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Commentary: Sharing the stories of refugees

Refugees wait in the street near the Ulus Refugee Center in Ankara, Turkey. Photo by Tacy Surrett.

Photo by Tacy Surrett

Refugees wait in the street near the Ulus Refugee Center in Ankara, Turkey.

a monologue by Tacy Surrett

In 2014, many unthinkable events occurred.

The Syrian civil war death toll reached 130,000.

The Ukrainian revolution began.

We found out that about one-third of women in the EU have experienced physical or sexual violence since the age of 15.


Train crashes in the Congo. 

Gas explosions in New York.

A flight disappears in the calm illusion of the clouds.

Yeah, welcome to our world.

But what happened to me and my family in 2014 involved one of those unthinkable events, a sentence that still causes my breath to lodge itself in my throat until it suffocates me.

I am from Iraq.

In 2014, Daesh took over my home, Mosul.

My brother, my mother and I, we fled.

I like to think we ran from the pain, that we chose to leave pain behind. But everyone knows that it’s not possible.

My father stayed behind, living with the pain we thought we would never have to feel again.

And one day I received a call. My neighbor, a kind man, told me that my father had died.

“What? How did this happen?” I could barely get the words out.

My father had his hands bound by rope and tied together, his mouth stuffed with cloth. He was stabbed 13 times in the front and twice in his back, only to have his right arm sliced open.

They took our money, our jewelry, our food. Everything.

But, mainly, they took my father.

They ran out screaming about Islam, their version of my faith. The real Islam is so beautiful and filled with peace. Their version of my faith that they made up, made again, and made other lost people believe that they are lost, too, and that they must get rid of the people that are found.

Where does it ever say that Mohammed wanted to kill everyone, or that this is the true way to be?

Who ever said that?


I hate their Islam.

I hate it so much.

Do you know who killed my father? Do you?

Because I spend every day searching. I am angry. I am furious.

You’re American, can you help me? Help me find them.

I want revenge. No, I need revenge. 

I did not sleep or eat for a month after I received that phone call.

My mother, she is sick.

She is in a hospital bed, as we speak.

I am the eldest son; I hold the responsibility.

She asks me every day, the same question:

“Is Baba making sure everything is clean? Is he doing well?”

And it tears at my heart. It hurts.

Because every day when she asks, I say, “Yes, mother, he is good. He loves you.”

And I change the subject, because the one subject I care so much for is about the pain we left my father to die in. 

Living overseas for most of my life has given me some of the most amazing and challenging experiences, as well as some incredible opportunities.

Perhaps the greatest of these is my work with refugees from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan.

The refugee crisis is not new. It has been happening since the beginning of civilization. Humans are forced out of their countries and struggle to survive elsewhere with hopes that they one day will be able to return to the place they call “home.”

As I was considering how to help people for my Girl Scout Gold Award Project, I remember thinking, “How can my gifts be used for good and for love in the world around me?”

At the time, my family and I volunteered at a local distribution center that aids refugees in a poor part of Turkey’s capital, Ankara. As I handed out food, I decided to walk around and talk to people, soak in their stories and admire their bravery.

One night, as I handed out cookies to families entering the building, a man approached my father and me. He asked my dad, probably one of the first Americans he had encountered in his traumatic experience thus far, why he couldn’t just “make America take revenge on the people that killed his father.”

After speaking with him for a while, we soon saw the rage and anger in this man’s eyes turn to pain and sorrow. He told us his sick mother knew nothing about the death of his other family members. They feared she would die in shock. Back in Iraq, the man’s father and some of his siblings lay buried under the rubble of their family store in Mosul.

I felt so distraught by his story that I went straight home and wrote my second monologue — my first was about an Iranian family I had become friends with in Ankara.

I began to do this every week, drafting poem after poem based on interviews and conversations with refugees. Eventually, I created an exhibit with portraits and monologues, titled “Small Ships with Large Hearts.” The title came from a line in one of my poems, “Waves,” a tribute to the thousands of fleeing refugees who died in maritime disasters.

I displayed and performed my exhibit in Ankara, but I also was passionate about sharing these experiences with congregations and organizations in the United States.

Since returning to the U.S. in 2016, I have brought my exhibit to Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, seeking to educate people about the heartbreaking tragedies that take place thousands of miles away every day and to inspire them with the refugees’ stories of survival and resilience.

I feel an obligation and responsibility to carry their burden with me and to share it with others so that they too may make a difference in the lives of displaced people around the world, whether it be donating time, money or just by accepting their struggle.

Most of all, I feel the pull of God to be the fingertips of love, peace and healing in a world so broken and in so much need. I have been deeply changed by the refugees I have met throughout my life and hope that one day, we all can see that this world is a “home” where everyone is welcome.

Courtesy photo of Tacy Surrett with her Girl Scout Gold Award.

Surrett is a senior at Severna Park High School. She attends Asbury United Methodist Church in Arnold, Maryland. Surrett spent nine years living in England, Germany and Turkey with her family from 2007 to 2016.