Pick one, just one.


You can only choose one thing. You have 30 seconds.

Now you have another two minutes. What’s the next thing you will choose? What’s the one thing you will choose? And then the next if you’re going to have to run, if you’re going to have to leave where you are and leave everything else behind.

Now pick another. You can choose three in total.

What about one more, but then that’s it.

Now you have to go.


You have no idea where you’re going. You have no idea where, how long you’ll be gone and you have no idea if you’re coming back, pick only four and now go.

That’s what it means to be a refugee. Only a fraction of it, but this is what it means to be a refugee. Soon this is all you will have. Four things. The first, the second, the third, and the fourth most important things that came to your mind.

You might never come back. You might never see the rest of your things again.

Ultimately, you need to choose and ultimately you have no idea where these choices will take you.

It may not be four. It may be more….it may be none. You never know.

What you do know is that you will be judged, you will be judged by what you are wearing. You will be judged by how you look. You will be judged by what you are carrying. You will judge be judged for the rest of your life, your qualifications, no longer matter. Your money no longer matters. Your status no longer matters. Your home no longer matters.

All you have is you and four things. What will you choose?

The things are one thing. What about the people?

Who will you leave with? Family? Friends? Stranger?

Who will you meet? Who will protect you while someone is trying to hurt you?

As the fates of time and place would have it, this #WorldRefugeeDay was spent in a refugee camp in Kenya – Kakuma – home to over 185,000 refugees from South Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, the DRC and other neighbouring nations. A field trip meant to be just a day turned into an unexpected overnight stay, with nothing but day-packs in hand. No toothbrushes, no soap, no water, no mosquito repellent despite the known severe outbreak of malaria, no mobile phone chargers, no change of clothes. Nothing. Just our IDs, our faith, and our evolving plan to travel in, stay, see, sleep, and somehow manage to drive out at dawn to a distant airport for return to Nairobi. We knew we were safe. We knew we were set to leave once in. Somehow we would figure out the essentials in between.

What are the essentials? What emerges as must-haves. What quickly and acutely comes to mind when there is no time to really comprehend the what next? And what if it all goes horribly wrong?

The experience was a tiny, tiny glimpse into how one’s mind has to work when working out how to move forward with so little of what is normally needed for smooth, safe, predictable and peaceful daily life. Blessed to be in a position of knowing when we would be back to our clean, secure creature comforts, adjusting to the baseline of needs for the brief time ahead was hardly traumatic. The day after tomorrow would be a day back to the familiarity of the real world – familiar faces, familiar places, a familiar fate.

But for tens of millions, tomorrow is an extension of the sudden uncertainty of today.

How does this happen? How is it that reality can change in a moment? From safety to tragedy. From comfort to fear. From comforted to completely alone.

There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that we did to influence the life into which we are born. And yet, for billions of people, lives seemingly a dream look down on the millions, literally millions, condemned to a life that is nothing short of a nightmare.

Whether caused by acts of God, acts of Mother Nature, or acts of angry men, today and every day millions run, having to choose, quickly, what they will take.

What can we give them? What do they need? it is not simply about money – throwing a few coins into a donation box while quickly passing by. The first gift of giving is compassion – looking a child, an adult, another, in the eyes with a  genuine feeling of “I see you.”

And then reaching out a hand with a heart whispering the words “….and I will help you.”

World Refugee Day should never be just one day. Each and every day, everywhere, our hearts must remain open to those needing care, compassion, comfort. Because every day they are living lives of heroic courage and determination, despite the shunning looks and judgemental glares.

And because easily, so so easily, it could have been us.




Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2018