I’m really not a cynic, so when I tell you a thought I had during a recent visit to a Maasai village in Kenya, don’t judge.
Our group spent an afternoon with a young woman we all called Mama Julius, her family, and their neighbors. We, the foreigners, and our new friends slaughtered five chickens, plucked them, roasted them, and ate them together. I did things that day that I’ve never done before.
Most of the Kenyans present did not speak English, including the kids. Kids are easier to communicate with nonverbally, so I spent part of my time following them around and sitting under the only shade tree (we were at the equator, so that tree was prime real estate) singing silly songs with even sillier motions with them.
I’d already been in Africa over a week. I was as acclimated as one week can make a person to needs no Westerner can fathom without coming here to see them in person.
Anyway, here’s the thought I had as I watched those children—every one of them with bare feet—run over and around a pile of goat dung: “Where are their Tom’s shoes?”
I’m neither cynical nor naïve by nature, but I think this thought popped up because a series of well-made, heart-melting ad campaigns in the US had conditioned me to think world change really is that easy. I’m not blaming Tom’s. No, I’m just saying none of us in this business of social impact—even the big guys with seemingly endless resources—can impact everyone.
And that’s what really hurts.
If you’ve followed the dream of Refuge Coffee Co. at all, our hashtag #createrefuge may have resonated with you. Good. It is an honest simplification of our mission. But we are learning as we actually do the mission that heartache often accompanies the heart-melting images on our social media. Go deep, and you’ll likely hurt a little.
We are interviewing Refugee trainees this week. We cannot hire all of them. As we sit across a round table and listen to their stories, as we discover their siblings were born in refugee camps, their governments sent gunmen to their homes to murder them, their children are missing back home, and that they want so badly to work here in America and work hard to adapt, we have to fight the ache in order to be objective. Yes, we will hire refugees to be in our job training program. That’s creating refuge. But we will have to call half of the people we interview and tell them no. I’m not gonna lie; I hate that part with a passion. I hate it even though I’ve delegated it to someone else (sorry, Jessica!).
But the ache is what makes us human.
If our Refuge team is going to love well, we’d better make peace with a fair amount of pain. Tom’s can’t give every child in Africa a pair of shoes and we can’t give every refugee in Clarkston a job. And I don’t ever want to not feel bad about that. (Did you catch the “not” in that sentence? It’s awkward to say and even more awkward to feel.) This is the sobering backdrop I’ll never get used to behind the change-the-world hashtags. Ours included. #createrefuge
By Kitti Murray, Founder of Refuge Coffee Co.