Welcoming Newcomers from Around the World with Open Arms

October 2019


If you’ve ever been the new kid at school, you know how hard it can be to fit in. And for forcibly displaced people who might not speak the language, or who eat different foods, or wear different clothes—or who arrived with just the clothes on their backs—it’s even harder. 

Yet, as people continue to move around the globe seeking safe, peaceful places to raise their families, get jobs, and rebuild their lives, those of us who already live here have an amazing opportunity to show them a warm welcome. There are many communities around the world who have gone above and beyond to make newcomers feel at home—but these six have really dusted off the welcome mat.

Playing for peace in Amman, Jordan

It’s not much fun being a kid with refugee status, and the research shows that girls who are refugees have an even harder time adjusting than boys. Reclaim Childhood is a programme that uses sport and play to help girls in the Jordanian cities of Amman and Zarqa make friends, get active, and let loose for a while in a safe space. Girls can rip around playing football, basketball, ultimate frisbee, and even try their hands at skateboarding, squash, and rugby during an after-school programme or at summer camp. For many, it’s a welcome break from reality—and a pretty cool way to turn teammates into just mates.

Puerto Rican refugees given a warm welcome in Pennsylvania, USA

In Lawrence county, a largely rural area in Western Pennsylvania, the residents don’t think twice about seeing the horse-drawn buggies belonging to their Amish neighbours out on the roads. But when more than 40 Puerto Rican families displaced by Hurricane Maria arrived, many residents—and social service personnel—were taken by surprise. While state employees scrambled to set up bi-lingual social and educational services for the evacuees, one church filled an empty storefront with free household items for the families to “shop” from to fill their new homes—and one 93-year-old great-grandmother started knitting warm winter hats for the families, most of whom had never seen snow before arriving in Pennsylvania. Forty hats (and counting!) later, nearly everyone now has a warm, hand-knitted hat to keep their heads warm, and to remind them they’re welcome to stay.

Seeking sanctuary in a Dutch church

A Dutch church in the Hague took its duty to welcome all people with open arms quite literally, springing into action to enact a ‘round-the-clock, preach-‘til-you-drop-style church service that lasted for 96 days without interruption. The 24/7 service at Bethel Church began as an attempt to shield an Armenian refugee family from deportation, taking advantage of a little-known Dutch law in which police may not disrupt a church service to make an arrest. The feat took some serious coordination, as the service literally couldn’t stop, or the family taking refuge would be at risk of arrest. But the liturgical baton was passed for 96 consecutive days—until organisers got confirmation that the family’s dossier was going to be re-evaluated and said a final benediction to end the service. Talk about an extended welcome!


Bikes for all in London

There’s nothing better than the feeling of the wind in your face as you zip along on two wheels, enjoying the complete freedom that comes with riding a bike. But the cool thing about cycling is that it’s also completely free to ride a bike—once you have one. The Bike Project is a London-based charity that’s on a mission to get every person who arrived as a refugee a bike to zip around the city on. London is expensive, and most people with refugee status are on tight budgets. The Bike Project helps by fixing up second-hand bikes and donating them to refugees and asylum-seekers in London and Birmingham, who can then use the bikes to get to work, school, language classes and anywhere else they need to go. More than 5,000 Bike Project bikes are out there on the city streets, providing a whole lot of wind-in-your-face freedom to newcomers. 

A hearty bonjour in Bayonne, France

Sometimes, doing right means breaking a few rules. Or at least, that’s how the mayor of Bayonne, France, sees things. Despite an official policy to slow the flow of people coming through France to seek a better life in Europe, Mayor Jean-René Etchegaray made the news for going out of his way to welcome the on-the-move community, providing food, heat, and shelter to those who needed help on their way to more permanent homes in neighbouring countries. His humanitarian efforts aren’t sanctioned, supported, or applauded by official French policies—but the mayor doesn’t care. And hey—we get it! (And if you’re reading this, you probably already know that Ben & Jerry’s cares about way more than just selling ice cream.)

Singing for peace in Portland, Maine

“When you move to a new country, the first thing you lose is your voice,” says Con Fullam, a musician who founded a choir for the young women in a refugee resettlement program in his home city of Portland, Maine. The girls in Pihcintu Multicultural Chorus don’t speak the same language or come from the same countries—but when they raise their voices in song together, the music resonates. And in keeping with the choir’s unusual name—“pihcintu” means “when she sings, her voice carries far” in the language of the Passamaquoddy Native Americans, native to Maine—the choir has performed around the U.S. and even collaborated with a group of Israeli and Palestinian teens to write a song about peace and hope.