Having worked for over 15 years as a licensed clinical social worker, I have repeatedly been reminded of how grateful I am for the good things in my life. My work reminds me not to take for granted for my mental and physical health, the fact that I grew up with love and support, and that I have had easy access to high quality education, vocational opportunities and a comfortable financial situation. No population I have worked with has provided me with this feeling of gratitude more than my work with new immigrants to the United States. The stories of struggle, poverty and financial and emotional strain, both in their countries of origin and as they adjust to life in the U.S. are intense.
Hearing the stories of asylum-seekers, however, has brought me a whole new level of gratitude. Like many in the U.S, I am often critical of our political system, embarrassed at times and frustrated at others. However, I have learned from hearing first-hand experiences of political torture victims, how grateful I am to be able to express my views and absolutely never fear for my safety or well-being. And I do take that for granted much of the time –like the fact that I can say whatever I want in my blog and there will not be any retaliation against me for what I write.
People sometimes express their admiration for what I do, and how hard it must be to hear these difficult stories. And it definitely can be emotionally draining. However, I get so much from my work, and my sense of gratitude is probably the most important reward. This gift of gratitude has comforted me at times when I have felt I am not compensated well financially – the fact that I have interesting, fulfilling work where I not only help others, but also get to recognize daily the good fortune I have been lucky enough to live with.
When I hear the lengths people have gone through to get to the United States, I am again humbled to have simply been born here. People risk their lives, and endure endless months of treacherous travel conditions, sometimes experiencing abuse and rape along the way. It underscores just how terrible life was for them in their country of origin, that they would be willing to leave behind their family, friends and culture, with the glimmer of hope that the U.S. will bring them what they have not found in their homeland – opportunity and freedom.
As difficult as the immigration situation is in the United States with the ethical and legal challenges that arise from having so many seeking safety and opportunity, I am forever proud that I live in this country where we have freedom and hope, and where people travel from so far away and risk so much.