I just finished reading Danielle Vella’s Dying to Live: Stories from Refugees on the Road to Freedom. It is a powerful, albeit heartbreaking read, as Vella gives voice to refugees to tell their harrowing stories. The refugees whose stories Vella shares left homes for varied reasons; some were targeted by terrorists because they had done work for the US military, others to avoid being forced to take up arms, others physically and otherwise abused because of their minority status. Many have watched friends and family die, and many languish for years in refugee camps.
I was touched by many things in the book (and I highly recommend you read it), but what prompted this post was something one of the refugees said.
Nabeel was a member of the Hazara minority in Pakistan, forced by terrorists to confine themselves to two neighborhoods in the city in which he lived. Not permitted to leave the ghetto meant people could not go to work, to school, or anywhere else. So Nabeel decided to leave. He was more fortunate than most whose stories we hear in Vella’s book. He was granted asylum in Sri Lanka and got the benefit of a resettlement program there that helps young refugees complete high school. Afger four years, he has managed to achieve economic self-sufficiency.
But Nabeel is clear that being self-sufficient is not enough, that he did not become a refugee merely to survive, but rather to be fully alive. Here is what that means for him.
Truly living means living in the hearts of people, not just doing your thing – everyone does that. I can’t describe it very well but what I’m trying to say is, if someone is glad you were born, because you help them, that’s when you are truly alive…I want to work hard, to be in a position not just to help myself, but to help the people around me. What others did for me, I want to do for someone else.
There are many ways we can describe what it means to truly live. But one way is certainly Nabeel’s. Truly living is not just living for oneself. But rather to be an instrument for making positive changes in the life of others. I love the way he puts it: to make someone glad you were born because you helped them.