Every week, the program hosts a ‘Learning Circle’, where advocates and families come together to make connections in various ways. Amongst refugees from Rwanda, Burundi, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria, Afghanistan, and a number of other countries, the Learning Circles begin with group discussions focusing on different challenges of being a refugee in the United States. This time is also reserved to welcome local organizations and figures to speak about resources they are connected to that may be of interest to refugees. Additionally, these activities stimulate cultural exchange between locals and refugees regarding topics like traditions, social norms, family values, and more.
Once a year, the weekly Learning Circle is held outside and on campus at UNM’s Duck Pond. The focus is redirected towards other vital components of resettlement, such as play, social integration, and active engagement in the community. Aware of my hobby, the coordinators welcomed me to set up a slackline at the pond, and I was thrilled with the opportunity to finally organize a collaborative project with Crossing Lines.
The day of the Learning Circle was a warm and sunny New Mexican evening, a refreshing window of good weather after a week of bitter desert winds. While setting up the tree protection, the kids were puzzled and intrigued by all of the ropes, hardware, and webbing resting near the anchor. In the days before, I was a little nervous the kids wouldn’t be drawn to the slackline as much as I hoped. I was quickly proven wrong, having to peel kids off the webbing before I even had the line fully tensioned.
The slackline was an immediate hit, as if the last pull of tensioning was a bell ringing play time into session. I was quickly caught in a buzz of helping wobbly-legged children with their first attempts across. First came the ambitious kids, some making it all the way across first try, others bouncing on the webbing without hesitation and quite unconcerned with walking. The wary, yet interested kids stood nearby, eventually finding their place in line not able to fend off their curiosity any longer.
Over the next hours, more families, volunteers, and student advocates trickled into the session amassing a familiar crowd of faces. A group of local slackliners had another line rigged on some nearby trees, and soon enough they too were swarmed by kids bursting with stoke to have another try. Surrounding the lines were groups of people singing and playing music, sharing food, and enjoying the evening in the peaceful cove of the duck pond. A group of kids even got ahold of a spare rope I left out and took it as an opportunity to spark up an impressive jump roping session.
It seemed as though the playful and lighthearted nature of the slackline spread around a relaxing energy, creating an open space for unhinged fun and expression. Even when you’re unsure if you can balance on the line, by the time you’ve given it a few solid tries you’ve had so much fun that “if” you can do it doesn’t seem to matter as much anymore. Afterwards, you might be willing to give that drum a try even though you think you can’t keep much of a beat, or join in on a song you don’t quite know the words to yet just to embrace the fun of singing along. Maybe the next day you’ll carry the same attitude into the classroom and find out those math problems just needed a little more patience and couple more tries.