“I grew up in a community of immigrants. Sometimes those immigrants were refugees that had to flee for various reasons, so I’ve always been interested in it,” said Madiha, one of our spring 2021 interns.
A daughter of Pakistani immigrants, Madiha knows what it’s like to grow up with two cultures, or, as she would put it, the best of both worlds. Yet she also knows what it’s like to adjust to a new culture, and to feel like an outsider, thanks to her own experience and that of her parents.
“I’ve never been back to Pakistan, which is where my parents are from, but I’ve heard a lot about the differences in culture and the way that they had to navigate that,” she explained. “There are ways that we have adapted to American life, which has been very interesting, but we do also celebrate all the holidays that go with being Pakistani, and we do get super excited and dressed up to do all the fun things there too.”
Although she gets to experience the American tradition of Christmas trees alongside those of Pakistan, her own beliefs and traditions, in addition to her travels, have allowed her to see firsthand how it may feel for a refugee just arriving who feels displaced.
“I think that growing up as a Muslim in a post 9/11 society, I’ve also been able to see how it feels to be an outsider in your own home and when you get out somewhere,” said the twenty-year-old. “Those experiences have helped me interact with people from different backgrounds better, and even have more empathy for what’s happening in their lives.”
Thanks to experiences such as this one, Madiha decided to pursue a degree in international relations with a focus on international migration at Georgetown University in the school of foreign service. When she came back to Memphis to complete her classes online in the midst of the pandemic, she took advantage of the opportunity to work directly with those affected by mass displacement through an internship at World Relief Memphis.
Despite only being a month into her internship, she can already attest to how much she has learned thanks to coworkers such as Vaughan Meiss who have taken the time to explain the refugee resettlement process to her.
“I was just hoping to learn more about the entire process, from the time that a person gets off at the airport all the way through to being deemed as resettled in the community,” Madiha said. “I haven’t known a lot of things about the whole process, so I definitely appreciate the way they’ve been very open to explaining everything.”
After this experience, Madiha feels inspired by the stories she has heard, and she knows that she will have many career options available to her—whether it be in policy, migrant students and education, or even a refugee resettlement agency such as World Relief.
“I’ve loved talking to the people that we work with and hearing what they’ve gone through, seeing their attitude towards the challenges they have faced has been very uplifting,” stated Madiha, who speaks not only English but also Urdu and Hindi. “When we do talk to them, their willingness to work and figure out how they can settle into life is very inspiring.”
With only a few months left, she is hoping to learn as much as possible before returning to Georgetown and continuing her studies. Yet thanks to her time at World Relief Memphis and to her own experiences thus far, Madiha is going back knowing that “there’s a lot more in common when it comes to the source of our traditions than [we] realize, and it all just depends on how you display them that’s different.”
With that in mind, Madiha urges future interns to act with empathy and understanding, as a friend.
“Don’t have the perspective of someone who comes in and saves them, that savior complex,” said Madiha after highlighting the resiliency of refugees. “Be someone who just works with them, and gets to know them and is their friend.”
Already, she has begun to do the same in just her short month with us by listening to different stories and coming alongside our newest neighbors in their road to integration, and we know that she will continue to do so in her future endeavors as well, whether they be in Memphis, Washington, D.C. or elsewhere.
And this summer, we will be welcoming more interns who want to learn and make a difference in the lives of our refugee and immigrant community. If that sounds like you or someone you know, fill out an application by March 22nd. Hopefully, we’ll be welcoming you in June alongside our new neighbors.
Bailey Clark serves as the Communications Coordinator for World Relief Memphis. With a background in journalism and advertising, she is passionate about storytelling and its power to make a difference.