Kindness as a Universal Language

May 12, 2017

Bridget Walsh, 17, is a lifelong resident of Newtown, Connecticut and is currently a senior at St. Joseph’s High School. Bridget is the founding president of the Political Awareness Club at her school and interns with the Newtown organization, Ben’s Lighthouse, which was founded following the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. With a passion for service, Bridget is a member of the Youth Advisory Council for Ben’s Lighthouse and was awarded the Presidential Service Award for the 2016-2017 academic year. In addition, she is a student ambassador at her high school, and is an avid volunteer for the Special Olympics. She hopes to pursue a career in the legal field. In her free time, Bridget loves to play the piano and sing.

A few months ago, through membership in a local non profit organization, Ben’s Lighthouse, I was able to immerse myself in the culture, language, and universal love found in a Congolese refugee family’s heart.

The organization, Ben’s Lighthouse, sprung up following the Sandy Hook tragedy on December 14, 2012, and promotes community building and service outreach through the youth in Newtown. As a part of this mission, Ben’s Lighthouse worked with a local refugee resettlement group to provide their peer mentoring services to a newly arrived refugee family.

After living in a refugee camp for 15 years, this Congolese family was given a chance to live the American Dream. Because of great violence and warfare in their homeland, they were relocated to a Tanzanian refugee camp where their four beautiful children were raised, one boy and three girls, in horrid circumstances. Despite the traumatic past experienced by this family, they still managed to radiate positivity.

I volunteered to help this family, along with other youth members of Ben’s Lighthouse, in whatever capacity was needed. The family was going to face challenges as they settled into their new home and Ben’s Lighthouse committed to visiting them each week for a couple of months to ease this process, providing simple fun, laughter, language help, and math tutoring.

My motivation for participating in this project was rooted in my lack of true awareness of my surroundings. Although I have been blessed with a loving family, food on my table, clothing in my closet, and a roof over my head, I did not truly see the graces I had been granted. After hearing about the refugee family, I immediately tried to envision myself in their shoes. This image was painstaking to picture, and so I decided from there on to take my blessings, be grateful for them, and share them with those in greater need than I.

Before my first visit, I had many questions. The fear of the unknown crept in and my nerves began to take over. However, it took one single step inside their apartment to feel their warmth and gratitude for the simple things in life, that we take for granted. Their smiling faces expressed “hello,” while their voices welcomed us in Swahili.

Despite the transparent language boundary, a connection was formed. Through the use of paper and colored pencils, I began to draw different objects to teach the mom and youngest daughter different words. I drew a large smiley face and wrote the word “happy” beneath it. I translated it into creole, and together we repeated the word “happy.” The youngest girl then drew a big yellow sun with a smiley face, and two figures that represented she and I holding hands. She wrote on it, “happy.” She then proceeded to fold it up and give it to me with a smile beaming from ear to ear.
This simple act of generosity embodied the young girl’s outlook on life and made a human connection with me that transcended our language barrier. Just one week before, she had stepped foot into a new country, thousands of miles away from her home, as a refugee. In an unfamiliar place, with unfamiliar people, and unfamiliar words, the young girl chose to unknowingly spread kindness.

This refugee family is welcoming adversity with open arms. In the past four months they have learned English and found jobs. They face each day with open minds and kind hearts and embrace the beauty of life.