I hit the jackpot in the in-laws department. I adore my husband’s parents, brothers, aunts, uncles…their entire crew. My husband Daniel is from Germany and his entire family still lives there.
Daniel has one relative who truly amazes me – his Aunt Waltraud.
Waltraud and Uncle Alexander live near Heilbronn, Germany. They are both English teachers. One reason I have always taken to Waltraud is that her English is excellent so I have always enjoyed my conversations with her and nothing gets lost in translation.
In 2014-2015, nearly 1 million Syrian refugees were allowed to seek asylum in Germany. As expected, this sparked debate around the world.
Over time, many of my American friends asked me about the status of the refugees in Germany. My German family said Aunt Waltraud would know because she is “working with many of them”.
That summer, I briefly saw Waltraud but only had a short conversation with her. She did tell me at that time that she was helping teach a group of refugees how to speak German. She said many of the refugees she was working with were over-qualified to stay in Germany. Many were doctors or attorneys. But the jobs provided for refugees were blue collar jobs.
She had tears in her eyes talking about how many of her favorites left.
I just assumed that she had retired from teaching English and was now employed by the German government to help the refugees.
Fast forward to the following summer. We were once again back in Germany and at a family reunion. I sat next to Waltraud during dinner. I finally had the chance to talk to her at length about the refugees.
She said she and a group of women had put together organized meetings every Tuesday morning at a local coffee shop where refugees could come to ask questions, get help, translate mail and government documents and help get the children acclimated to the school system.
She said she had accompanied dozens and dozens refugees to doctor’s appointments.
I asked, “What does the German government pay you to do all of this work?”
“Paid? Ha, that would be lovely! I’m not paid…it is all volunteer work.”
I learned that not only was Waltraud still working full-time as an English teacher, the countless hours she had invested in the refugees to teach them German, transport them to doctor’s appointments, translate their mail and help their kids get acclimated to a new school was all done out of the goodness of her heart.
“Why do you do this? What motivates you to help them in this way?” I asked.
“I can either help them fail by doing nothing, or I can help them be successful here. Since they are now my neighbors, I am choosing to help them be successful here in Germany and get their feet on the ground”
I thought of my town back home and became very sad. If 800,000 Mexicans were given asylum and 1000 of them were assigned to my town to live, I could only imagine the hate, criticism and venom the people of my community would spit on them given the relentless stream of anti-immigration slurs which have echoed through the South recently.
Would a group of men or women invest hundreds of hours for free helping Mexican refugees get off to a good start here in America? I sure hope so.
My conversation with Waltraud reminded me of the importance of unselfishly helping others in need. And it reminded me that we all need to be a little more like her.