By Vivian Shipe
KNOXVILLE, TN — Imagine being forced to flee your homeland. Separated from your children, sometimes for years ; unable to return for funerals and weddings, never to see family again, …running for your life to escape wars and armed conflicts, persecution, national disasters; you are called by many names on your way seeking safety…displaced, fugitive, outcast and refugee.
Refugee…a person unable to return to his or her own country because of a well founded fear of persecution. The reasons can be due to race, membership in certain groups, religion or their national origin.
Once upon a time, the United States of America offered protection, and equality to those fleeing persecution to more people than all other nations combined. That has changed: in 2017, for the first time in history the Unites States settled fewer refugees than the rest of the world.
Resilient and determined to survive, refugees who make it to the ever shrinking shores of the USA need a safe haven, tools to succeed, the chance to have opportunities and to do that, there must be long term support and acceptance from the community in which they settle.
Bridges Refugee Services, Inc. has been a light in the lives of these men, women and the vast number of children for over 37 years. With locations in Chattanooga and Knoxville, they offer that support with a vision that those who settle in East Tennessee will find a path towards self sufficiency. Bridges believes welcoming the stranger is a duty and a privilege; their values also include service, accountability, dignity of all people and collaboration with the community.
This collaboration and community acceptance was evident in Knoxville on Saturday as there was a huge celebration of the different cultures as part of World Refugee Day which is held internationally on June 20th to raise awareness of the plight of refugees around the world.The Jacobs building on the Chilhowee Park Fairgrounds was filled laughter, dance, music, dress and foods from different countries as the communities all came together in love and acceptance…. in collaboration.