The letters USRP are incredibly important and yet few people recognize the acronym.  If, perchance, some one recognizes the acronym, I wonder if they deep down, in the heart and gut know what these letters mean.  I can guarantee you, if you know these letters and understand their import, you are a person of compassion.

I arrived at  Nairobi International Airport on 11 March 2009 to go homee to the U.S.  There were 15-20 people with clothing wraps and T-shirts emblazoned USRP.  Most people in the airport ignore this group – they are so thin, well past frail. One might even say they appear dirty – not filthy, but their appearance is well worn, shabby – not the people you expect to see getting on an airplane for travel.   Two of the group are in wheelchairs…It is a sight so humbling I can not help but cry.  There are not enough religious deities for me to begin to pray to/at for goodwill, safe passage to these people-to wish and hope these people will find the smallest amount of safety, peace, food and stability.  They have seen the worst of what the human hand can met out and yet one woman with a head scarf smiles back at me. Please, I hope she can tell my smile back indicated the compassion I felt inside, my smile represented my understanding and hope for something better.

There were three security checks for this flight.  I had to listen to westerners complain about removing their shoes three times.  My first reaction was to explain that for those of us in NYC on 9/11, those of us who lost friends and loved ones, taking off shoes for a safety check was nothing.  I did not say anything – westerners are a fickle lot.  It took an amazing amount of will to not say, “Be thankful you have shoes – better yet, be thankful you have feet to put in the shoes”.  I again restrain myself.  I have second thoughts and I tell one person to stop complaining as I was in NYC on 9/11 and this inconvenience is NOTHING compared to lives lost.  I notice the same group of complainers ignore the the group with the USRP emblazoned on their clothing and wraps.

The small group each has a grocery size plastic bag.  The bag holds all of their worldly goods, their life reduced to maybe 10-15 kg of “stuff”.  I begin to reflect on fleeing the civil war in Namibia while I had been a Peace Corps Volunteer.  I had the clothes I was wearing, my passport, about the equivalent of US $2.50 in local currency and a small backpack. I understand in a passing, almost fraudulent manner what it is to be a refugee.  I possess a U.S. Passport – there but for the grace of unknown forces go I.

The small group stays very close to themselves. Even in a moderate airport, it is clear there are many things to look at and observe. I wonder what all the bright lights, sounds, bling on everyone else means to this small group. No one looks at this group in the eye – is it embarrassment from the westerners? People in the airport look away from this group, as if by not looking, the shabby group will disappear. I am pretty sure most people do not comprehend USRP or they would be more sensitive.

I am still crying. We are all out of Africa a second time – the first as we found our way to other continents and migrated thousands of years ago; this time we leave to obtain protection, end vacations.  We migrate to safety, to lands with food, clean water, sanitation – safety.

USRP – United States Refugee Program

Learn these letters.  Knowing this acronym can only make you a better person.