Looking for a new book to read I came across “The Heart of Understanding” written by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and long-term exile. Reading through the lines I found a quote about reconciliation, he says “The practice of peace and reconciliation is one of the most vital and artistic of human actions.”
Back in the Spring Paul (one of MRC’s co-founders and Board Member) and Meg met Jeremy Solomons a consultant who offered to facilitate Dialog Group sessions at MRC. It has been Paul’s vision since he founded MRC to have a place where participants from different backgrounds, cultures and religions will talk about their life experiences and like Hanh mentioned practice a reconciliation process with themselves and others.
Civil wars, religious beliefs, political statements, racial and ethnic discrimination have made some of our participants to be target of groups or people that do not want them in their own country. They are persecuted and the only alternative is to leave and look for a safe place for themselves and their families. Most of the times the journey is a difficult one, they have to cross borders and find where and when they can be placed in a refugee camp . If they cannot be relocated in a refugee camp their options are: go back where they came from or cross another border and find out if the government of another country will allow them to stay there.
All these experiences mark their voyage to America, and after months or years of travel and wait finally they find a place they can call Home. But life is always unexpected and just around the corner they can come across someone who was the “enemy” back in their country and it is here where the reconciliation process starts.
Paul and Johnson (also one of MRC’s co-founders and Board Member) have a unique story of reconciliation. Back in their country (Liberia) they were not “allowed” to be friends; when they met 6 years ago in Austin they were not afraid of each other, Paul and Johnson decided to take the first step and overlooked the differences and decided to move forward and become friends. From war to peace, from enemies to brothers.
The reconciliation process takes time and thanks to Jeremy, Paul and Meg, MRC has been able to develop Dialog Group Sessions where participants can sit next to each other and talk about their experiences and help others move forward. It is difficult for them speak about what has happened to them, but when decide to open their hearts and souls and share with others their journeys, is when some of them realize they have experienced similar situations. Fear and persecution are the first words we hear when the session starts, but at the end of it, strength and survival are the common terms.
Tomorrow afternoon MRC’s participants will become artists of the reconciliation process seated next to each other talking about how they can become part of it, where they do not look for the differences they find what make us equal and one.
*If you want to know more about our programs and how to support Multicultural Refugee Coalition, please visit our website http://www.mrcaustin.org/donate.html. MRC is also participating in Macy’s Shop for a Cause on October 16, please consider buying a $5 coupon to support us.