One of the most painful things a person can lose

IDP families gathered to receive winter coats

We recently delivered more of the winter boots and coats you’re helping us provide for families. Our truck slid through the mud, stopping in front the windowless, unfinished building where several displaced families live.

Kids ran out, followed by smiling parents, and the unloading began.

I was surprised by how long it was taking just to get a few dozen people outfitted with a coat, when I finally realized that people weren’t taking their coat and leaving. They were filtering back through the line, exchanging their coat over and over again.

I’ll admit, I felt really annoyed. I asked some of the young men why they didn’t want the coat they’d been given, and they just shrugged and said “we don’t like it.”


That was my knee-jerk annoyance. I even gave one pink coat-toting little boy the "So help me!" look usually reserved for my son or taxi drivers. Catching my vibe, people eventually settled on a coat and we moved on to winter boots, which started the “I don’t really like mine” cycle all over again.

A displaced Yazidi girl smiling in her new coat
But rather than dismiss them as ungrateful, let’s consider something: a few months ago, these people had homes, money, and the ability to make choices. Their life was not unlike yours. They had channels to click through, whole aisles of cereal, and the freedom to travel, picnic, and hang out with whoever they liked—or to avoid people who annoyed them! Whenever, wherever, whatever, the choice was theirs.

Now they're stuck with what they have, which is almost nothing.

Apart from deaths of loved ones, this may be one of the least obvious, most painful thing a refugee can lose: choice.

So, as my stupid frustration subsides, I'm humbled by the options at my fingertips. I was just on Amazon perusing a global buffet of trinkets I don't need, and I'm still not sure which cafe I'll pick to tap at my computer and sip my over-priced coffee.

But I'm sure of one thing: on the next trip to visit our displaced friends, I think I'll help that boy change out his pink coat for something else.

About Matthew Willingham

Matt Willingham is Preemptive Love's Senior Field Editor and writes primarily on politics, history, general updates and visual peacemaking through photography and film.

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One of the most painful things a person can lose
One of the most painful things a person can lose
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