Two teens. Two worlds apart.

Post by Terri Durdaller, DCF SunCoast Region Communications Director

Thomas and Terri

Sometimes you meet someone who makes you see your own life through a whole new lens.

I met Thomas while working on a video with DCF’s Refugee Services program and the Pinellas Technical Education Centers. Thomas is a refugee from Eritrea in East Africa, who resettled in Tampa three years ago. He and his family left Eritrea because they were fleeing political prosecution.

During his interview for the video, Thomas gave a powerful definition of what a refugee is. He describes a refugee as someone who loses their identity and culture for the sake of protection.

Hearing him say this made me think of my own identity, who I am and how I grew up. Thomas and I are roughly the same age. He was living in a refugee camp while I was graduating high school in the Midwest. His uncle from Germany would send his family money so they could eat. Mine sent me money for holidays and birthdays that I saved for my prom dress.

At the refugee camp, Thomas and his family were given oil and ground wheat. They had to grind the wheat themselves to make it edible. Their meals were eaten together in a house they built themselves from sticks and grass. My family shopped together every Sunday at the local market. I chatted about the week ahead as my mother placed pork loins and fresh vegetables in our cart. Thomas felt protected in his camp. I felt protected in my small town.

When I turned 18 my grandmother talked to me about the importance of voting, especially for women. I still follow politics and am active in a number of political causes.  Thomas’ grandmother was arrested three times for her political beliefs.

When Thomas is upset he struggles to find the English words to describe his emotions. Every minute he misses his home country. It took him a year to truly adapt to life in the fast-paced United States, but he now calls this home. He plans on becoming a citizen, and one day the kids he hopes to have will call Tampa their hometown.

The refugee video will be unveiled in early 2013. The department will link to it via YouTube. I hope each of you will watch it and learn more about the refugees sitting next to you at church, shopping alongside you in the grocery stores and attending school with your children. They aren’t here for a job. They didn’t come to Florida for a vacation. They left everything they know for protection.

God bless America.

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