Our World Needs Superheroes: A Look at the 2016 Olympics Refugee Team

“Superheroes were born in the minds of people desperate to be rescued.”

Jodi Picoult, The Tenth Circle

The World Needs Superheroes: A Look at the 2016 Olympic Refugee Team

As a kid, who was your favorite superhero? Did you dream of flying with Superman, or want to drive the Batmobile? Did you long to be like Wonder Woman? As children, superheroes mean  excitement and adventure, but as we mature, there is a deeper longing for superheroes too. We long for people to save us in superhuman ways from all kinds of trouble.

And isn’t our world full of trouble? As I scan headlines, I long for a superhero to swoop in and save the day.

In our reality-television culture, we are glued to social media and various news outlets to see what outlandish thing the potential leaders of the free world have said or done lately. Half the country distrusts Hillary Clinton, and the other half is disgusted as Donald Trump shows his ass on a daily basis. And as Americans, many of us eat it up.

But around the world, there are more serious issues looming. According to the UN’s website, 21 million refugees and a total of 65 million people worldwide have been forcibly displaced. That’s nearly three times the population of the ten largest U.S. cities combined. On average, 33,972 people per day flee for their lives. They’re forced to scavenge for food and clothing, and watch as their loved ones are murdered and their villages are burned to the ground at the hands of ruthless people.

Our world needs a new team of superheroes, something deeper and more real than Marvel or DC ever imagined. The Superman stories aren’t about kryptonite or the ability to fly as much as they help us believe good can triumph over evil. Batman doesn’t just show off cool gadgets and defeat the evil Penguin or Joker. He gives us hope that the darkest days will soon be over and there is a hero who will rescue us.

Beginning August 5th in Rio, the world will be introduced to a new group of superheroes. At the 2016 Olympics, there will be 10,500 athletes competing, but the world will be watching 10 in particular. For the first time ever, the International Olympic Committee has chosen a refugee team to compete.

According to NBC News, this group is made up of:

“...two swimmers from Syria — one who escaped to Germany (Yusra Mardini) and another who ended up in Belgium (Rami Anis); a pair of Congolese judokas abandoned by their coach in Brazil three years ago (Popole Misenga and Yolande Mabika); an Ethiopian marathoner who drives a taxi in Luxembourg (Yonas Kinde); and five long-distance runners from South Sudan discovered by Loroupe (Yiech Pur Biel, James Nyang Chiengjiek, Anjelina Nadai Lohalith, Rose Nathike Lokonyen and Paulo Amotun Lokoro).”

I cannot wait to see how these true superheroes will fare.

In an interview with The Telegraph, Paulo Amotun Lokoro, a 1500m runner, said this: “So, refugees, they are human beings like other people. Refugees, they can do something here like anybody else.”

I disagree. This group of refugees are doing something unlike the rest of the civilized world. They are competing for something far more valuable than a medal: they are fighting for their very dignity, in a time when dignity has gone by the wayside.

Our children need new role models, and I want one, too. I remember as a kid, being enamored with Michael Jordan and General Norman Schwartzkopf. For my parents’ generation, it was Pele’ and the inspiring speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy. As I scan the global landscape, I am left wondering where our heroes have gone.

Another member of the team, Anjelina Nadia Lohalith, told Sports Illustrated, “We are representing the millions of refugees all over the world. Maybe in years to come, I will represent myself. But at this moment, we are their light. Wherever they are now, at least they will have some encouragement and know: we can do something.”

This group has the potential to be more heroic and inspiring than Superman, Batman, or Wonder Woman could ever dream. They have the chance to become examples for us and our children, reminding us that anything is possible, if we work hard, believe in our dreams, and hold on to the hope for a better tomorrow: a future full of dignity for every human being.


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