At the end of February, the day I boarded my flight to Yaoundé, Cameroon, a country that has been in an active civil war for the last four years, my native country Ukraine was invaded by Russia. It was an interesting emotional disposition that I found myself in. My family moved to the United States in 1995, four years after Ukraine gained her Independence and ever since then I have spent my life becoming a traumatologist, focusing my vocational aim towards helping people heal and live resilient lives.
In Cameroon, hosted by Me4Real International, myself with a small team of trauma specialists associated with the Green Cross Academy of Traumatology trained local counselors, pastors and doctors in topics such as trauma, grief, loss, and post-traumatic stress disorder through group work and practical interventions. The aim of our work is that the nation can slowly heal from the ongoing stress of a civil war. Homes burned down, families in fear of loved ones being taken, over a million people displaced, corruption intruding into daily life.. The ongoing traumatic stress has become a daily reality for the Cameroonian people.
A few hours away, in the same time zone, another little nation, Ukraine, finds itself in a war… this war being an invasion. After a week in Yaoundé, I flew to Warsaw to meet some friends and family who came through the Polish border, trying to figure out their next steps… to wait out the war or to resettle in another country. I met many people fleeing Ukraine, posting in hotels, waiting for some good news. Since then, millions of Ukrainians fled their homes for some form of respite behind the borders or in safer regions of Ukraine. Among these are refugees from countries like Syria, also a nation with over 6 million displaced people, who will now become double-refugees.
In two weeks, I saw so many people displaced. When I think of being displaced, I think of being homeless. For a long time I felt the same way as a little Ukrainian refugee. Stuck between two countries, never fully in one or the other. Speaking multiple languages, never fully well any of them.
As I returned to my home in Colorado and returned to my private practice, I recognized that many of the clients I work with can empathize with the state of the world, as they too are displaced in one way or another. People who leave their religions feel a sense of spiritual homelessness. Those who leave abusive relationships, or cut off toxic family ties, or even set strong boundaries, feel a sense of relational aloneness. Those who are transitioning careers or who have lost their jobs, feel a sense of vocational homelessness. A sense of meaning and purpose homelessness. Those who are traumatized are displaced from their very own bodies, feeling separated from the core of who they are..
In some ways, if we all consider our lives, we can find experiences in which we felt like “refugees,” outcasts, homeless, uncertain, scared, directionless, stuck… in search of refuge, in search of home.
As a young girl, I became an avid traveler, starting with my first month long trip to Madagascar when I was 18 years old. Traveling gave me a sense of comfort. You are always in some form of “in between”.. Reality resembling transit…and it taught me to be more present…in the here and now…
We are all human and therefore all confined to the same destiny… a search for home.
Home… A place of belonging, safety, connection, love… to be seen and heard… A place of true community. The truth is that place may not exactly exist but only in the center of the human heart. It is not an objective place but a spiritual reality that is experienced in the presence of human bodies, present and connecting to one another, sharing stories, laughing and crying, “being… existing” together.
Through my many travels, the little Ukrainian refugee in me discovered that my home was never to be a place but was to be found in the hearts of other people, in community, in the gathering of each other.
Fast forward, I have many families, in many places, all who have given me a sense of home.
As you read the news and as you listen to stories of the ongoing situation in Ukraine, in Yemen, in Cameroon, and in so many other regions of the world, instead of “feeling bad for them,” consider how you may connect with those who are suffering by acknowledging and embracing your own experiences of displacement.
Then consider how you are the answer to the hearts eternal search for home.. Consider how you can create a sense of home for the people living around you.. the people you may lack noticing because you are so focused on a material things… Yes, we need a place to stay, and a job and money and security… but those things do not give a sense of home… What gives us a sense of home is being invited, listened to, and treated as an equal…. Think about the people in your community… invite them to your home, share stories, laugh.. Be curious.. People are so incredibly interesting … become the answer that the world so desperately needs.
When you can connect with your own sense of displacement in life, you will find more compassion for others who are displaced in life. And is this not the way to more love and peace in the world we live in. Is this not the answer to our need for home.
If you would like to financially contribute to our next Trauma Training and Disaster Response trip to Ukraine in May, please visit my page, the Beautiful Minds Project. We will be training local doctors, counselors, pastors and lay persons in “safer” regions of Ukraine as well as working with refugees.