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How Meeting a Refugee Chef Viewed My View on Refugees
Written by Seyun Bang | Published. 2019.02.06 17:00 | Count : 684
According to The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), a refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. There are 6.3 million Syrian refugees, 2.6 million Afghanistan refugees, 2.4 South Sudanese refugees, 1.2 million Burmese refugees, 986,400 Somalis refugees, and so many more from various countries. In total, there are about 25 million refugees around the globe.
The topic of refugees remains highly contentious throughout the world. Refugees in the world face severe hardships in countries they found for their temporary stay. Their problems are as follows: difficulty in finding affordable shelter, finding jobs, trouble with communicating due to language barriers, racism, discrimination, mental health issues caused by trauma from experiences at their home countries, and homesickness. Some critics insist that their country should not take in refugees for a number of reasons; the biggest two being the high costs for the government to aid the refugees resettle and the refugees being a competitor for jobs to the citizens as majority of the refugees are males under 40 years of age. Nevertheless, advocates of refugees argue that refugees are less connected to terrorism than what people might be hearing from the media, and that taking in those who have nowhere else to go who suffer from violence, homelessness, poverty, and starvation is a moral action.
On November 3, 2018, I went to Sanctuary Kitchen, a program within CitySeed as a volunteer in New Haven, Connecticut. There, I worked with a refugee chef from Afghanistan, Homa, to make a traditional Afghanistan dessert called Murabba. Murabba is an apple-saffron preserve and the ones we made will be canned for it to be later sold at CitySeed’s Farmers Market.
[Beginning step of making murabba, photo by Craig Ough]
Making Murabba was only a small part of the experience. By spending a whole day with Homa, she shared how she lives in the United States as a refugee. She came to New Haven from the Jaghori District of Afghanistan in 2015 with her husband and her three cousins. Her husband, also being her first cousin, was able to safely bring his family to the United States because his business cooperated with an American company. Unfortunately, Homa was not able to bring her other relatives, including her brothers and her father. She said that her family members that were not able to come the US is what she misses the most from Afghanistan, although she is generally content with her new life in her new country. She holds a great passion for cooking, much of which comes from her father, who was the primary cook in Afghanistan. As a child, Homa learned to make many dishes from her father, including her favorite dish "Mantu" - meat-stuffed dumplings. Since living in the US, she has found a new passion for baking by watching YouTube. Homa is genuinely happy living in America, with her family, that has recently grown with the birth of a baby boy 2 months ago. 
[Halfway-finished murabba, photo by Craig Ough]
This was the first time for me to personally have a conversation with a refugee. Before this experience, I always felt as if refugees and the problems regarding this topic were something that I was distant from. Nevertheless, after getting to work with a refugee chef and hearing her personal refugee experience, the way in which I viewed refugees changed. Homa and her family live in a lifestyle just like how any other family in South Korea or the US would live. There was nothing much that differed from how ordinary people lived as to how refugee families lived and I felt a more intimate bond with refugee families than before. I realized that refugees are not remote from my life and they are everywhere around me. I was able to break the wall that was innately in me that prevented me from reaching out and approaching refugees due to certain stereotypes that I had of them that the media has had implemented in my mind. I think that this was a valuable experience that allowed me to change how I perceive the ongoing debate of immigration and what I advocate for, positively. 
[Steps and Ingredients for making murabba, photo by Craig Ough]



Seyun Bang
Grade: 9th
Rumsey Hall School

Seyun Bang  student_reporter@dherald.com

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