Announcing the winner of the 2019 Anne Frank Essay Competition: ‘If Not Now, When?’
America Media in partnership with Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, the Jesuit Schools Network, Educate Magis and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands are pleased to publish the winner of the 2019 Anne Frank Essay Competition. Congratulations to Bae Na Dae Ta, a sophomore at Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School in Atlanta, Ga.
I grew up in refugee camps along the border between Myanmar and Thailand before my family and I moved to the United States in 2009. Growing up in a small village, I was used to hanging out with people of the same ethnic background. My friends and I spoke the same language, ate the same foods and shared the same perspective on life in general. I was never taught English before I came to the United States, so the language barrier kept me from making friends when I started school here. I felt isolated and lonely.
My whole life changed when an African-American student from my class talked to me. She introduced me to her friends and helped me understand certain subjects and words. I started learning to read and write in English little by little thanks to my friend and books. I became comfortable in the group of friends I had, even though we all came from different cultural backgrounds.
If we just take the time to notice those who are left unheard, we can change someone’s whole life.
Even though I am different from the rest of my classmates, I felt a sense of belonging when they took the time to help me feel welcomed. Because of them, this new strange place became a new home. The small acts of kindness I received from them changed my whole outlook.
Millions of refugees struggle to make their new place a home because they feel like they do not belong. This feeling of isolation comes from not having the ability to communicate in a new language. If we just take the time to notice those who are left unheard, we can change someone’s whole life.
It is the small things, like talking to someone you would not normally talk to, that prevent us from forming barriers against each other. We often base our assumptions on stereotypes. This kind of mindset holds us back from really getting to know one another. It drives us further apart rather than bringing us together. We need each other. As 1 Corinthians says, “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit. Now the body is not a single part, but many” (12:12-14).
Fear should not keep us from fulfilling our very purpose to love one another.
We would get so much more done if we all just learn to work together. We were all created with the same dignity. The idea that one person is better than another builds hatred in us toward one another. It drives us apart until we decide we want nothing to do with the other. The purpose of being different is to share what we have with those who might not have what we have. We can learn so much about the world and the people around us if we just go out of our way to get to know each other. If we were all the same, what good would come out of it? Our differences should bring us together to work for the greater good, not divide us.
As we learn to live together and care for one another, we are called to walk side by side with the oppressed, the abandoned and those who are shunned by everyone else. This means standing up for someone who is being bullied because he or she does not fit in with others. It means eating with the girl who sits alone during lunch while everyone else ignores her. When we shut others out because they are different from us, we are rejecting God’s call to love those around us. Without realizing, we are rejecting the Imago Dei because each one of us is created in God’s image and likeness. We must learn to live together because “whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 Jn 4:20).
Anne Frank wrote in her diary, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before beginning to improve the world.” I like this quote because it reminds me of how young people today, including myself, can respond to hatred and unfair treatment when we see it. Too often, though, we are held back from standing up for what we know is right because we fear that we might become a target. We all have the ability to love because we were created to love and be loved. Fear should not keep us from fulfilling our very purpose to love one another. We should not continue to let hatred rule when we have love within all of us. Change starts with us today.