A couple of weeks ago, a local elementary school reached out to us, wanting to use their Day of Service to have first graders make cards for Butterfly Boxes, specifically for children arriving and preparing to attend a new school in their new home. We were thrilled to say yes, and headed over to Sitton School on Friday afternoon, Inauguration Day.
In a former life, I was a kindergarten teacher, so I happily hopped up in front of 75 adorable and eager faces. We asked the kids to share with us what they knew about refugees, expecting them to have some familiarity, maybe even some personal stories to share, but their answers blew us away.
"Refugees have to leave their homes because they are not safe."
"Refugees come to a new home and can't bring anything with them."
"Refugees start a new life because their old life is dangerous."
We asked the students to imagine having to move and pack up all their most important things in a suitcase shared with brothers or sisters. What could they bring? What would they have to leave behind? How do you choose? Jaws dropped and negotiations started as they realized the toys, the electronics, the stuff that would need to be left behind.
Finally, we asked the first graders to tell us what they would tell a new student, coming from somewhere far away, unfamiliar with school in Portland, OR, to help them feel welcomed at school.
"You are awesome"
"At school you will have fun."
"We love you."
"At school you are safe."
Our presentation finished, the students returned to their classrooms and got to work. We got to pop in and watch them work, help with sounding out words. Despite it being a Friday afternoon, after nearly a week off for snow days, these 6- and 7-year-olds were focused, ready for the task at hand. They worked hard writing and illustrating beautiful welcomes. We left that afternoon uplifted in a way we didn't think possible on a dark and dreary day.
Kids aren't suspect of refugees. They don't fear their motives or question their choices. It's really quite simple for kids: they hear there's a problem, they get to work finding a solution. For kids unfamiliar with school, cards to help them feel welcome are an easy fix. For people arriving with few possessions, a bag of necessities and basic comfort items is an easy fix. Easy fixes we can do. It's the bigger fixes that will take time.
Thanks to Sitton School for your support, thanks to the first graders for your hard work and beautiful cards, and thanks to everyone else who continues to support us.
Alysson & Adrienne