Joanna Weissert, Contributor
As a young child I spent many afternoons sitting on the couch in my sisters’ music teachers’ house, my little legs swinging to the rhythm as they practiced scales and arpeggios, Bach and Telemann. Our music teachers were a Croatian couple who lived in Sarajevo during the siege in the early 1990s. They had a son living in the United States and traveled to join him when the violence in the city and the political climate in Croatia no longer made it a safe place for them to stay.
They have taught our family for over fifteen years and have become family themselves. After lessons we would sit around the coffee table in their living room drinking coffee and nibbling at cheesecake while they told us all about their old home, the war, the students they lost to snipers and shelling, and the struggles of starting over in a new place. They were resettled refugees, but I only ever thought of them as friends, as extended family.
As a young adult, I focused my studies on Community Development and am motivated to think about how we can support healthy, sustainable, and welcoming neighborhoods and communities. I am especially interested in how people find and express their personal narratives: we all find meaning in our place of birth, in our family, in our cultural, ethnic, and even religious heritage. These things are essential to our identity, to what makes us human, and helps us create societies with vitality.
Speaking with refugees and survivors of violent conflict with care and understanding is a difficult thing, but it is also incredibly rewarding. These are people who have seen the worst of humanity but have maintained their own - they are resilient, driven, and full of hope for the future. Listening to their stories, their hardships, joys, loves, and hopes is central to creating understanding and realizing that humanity is linked by similarities, not differences. This is the truth I hope people see through HumanRefuge(e).