Refugees Are a Constant. So Is Our Global Responsibility to Help Them

I wrote this before leaving for Cuba, but a lack of WiFi prevented me from posting it. The message still stands, as Trump’s ban is set to return this week.

Doesn’t America have a responsibility to accept people fleeing war and conflict?

The S.S. St. Louis cruise liner carried 900 Jews fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939. They hoped to reach Cuba, as all passengers had procured Cuban visas; most eventually planned to settle in America. Hitler’s wrath had begun and these Jews sought to save their lives.

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Jewish refugees aboard the S.S. St. Louis. Photo in the public domain. 

Cuba had accepted full families of Jews on other cruise liners. One family happened to be that of the woman I live with, Marion Kreith. She was a young teenager at the time and took refuge in Havana working in a diamond-polishing factory, with many other Jews, before immigrating to the U.S. after the war. Marion’s daughter Judy Kreith has since made a documentary on her mother’s story.

Yet tragically, the S.S. St. Louis, wasn’t as fortunate as the other ships. Under the rule of the dictator Batista, Cuba turned away this ship of refugees. The S.S. St. Louis turned to the U.S., but was also refused. The ship had no other option but to return to Europe. Over 250 of the passengers ended up perishing in the Holocaust over the next five years.

Why is this story relevant?

Look at what’s happening today in the U.S.. Trump’s ban on accepting refugees from seven particularly war-torn, Muslim countries is not too dissimilar. Is it as bad as the plight of the S.S. St. Louis? Well, looking back to 1939, the situation in Europe surely didn’t appear as bad as it actually was. Yet, the Holocaust happened.

Thus today, even with better reporting, social media and photojournalism, we still aren’t privy to the atrocities that these refugees are fleeing from in Syria, Libya, Sudan and the other banned countries. We can’t imagine a thing as deplorable as the Holocaust happening today.

Oh, but wait. We are are privy to it. Mass civilian bombings, mass hangings, kidnappings, rape, and executions—all inescapable parts of life for many of the refugees seeking safety in America. All from Muslim countries. So is turning away individual families, which tallies to thousands of people, just as deplorable as turning away Jewish refugees during WWII? In my opinion, yes. Surely there are many intricate nuances and complexities to this topic that I don’t mention here and deserve recognition in a political discussion, but the general premise stands.

I hope that “Never Again” is not an empty platitude hung only in museums.

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Syrian civilians after an air strike hit a hospital in Aleppo. Photo: BBC, AFP

Cuba, I’m Coming For You

Just in time for a 100k race in Arizona in two weeks, I’m going to Cuba! My time away from sticky jungle has been too long, and more importantly it’s time to give back and explore internationally once again. This trip feels like a mini-version of my time living and teaching in Thailand because service is at its core.

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Rock and me washing shoes that are in good enough condition to give. 

 

I’m going with One World Running, an organization that’s been going to Cuba, Haiti, Honduras, Belize, Guatemala and Cameroon for years, all in the name of running shoes.

One World Running was started by the brilliant journalist, world-class runner and witty eccentric Mike Sandrock, “Rock” as his runner friends call him. He was racing a marathon in Cameroon in 1986 and noticed a local runner racing in a pair of broken sandals. And the local runner beat him! Moved by the palpable privilege gap, after the race, Rock gave his fellow competitor his shoes. An idea brewed.

Rock knew there was too much passion and love and need in the sport of running to not do something about the global need for running shoes. Fast forward a few decades and add Ana Weir, a travel, Spanish and everything-in-between expert, and One World Running has donated thousands and thousands of shoes to people around the world.

This trip to Cuba is unique in that we are giving shoes to elite Cuban runners (think sub 2:30 marathoners). The other trips have a broader focus, giving thousands of shoes to large high schools.

It’s also unique in that we put on a race for the elite Cuban field of runners, comprised of teams from each province. The race takes place on the infamously steep road called “La Farola” in the ecological beauty of a city, Baracoa. This is in the province of Guantanamo, just north of Guantanamo Bay that’s infamous for other reasons.

Before the Cuban Revolution (1953-59), the only access to Baracoa was by sea. Then in the 1960s, the 120km La Farola road was built from Guantanamo to Baracoa, through the winding mountains. It’s now seen as a showcase of the strength of the revolution. I hear it’s really steep…

To get a better feel for this adventure, read a piece on last year’s version of the trip, with Hoka elite ultrarunner Mike Wardian, in Competitor

And say tuned for another pre-departure update, and/or Cuban history factsheet. Learning is fun!

In the meantime, running 25 miles tomorrow and skiing 20 miles on Sunday. Gotta get it all in before the world implodes.

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To anyone who’s ever given shoes to Boulder Running Company, Flatirons, Fleet Feet, thank you, because One World Running collects them! And to people who’ve shipped shoes to Boulder, major thank you!