Michelle Sweeney – Facebook post / shared by Kaysie Stark (OHS c/o 2016)
We arrived in Chicago yesterday afternoon after pretty horrible Lufthansa flight. The flight was full and there were about 30 refugees on board – families with lots of small kids, who were tired, frightened and clearly overwhelmed, most spoke hardly a word of english. Some of them had never been on a flight before. Many didn’t know where they were (a women asked me when we were sitting on the tarmac at Frankfurt if “this was America?”). One family in particular appeared to be quite poor – the children were dressed in rags. Literally. Rags. And yes, they did smell a bit too. The kids had no nappies and they had very obviously been travelling for a long time. They looked utterly dishevelled.
This is not what made the flight horrible. It was actually heartwarming to see that an organisation (IOM I think) was arranging for these people to find safety and security in a new country. They were hopeful. Relieved to be going somewhere else. Tearful at the thought of starting a new life. But I imagine for them it was also terrifying – such a huge amount of uncertainty ahead of them.
What made the flight awful was the behaviour of the other passengers around them. We hadn’t been on the plan five minutes when the passengers around the ‘poorest’ family starting bitching and whining about these children that were crying. The passengers asked to be moved. The passengers started talking to each other about the ‘free tickets these families were being given’. And about how they ‘just knew that the kids weren’t going to stop crying all throughout the flight’. Frankly, they were vile. They spoke about these human people like they weren’t sitting right there next to them. Like they were trash. Like they didn’t matter. It was disgusting. We were mortified. Angry and upset by it. I felt so ashamed.
So, I say to you that it’s wonderful to see so many people supporting the plight of refugees by donating, campaigning and pleading with governments to do more. But none of that matters a sod, if when someone in dire need is sitting next to you and you can’t find a civil word to or a smile for them. Just be kind. Be kind to the person next to you, to the family in rags that smells a bit. To the person who doesn’t have a nice white smile and clean clothes. Because that smile or kind word might be the only one they get that day.