a light on the refugees that he has taken under his wing.