By Hau Le from Vietnam
Mary Poole is an ordinary mother with an extraordinary journey and writing about her in the Mother’s Day is a privilege to me.
Approaching her final stage of labor, Mary Poole always has to struggle with her baby bump. A nurse by training, Mary is an unlikely person who you could ever imagine a social activist would look like. Yet, when Soft Landing is brought up, no one could ever stop her enthusiastic rant.
It all started with the shocking image of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Kurdish-Syrian child, whose death on the shore of Turkey triggered the arguably largest refugee crisis the world has ever seen. Mary was among the average American who watched the news and was moved by the picture. But unlike others, Mary kept questioning herself what she could do to make a difference, or, perhaps, a redemption, for what is happening with her planet. A few phone calls and a number of other like-minded mothers, Mary came up with a spontaneous idea: what if Missoulians could work together to bring some of the refugees to the city. No longer after that, Soft Landing was organized to provide assistance for incoming refugees in their integration of the new society.
The rest was history. Mary could spend the whole day to explain to us about the laws on refugees, asylums, and immigration, and how difficult the system has become over the past few months. Tears may come when she talks about a Congolese family who abandoned their lives in the hometown to risk traveling a thousand miles to a city where no other Congolese has ever lived, or when the story of a Syrian mother who did her best to bring the children to the US is told. In the last several years, the young and spontaneous Soft Landing Missoula estimates it has successfully, together with the nationwide International Rescue Committee, resettled several dozens of refugee families from more than five countries in the world. She, together with her one-staff team and a handful of volunteers, devoted the time to teach the refugees with basic living skills in the America. In August, Soft Landing will organize its first annual soccer competition, with a catching name "2017 World Refugee Cup". Mary is optimistic that it will be a huge success.
Mary always believes that leaving the country is always the last option and that nobody is coming to the America for a silver spoon. Yet, that view is not always supported by the people around her. Having the privilege of living inside Missoula, one of the most liberal cities in the America, Mary receives tremendous support from her peers. But Mary shares that after the Paris attack in 2015, ultra-nationalist groups felt a moral duty to oppose whoever supports the resettlement of refugees in Montana, especially Soft Landing. Death threats and physical harassment poured in and there had been times that Mary thought about giving up. But during her lowest, Missoulians brought her up. Sometimes, a 50-dollar check comes in and she feels the need to live up to that expectation. Sometimes, people just drop by the humble place on Stephens Avenue and leave an old TV or a bag of toiletries. Those support has helped Mary overcoming the difficulties and moved on with her job. In 2017, Mary was celebrated as Missoula’s Peacemaker of the Year. She always joked about not knowing what the term even means.
We asked Mary what she would have done if she had known about the controversy of the refugee question back in 2015. Mary blushed and admitted that she was very naive at the time about politics and how divided her country is about the topic. She confessed that had she known about the situation, she would have never begun the initiative. Mary regards herself as someone who is always shy away from political involvement and governmental affairs. Yet, as she always committed, as a mother of a young son, she was moved by what happened on the shore of Turkey that day and decided to act to protect other "Alan Kurdi’s". She laughed at herself and told us that sometimes, naivety helps a lot. Mary holds no regrets about what she has been through, despite being someone with no background and perhaps no preparation at all. She embraces the journey as a book where you would never know what is awaiting you on the flip side of the page. But we all know that she has a good cause and that’s all it needs to move her forward.
Missoula is a strange place and Missoulians are strange people. Each of them are on a noble mission to save the world each by each yet their humbleness and self-awareness of own limitation has moved me a lot. People like Mary Poole proves what Margaret Mead said a century ago is correct: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has."