Mohammad Amini is a bright, determined, 21-year-old living in Jakarta, Indonesia, with his family — or rather, what's left of it.

The Aminis belong to an ethnic group called the Hazaras, who are violently persecuted in Afghanistan. When the Taliban killed Mohammad's older brother for teaching English and threatened the rest of the family in 2014, they fled the country. Soon after, Mohammad’s grief-stricken father died of a heart attack.

Jakarta was supposed to be a temporary stop for the Aminis, who hoped to get to Australia, but they've been awaiting resettlement for four years. Refugees aren’t legally allowed to work or go to school in Indonesia, so Mohammad and his siblings, who range in age from 15 to 23, do what they can to develop their skills and contribute to society while they wait. They spend several days a week studying and volunteering at Roshan Learning Center, a community-based educational initiative serving refugees, and Mohammad studies at Kiron, an online university for refugees.


"I consider myself as a resilient person," Amini says. "I'd rather spend my time In Indonesia learning more skills, practice my languages skills, and build my character, than just waste my time to wait for my resettlement."

The Aminis make the most of their circumstances in Jakarta, but in reality, they are stuck.

Some of the thousands of asylum-seeking families in Indonesia sleep on the streets and in parks in Jakarta, with mosquito nets as shelters. Photo via Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images.

If they go back to Afghanistan, they’ll likely be killed. If they stay in Indonesia, they can’t work, get an accredited education, or become citizens. Finances are an ongoing struggle, charity is a necessity, and their options for a safe and productive life are limited.

"We are alive with the hope of that one day we will be accepted to a third country," Amini says. "And if there is no resettlement in a third country, our whole life will be destroyed. There is no other option for us." ++

Millions of refugees like the Aminis live in this state of limbo, where chances of resettlement grow more and more unlikely.

In Indonesia, the United Nations recently told refugees that getting transferred to another country could take 15 years or more if they’re lucky enough to be resettled at all. For the more than 65 million people who are currently displaced, and the 22 million of whom are refugees fleeing conflict or persecution, that timeline could only grow longer, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency.

While those numbers have increased, the number of refugees the U.S. accepts has been drastically reduced. Obama set the refugee ceiling at 110,000 for 2017, but Trump cut that limit to 45,000 in 2018 — the lowest in decades. And according to the International Rescue Commission, the U.S. is on track to only take in around 22,000 this year — less than half of the limit. For perspective, that's approximately one refugee for every 15,000 Americans.

The numbers don't lie: the U.S. can be doing more to help refugees. And they can look to their Northern neighbors for a resourceful way to make it happen.

[rebelmouse-image 19347057 dam="1" original_size="448x307" caption="Image via International Rescue Committee." expand=1]Image via International Rescue Committee.

Canada empowers its people to help refugees through an inspiring private refugee sponsorship program.

In addition to government sponsorship like exists in the U.S., refugees can come to Canada through private sponsorship — a process through which a group of Canadian citizens or permanent residents provide funds and mentorship to a refugee family for one year.

The program allows sponsors to choose refugees to sponsor, cover resettlement expenses through private donation, and personally help them assimilate into Canadian society — all at little cost to the government.

About 280,000 refugees have been settled through Canada's private sponsorship program since it began in 1978.

Amir and Nour Fattal fled Aleppo, Syria, when their apartment was bombed in 2012. The Fattals never imagined they would have to leave their homeland — and never wanted to. But war changes everything.

Like the Aminis, they spent years in limbo in a stopover country. But in 2016, they and their young daughter were brought from Turkey to Toronto, Canada, through private sponsorship. Terry Dellaportas, one of the Fattals' Canadian sponsors, invited me to view the Facebook group their sponsorship group used to organize fundraising and logistics. As I scrolled through a year's worth of posts on everything from paperwork, to apartments, to airport pickup, I was struck by the raw beauty of collective human kindness.  

Millions of people have been displaced by the Syrian civil war. Aleppo, once a thriving metropolis, has been reduced to rubble in many areas. Photo via Ameer Alhalbi/Getty Images.

And private sponsorship isn't just about charity.

Research shows refugees have a neutral-to-beneficial impact on the economy, largely because immigrants are twice as likely as the average citizen to start businesses. They also enrich society culturally, especially when their assimilation includes celebrating the skills and knowledge they bring with them.

The Fattals, for example, with the encouragement of their sponsors, started the Beroea Kitchen, which serves Syrian cuisine from Aleppo. "These are the meals our mothers made us when we were children and taught us how to make ourselves," Amir says on the business's website.

And they do more than just sell food. Through a community "Supper Club," Beroea brings people together to share a meal, share stories and ideas, and make friends.

Other countries have started following Canada's lead. The United States should consider it too.

Britain, Argentina, Ireland, New Zealand, and the United Arab Emirates all have private sponsorship programs in the works.

"Safety and security" is often lauded as the main reason for limiting the number of refugees America accepts. However, refugees are the most vetted group of people to enter the country and research shows that they pose no greater threat to our safety and security than the average American. Cost and jobs are also used as excuses. However, our economy is in great shape according to the president, unemployment is at historic lows, and refugees aren't a drain the economy or jobs anyway.

The main issues, then, are government spending and concerns over assimilation. Private sponsorship addresses both of those problems.

Photo via Charles McQuillan/Getty Images.

The Aminis are so similar to the Fattals  — service-oriented, ambitious, and eager to contribute. But their ability to put those qualities to full use is simply a matter of circumstance.

Scott Smiley, a volunteer teacher at Roshan in Jakarta, says Mohammad and his family are exactly the kinds of citizens that nations want and need. "These people are so incredible," he says. "Countries should be bidding on them."

Developed countries should help change their circumstance.

But in the meantime, the Aminis will continue to do the only things they can in limbo — study and prepare for an uncertain future, try not to lose hope, and wait.

++ Mohammad Amini's name has been changed for the family's security.

Leah Menzies/TikTok

Leah Menzies had no idea her deceased mother was her boyfriend's kindergarten teacher.

When you start dating the love of your life, you want to share it with the people closest to you. Sadly, 18-year-old Leah Menzies couldn't do that. Her mother died when she was 7, so she would never have the chance to meet the young woman's boyfriend, Thomas McLeodd. But by a twist of fate, it turns out Thomas had already met Leah's mom when he was just 3 years old. Leah's mom was Thomas' kindergarten teacher.

The couple, who have been dating for seven months, made this realization during a visit to McCleodd's house. When Menzies went to meet his family for the first time, his mom (in true mom fashion) insisted on showing her a picture of him making a goofy face. When they brought out the picture, McLeodd recognized the face of his teacher as that of his girlfriend's mother.

Menzies posted about the realization moment on TikTok. "Me thinking my mum (who died when I was 7) will never meet my future boyfriend," she wrote on the video. The video shows her and McLeodd together, then flashes to the kindergarten class picture.

“He opens this album and then suddenly, he’s like, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God — over and over again,” Menzies told TODAY. “I couldn’t figure out why he was being so dramatic.”

Obviously, Menzies is taking great comfort in knowing that even though her mother is no longer here, they can still maintain a connection. I know how important it was for me to have my mom accept my partner, and there would definitely be something missing if she wasn't here to share in my joy. It's also really incredible to know that Menzies' mother had a hand in making McLeodd the person he is today, even if it was only a small part.

@speccylee

Found out through this photo in his photo album. A moment straight out of a movie 🥲

♬ iris - 🫶

“It’s incredible that that she knew him," Menzies said. "What gets me is that she was standing with my future boyfriend and she had no idea.”

Since he was only 3, McLeodd has no actual memory of Menzies' mother. But his own mother remembers her as “kind and really gentle.”

The TikTok has understandably gone viral and the comments are so sweet and positive.

"No the chills I got omggg."

"This is the cutest thing I have watched."

"It’s as if she remembered some significance about him and sent him to you. Love fate 😍✨"

In the caption of the video, she said that discovering the connection between her boyfriend and her mom was "straight out of a movie." And if you're into romantic comedies, you're definitely nodding along right now.

Menzies and McLeodd made a follow-up TikTok to address everyone's positive response to their initial video and it's just as sweet. The young couple sits together and addresses some of the questions they noticed pop up. People were confused that they kept saying McLeodd was in kindergarten but only 3 years old when he was in Menzies' mother's class. The couple is Australian and Menzies explained that it's the equivalent of American preschool.

They also clarified that although they went to high school together and kind of knew of the other's existence, they didn't really get to know each other until they started dating seven months ago. So no, they truly had no idea that her mother was his teacher. Menzies revealed that she "didn't actually know that my mum taught at kindergarten."

"I just knew she was a teacher," she explained.

She made him act out his reaction to seeing the photo, saying he was "speechless," and when she looked at the photo she started crying. McLeodd recognized her mother because of the pictures Menzies keeps in her room. Cue the "awws," because this is so cute, I'm kvelling.

Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash

Actions speak far louder than words.

It never fails. After a tragic mass shooting, social media is filled with posts offering thoughts and prayers. Politicians give long-winded speeches on the chamber floor or at press conferences asking Americans to do the thing they’ve been repeatedly trained to do after tragedy: offer heartfelt thoughts and prayers. When no real solution or plan of action is put forth to stop these senseless incidents from occurring so frequently in a country that considers itself a world leader, one has to wonder when we will be honest with ourselves about that very intangible automatic phrase.

Comedian Anthony Jeselnik brilliantly summed up what "thoughts and prayers" truly mean. In a 1.5-minute clip, Jeselnik talks about victims' priorities being that of survival and not wondering if they’re trending at that moment. The crowd laughs as he mimics the actions of well-meaning social media users offering thoughts and prayers after another mass shooting. He goes on to explain how the act of performatively offering thoughts and prayers to victims and their families really pulls the focus onto the author of the social media post and away from the event. In the short clip he expertly expresses how being performative on social media doesn’t typically equate to action that will help victims or enact long-term change.

Of course, this isn’t to say that thoughts and prayers aren’t welcomed or shouldn’t be shared. According to Rabbi Jack Moline "prayer without action is just noise." In a world where mass shootings are so common that a video clip from 2015 is still relevant, it's clear that more than thoughts and prayers are needed. It's important to examine what you’re doing outside of offering thoughts and prayers on social media. In another several years, hopefully this video clip won’t be as relevant, but at this rate it’s hard to see it any differently.

Moricz was banned from speaking up about LGBTQ topics. He found a brilliant workaround.

Senior class president Zander Moricz was given a fair warning: If he used his graduation speech to criticize the “Don’t Say Gay” law, then his microphone would be shut off immediately.

Moricz had been receiving a lot of attention for his LGBTQ activism prior to the ceremony. Moricz, an openly gay student at Pine View School for the Gifted in Florida, also organized student walkouts in protest and is the youngest public plaintiff in the state suing over the law formally known as the Parental Rights in Education law, which prohibits the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3.

Though well beyond third grade, Moricz nevertheless was also banned from speaking up about the law, gender or sexuality. The 18-year-old tweeted, “I am the first openly-gay Class President in my school’s history–this censorship seems to show that they want me to be the last.”

However, during his speech, Moricz still delivered a powerful message about identity. Even if he did have to use a clever metaphor to do it.

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