“It may be unfair, but what happens in a few days, sometimes even a single day, can change the course of a whole lifetime."
-- Khaled Hosseni
Most people are apathetic about refugees. They’ve seen news about refugees in television, newspaper, online news, even social media. Yet few people, compared to the total audience, would reach out for them. Again, international organizations and NGOs are not the only ones who can help them. You can do it too.
But first, let’s start by getting to know them. The simplest way to do that is by reading. Of course, you’re familiar with the term “books are the windows to the world”?
Now open your windows and let them tell their stories.
1. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseni
It started with an uncommon friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant. Amir, son of a wealthy merchant in Kabul, Afghanistan had a very close bond with his servant companion, Hassan. Amidst the increasing ethnic, religious and political tensions towards the end of Afghan monarchy, Amir chose to abandon his beloved friend. But so strong their bond, Amir journeyed back to his conflicting homeland in attempt to right his past wrongdoings against his only true friend.
This beautifully crafted novel was written by Khaled Hosseini who sought refuge with his family to the United States in 1980 during Soviet-Afghan war. He is now a goodwill envoy to UNHCR.
2. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Exit West follows the characters of the independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed who met on the brink of Syrian civil war. Their love affair are soon pushed to the limits. Bombs were blasting, turning their hometown into a patchwork of fire and blood. The terrifying city finally left them with no options but to leave their country and their old lives behind, exiting to an alien and unknown future.
3. First, They Erased Our Name: A Rohingya Speaks by Habiburahman
“I am three years old and will have to grow up with the hostility of others. I am already an outlaw in my own country, an outlaw in the world. I am three years old, and I don’t yet know that I am stateless.”
The story follows Habiburahman’s life, a man born and raised in a small village in western Burma. When he was only three years old, the military leader declared that the Rohingya were not recognized as one of the 135 ethnic groups in the country. Since 1982, millions of Rohingya had to flee from prejudice and persecution.
In 2016 and 2017, the Burmese (Myanmar) government went further on the ethnic cleansing that over 600,000 Rohingyas had to cross the border and sought refuge in Bangladesh. Habiburahman himself had witnessed the persecution of his people since he was child and endured violence for almost his whole life until he escaped Myanmar in 2000.
For the first time, a Rohingya speaks up to expose the truth behind this global humanitarian crisis. The memoir expressed what it feels like to be stateless in one’s own country and alienated in another’s.
4. Baddawi by Leila Abdelrazaq
In this monochromatic graphic novel, Leila Abdelrazaq transformed her father’s childhood into a coming of age story of a young boy named Ahmad, who was raised in a refugee camp called Baddawi in northern Lebanon. He was one of thousands of Palestinians who were forced to leave the country after the war in 1948 established the state of Israel. In the middle of uncertainty, Ahmad had to find his own path.
5. Lubna and Pebble by Wendy Meddour
Want to tell your kids about refugees? There are many children’s books that tells the tale of refugees and Lubna and Pebble is one of them. Lubna picks up a shiny pebble on the beach upon her arrival at the refugee camp. The pebble with a smiley face quickly becomes Lubna’s source of comfort. When she met Amir at the camp, alone and scared, she must decide whether she would part with Pebble to help him. Lubna and Pebble is a stunning story about friendship, solace and resilience.
You can help refugees becoming independent by supporting one of our communities, Artbox. It is an organisation started by refugees in Malaysia whose aim is to utilize fellow refugees’ art skills to support their livelihoods. Read more about their story here and check out their latest artwork and activities here.