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What My Students With Down Syndrome Can Teach Us About Refugees

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The world is so troubled right now; everything seems jumbled and confusing. We have a new President who seems to not care about those who need to be cared about the most. He mocked a disabled man, has said cringe-inducing things about women, and has nominated someone to run our education system who might launch those in the disability world way back in time. Just a few days in and there are so many stories and executive orders that I have trouble catching up on the news. When my students with Down syndrome ask me about the state of the world, I honestly don’t know what to say.

What I do know is this: the Down syndrome community is large and full of compassion.  Last year when we studied volunteerism, my class chose Kentucky Refugee Ministries to learn about and help. We learned what a refugee is: a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. We read stories about children who were separated from their parents for years, some who are still waiting for their mom or dad to come home. We read the success stories of college graduates and little girls who don’t speak the same language but hold hands on the playground. When the lesson was over, there was no doubt — they wanted to help their new friends who have finally found a place to call home. No politics, no agenda. They saw humans who needed help, and they wanted to welcome them to our area and let them know they are loved.

We made “Welcome to Louisville” cards and brought in kitchen utensils, bedding, and school supplies for students who would start school in this strange new world almost immediately after their arrival. We went shopping as a group to find items they might need, and filled a 15-passenger van to the brim with donations for our new friends.

Last week, when one of my adult students asked me to explain what was happening at the airports on TV, my heart sank. I had to explain that there is not only a hold on refugees for a while and people from Syria are banned from our country indefinitely, but also that the amount of refugees allowed in the USA has changed drastically, from 110,000 to 50,000. His response was, “Why can’t we help them anymore?”

That was my light bulb moment. We can help them! We can educate others
about what a refugee is. We can write more cards for those who have to wait 120 days before getting here. We can learn about their culture so we can find our similarities. We can show the world that even though we might not speak the same language or have the same IQ or political beliefs, we can be good people and encourage others to be good and kind and pure of heart.

I am so lucky to work with individuals with Down syndrome. It sounds cliché but they truly do teach me more than I could teach them. Kindness first. Don’t judge. Be empathetic. Cheer others on. A bad mood can be lifted with a dance. And the newest life lesson: When you’re feeling helpless… find a way to help.

Editor’s note: This story reflects an individual’s experience and is not an endorsement from The Mighty. We believe in sharing a variety of perspectives from our community.

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Originally published: January 31, 2017
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