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Migros Academy happens each Tuesday evening and is where refugee students are tutored and encouraged in their education. Tutors are treated to entertaining stories from students, like whether eating worms would be considered halal, or that the dream career of one of its fourth-graders is being a bank robber. As the academy grew this past year, students brought energy, enthusiasm, and lived experiences to the weekly tutoring program offered by Migros Aid. 


One of those students is 18-year-old Daima, a senior at Speedway High School and a refugee from Tanzania. Daima is the oldest of six other siblings. She is a talented cook, speaks three languages, loves to sing and dance, and is a masterful storyteller.

She attended a weekend Christian retreat sponsored by a group of Indianapolis churches for middle and high school students. Daima said that she didn’t always understand all that was being said in English. But during the worship time – through the music and songs – she felt very close to God. She shared that there was no translation needed to worship God.

Daima is proud of her country’s rich traditions and history, and happy to talk about her culture, such as her favorite African foods and the best African music to dance to. She even taught me a few phrases in Swahili. Asante sana, Daima!

Recently, Daima shared with me how differently American neighbors treat each other versus African neighbors. 

Here in America, the term neighbors really just mean the people who live next door. You wave to them in the morning, maybe engage in small talk, and send them Christmas wishes with a dozen cookies. Of course, sometimes neighbors can also be good friends, but that is not the norm.

In Africa, Daima explained, your neighbors are more than people to exchange polite conversation with. They provide support and stability in your life. If you need to leave for a few days, your neighbors will care for your children in their homes until you return. If your family is hungry, your neighbors will share their meals with you. If you need to go to the hospital but cannot afford it, your neighbors will spare as much money as they can to get you treated.

This generosity is not emphasized nor very common among American neighbors, especially those of higher socioeconomic class. Daima said she doesn’t know her neighbors in America very well, even after three years in the United States because “they always shut their doors.” 

She explained that it was much easier to be a first born daughter in Africa because you, your parents, and your neighbors would help raise the younger children.

It might be puzzling to Americans why neighbors would do so much to help each other. In America, that is what friends are for, not neighbors. Daima explained that the reason why your neighbors care so unconditionally for you and your family is because they know you will do the same for them. You will open your doors for their children, share your meals with their family, or give them money for a doctor. 

Daima described the foundation of African communities saying, “In Africa, we love our neighbor first, and then we love God because if you do not love your neighbor, you do not see the face of God.”

In American Christian churches, they often tell their congregation to love God first, and then love each other second. We love God first because he is our Father, and then we are able to love one another because he first loved us.

In Africa, you love your neighbor first because they are a person created by God and a pillar of your family, Daima said. How can you claim to love God if you do not love his creation first? Looking at your neighbor, you see the face of a person created in the image of the divine creator.

While the African and American interpretations of Christian love are slightly different, it serves as a reminder that even through our diverse and beautiful cultures and experiences, we are still one people. We may be worlds apart, but our humanity and our love for humanity bridge that gap.


This article was written by Sarah Grace Wiggins.

Migros Academy is a weekly initiative by Migros Aid to assist refugee students in their education through tutoring and emotional support.

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