Rose Rudd listens intently to a public discussion about refugees.
Rose Rudd listens intently to a public discussion about refugees.

Nate Boone said it will take many small gestures to shift global awareness in favor of the refugee crisis. 

He and his family try to do their part every holiday season. Together they bake loaves of rustic bread. Each year they fundraise a few thousand dollars from the project, said his wife Kerry Boone.

The numbers can seem overwhelming, and the plight people face in other countries insurmountable, she said. She and her husband believe there is action that can be taken that can have an immediate impact, she said. 

“We have to do these little things and just have some hope that all these little things together will make a great thing,” Nate Boone said.

The couple and their kids were among dozens of residents who watched “Refugee: the Eritrean Exodus” at the Monroe and Sky Valley YMCA last Monday, Sept. 17. The screening was scheduled as part of the annual Welcoming Week, which YMCA chapters host across the country. Various events are held to “fully embrace new Americans and their contributions to the social fabric of our country.”

“We believe our communities are stronger when everyone feels welcome and we work together for the common good,” according to the national YMCA.

Monroe’s branch is part of the YMCA of Snohomish County. The umbrella organization reports having offered assistance to immigrants for more than 100 years.

That includes English language and citizenship preparation classes. The courses help people reach their integration goals and give back to their community, according to the Snohomish County YMCA.

“While the City is ever-changing, what remains constant is the Y’s commitment to being a steadfast anchor for immigrants seeking to fulfill their American dreams,” according to the county chapter. “Today the YMCA remains unwavering in this work.”

Monroe’s series this year included a blood drive, night of movement and cultural flea market and concert. The week culminated in a community potluck.

Nicole Hudson, Monroe’s new adaptive coordinator, addressed attendees through tears after the movie ended last Monday. She said the film was an opportunity to open up dialogue and relate to refugees on a human level.

The documentary highlights the east African nation’s history, from when it was annexed to Ethiopia after WWII, until gaining independence in 1993. The government has operated as a dictatorship for decades.

Citizens are forced into military service, and imprisoned if they refuse. Prisoners report brutal conditions. Some chose to burn themselves to death while locked up, and doors to the underground cells are only opened every two weeks, “so they could take out the bodies.”

Eritreans make up a disproportionate percentage of the global refugee population, according to the U.S. Human Rights Commission. About 565,000 people seeking asylum are believed to be from the country.

“Many of these asylum seekers are exploited by smugglers, and traffickers, or find themselves in Libyan slave markets enduring detention, torture, and forced labor,” according to the commission. “Some, after gaining their freedom, expressed they would rather endure the experience of slavery over again than to be sent back to their native country.”

Monroe resident Stacie Douglas said she has worked with Eritrean refugees at Harborview Medical Center; many were housekeepers. Most wouldn’t even talk about their experiences, she said.

Douglas occasionally helped her coworkers get ready to take their citizenship test. She said she knew a woman who was stuck in the country until she passed. She couldn’t even risk visiting her mother when she was dying in the hospital, she said.

“They don’t necessarily want to be here, they want to be back home,” she said.

Dr. Kathleen Sasnett said she hadn’t heard of the country until that evening. She didn’t even know where it was, she said.

“It is really horrible to know that that is happening, and you are totally unaware,” Sasnett said. “You know, we just have our daily lives, and we live in this beautiful country, and we are so blessed to be here, and there are a lot of places in the world that have this kind of suffering going on.”

Sasnett said she was overwhelmed, but didn’t know what could be done to help.

Douglas said she has a son in the military. She wonders how many people are really willing to risk their life, or the life of a loved one, to try to overthrow a government that takes advantage of its people.

Some audience members suggested they could find power in political influence — look to leaders whose agendas include humanitarian aid. Others said to be wary of officials who fixate on another country’s natural resources.

The discussion eventually circled back around to everyone doing what they can; even little things. Hudson said the Boone’s involvement was motivation for her and others; the ripple effect from one person’s actions can create waves in a community.

Aubrey Rudd attended Monday’s event with her husband and children. She said her neighbors helping just up the street inspired her.

Rudd has participated in a monthly sewing circle at the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Seattle mosque on Old Owen Road. The group sews period underwear for women in Cameroon.

The doors are wide open, Rudd said. Everyone is welcome, and sewing skills are not required, she said.