Margaret Hosmer Martens (BA ADP ’81, MA CMHC) spent 15 years living in French-speaking Africa with her family. These were formative years that shaped her lifelong concern for refugees. Here is her story:
“A Personal Experience with Refugees”
I had my first contact with Angolan refugees who fled to Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), while my family and I were there in the 1970s. There was a horrible outbreak of violence in Rwanda, immediately followed by a large influx of Tutsis fleeing across the border into Eastern Congo. These flare-ups continued until the massive genocide that occurred in 1994, when 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered. Seventy percent of the entire Tutsi population of Rwanda and 20 percent of Hutus were massacred in a matter of weeks. The perpetrators—the Interahamwe—fled, along with two million Hutus, across the border. This has caused major problems for the region ever since.
Later, while working on my Master in Public Policy in the U.S., I volunteered at the Refugee Policy Group in Washington, D.C. My research there was on the fate of Rwandans who had fled to camps in Burundi and, in particular, to Tanzania.
Several years ago my husband and I returned to the U.S. after almost 40 years abroad. I began consulting with the International Rescue Committee, coaching their staff abroad and in New York. I also coach staff of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO). When I realized that the U.S. was admitting 75,000 refugees from the violence in the Congo, I wanted to help. Because of my experience, I knew the brutality these refugees have suffered and, even in the resettlement camps, women are still vulnerable. I was coaching a woman under the DPKO based in Eastern Congo last year who told me that, at that time, there were more than 45 different armed militias roaming the countryside and the people lived in absolute terror.
I decided to take a course at the Cape Cod Institute on how regulated breathing practices can help to relax victims of trauma. While there I ran into Michele Clark, a psychology faculty advisor from Goddard, which planted a seed in my mind that began to grow—I realized that it was absurd to think I could go around helping refugees with their breathing. I knew I would need to go further. I enrolled in Goddard’s MA in Mental Health Counseling program and as a practitioner in Somatic Experiencing, another three-year program.
This past year, my Congolese colleague and I opened an office in Manchester, N.H., that specifically serves women refugees of all nationalities. (Since there is some disagreement among the Congolese about whether the more recent arrivals are really Congolese or are secretly from Rwanda, it is safer to work with all women.) I look forward to growing our programs and beginning my practicum at Goddard this spring, working directly with the women who suffer from trauma.
I have only spoken here about refugees from central Africa, yet we all realize that there are many more who will be coming from Syria and Iraq. I am afraid that the plight of refugees has become one of the major issues of our time.
Paula Emery (BA ’91) has a career teaching high school social studies at a local public school. After 15 years, however, she needed a break; she took a yearlong leave to travel to Europe to visit friends, alumna Casey Orr (BA ’91) of Leeds, England, and alumnus Tim Rogers (BA ’91) of County Mayo, Ireland. With her strong sense of civic engagement, Paula’s trip took a turn. Below is her story:
“From Plainfield, Vermont to Calais, France”
One of my goals for this odyssey was to pitch in at one of Europe’s many refugee camps or refugee aid organizations. I found it incredibly difficult to find said organizations from within the U.S. When I got to England in September, the number of refugees at the Port of Calais, France was beginning to spike, and I spotted posters advertising collections of supplies to be transported there. One of these posters led me to a website, which led me to a news article, which mentioned a group that organizes via Facebook.
I contacted them to see if I could help. They were a friendly and informally organized group of medical professionals who networked with each other to staff three, donated first aid campers in the camp known as The Junglei on weekends. These volunteers worked all week and then headed to Calais via ferry on Friday evenings or extremely early Saturday mornings to minister to the medical needs of thousands of migrants and refugees.
My partners for my volunteer weekend were two practicing physicians from England. I met them in my rented car at the Port of Calais, and we drove together in the camper vans into The Jungle. The moment we opened the doors of the caravans the lines began to form.
I am not a medical professional; my job was to restock one of the caravans with supplies from another and to keep the doctors supplied throughout the day. The three of us worked without stopping—not even to pee because there aren’t any bathrooms. Most of the people who came to us were sick with colds and coughs. Many showed signs of scabies. Several had sprains and/or large wounds from falling off of trucks.
We spent two days there and worked until we ran out of analgesics and cold medicine. For all the suffering and uncertainty the people camped at The Jungle endured, it was an incredibly calm and respectful place, full of communities of people living in tents roughly grouped by their country of origin. Many areas of the world were represented. If a country has undergone the slide from colonization to Cold War hotspot you can find its people at The Jungle. There were Syrians, Iranians, Egyptians, Palestinians, Iraqis, Afghanis, Ethiopians, Eritreans, and so on, all searching for a better life.
i Beginning in January, the French government began clearing parts of The Jungle. On March 3rd they razed most of the buildings and may have entirely cleared the camp. Many people living there relocated to the camp at Dunkirk, and the work of Refugee Support continues. Amy Goodman and the Democracy Now! team went to The Jungle during the UN Climate Summit in December and did an extensive story in which they interviewed people staying there. It is worth checking out at democracynow.org/2015/12/9/i_dont_want_to_die_this
This article was originally published in Clockworks Magazine in 2017. It has been updated and slightly edited.