This week, I met with an Afghan applicant, a girl applying for TPS. This was my first opportunity to meet individually with a client and conduct the interview on my own. As I got ready for the meeting, I reviewed all of the information we already gathered for this client. I stopped and my breath hitched when I saw her birth date. Her birthday was only 8 days before mine, right down to the year. This girl was my age. At my age, she had fled the horrors of her home to settle in totally foreign environment.
Waiting for the girl to arrive in the lobby, my hands were shaky. Not only was I nervous to be responsible for something so deeply important to someone, but I was scared of facing a girl the same age as me who had seen so much. How could I possibly look her in the eyes? Feeling sympathy for her felt like an insult, a way to make me feel better about what she went through.
As we sat in the meeting room, I had the overwhelming urge to just embrace this girl. I wanted to do anything I could for her and her future because nothing could be done about her past. This is not the first time I've felt the undeniable urge to hug a client - I'm quickly learning that that is my first instinct. However, I refrained from doing so (that would be unprofessional) and went on with the meeting, asking all of the questions on the form.
I was again blindsided when she told me where her point of entry was: Fort Pickett in Virginia. Only two hours away from where I lived and studied and enjoyed life with my friends. I had even driven through Blackstone numerous times in the last couple of months. I saw the signs as I drove up and down I-85 to visit my family and then return to school. I was overwhelmed with the thought: "She is me." We were born only days apart from each other, we were separated by a mere two hours when she arrived in the U.S., and now I was in a meeting room with her in Atlanta. Even now, I can't explain the series of events that led to me meeting the woman. I am still in awe over the similarities between us but even more so over the differences in our lives that have led us down such different paths.
Separating these emotional thoughts from the work we do for our clients is the hardest part of the job for me so far. Even after meeting a client once, I feel a sense of loyalty to them. I feel an overwhelming responsibility to do all that I can for them. I am learning that being an advocate requires humanity. I always thought lawyers were cold and calculating (yet I still chose to go to law school), but in the brief time I've spent at GAIN, I've experienced the exact opposite. It is both humanity and compassion that drive the people that I work with. It is what is driving me, as I listen to the stories of the girl who could've been me.