The Village Apartments is a sojourn for countless Dallas dwellers en route to the house and white picket fence of the archetypal American dream. It was for Jason Clarke and his wife, Tess, founders of Seek The Peace, though they are no typical couple. They’ve traveled the world volunteering in embattled areas. They found the staggering contrast between life at The Village — with its country club, pools and thriving 20-somethings — and that in Vickery Meadow, on the other side of Northwest Highway.“Walking literally across the street, realizing there are people here from all over the world fleeing conflicts, that was the beginning of our experience,” Jason says. There are more than 40 armed conflicts going on in the world right now, he adds. “And we only hear of two or three of them on the news.” It struck him that, for many people, escaping war was but the beginning of their plight. “That [insight] propelled us to do something.” They were robbed at gunpoint during one of their first visits to Vickery Meadow. Despite that, in 2008, they moved in. There already were several organizations and churches working here — the Vickery Meadow Improvement District, Vickery Meadow Learning Center and the International Rescue Committee, to name a few. The Clarkes invited their Vickery Meadow neighbors to dinner, and listened to their stories, seeking gaps in existing services. What was missing, they decided, “is help dealing with the pain and brokenness that the past has caused,” Jason says. He hopes his master’s degree in international affairs and bachelor’s in law and society, as well as his continued training in conflict resolution, makes him an effective mediator of problems prevalent in refugee communities. “The effects of trauma often include secondary violence, where you see destructiveness like alcoholism. Crime can be a byproduct of trauma … Healing benefits the refugee, the neighborhood they live in, and [beyond].” The idea is to work with individuals or small groups to empower them to become leaders in their communities, Jason explains. For example, Tess leads an “identity/worth-building” program for women and teens. Theirs is a micro, grassroots effort that requires loads of patience. The goal is to foster widespread peace, beginning with one person (“be the change you wish to see …” as Mahatma Gandhi put it). Seek’s office is inside the Ivy Apartments (where Ebola patient Eric Duncan resided before his 2014 death). There we meet a smiling, soft-spoken and polite 19-year-old Congolese refugee named Daniel. He dropped out of high school, and due to some misdemeanors, he can’t acquire a driver’s license. His life is thorny right now, but nowhere near as desperate as it was months ago, after he fell in with a gang and barrelled down a destructive path too often taken by young male refugees. High school graduation rate for refugees is in the low 30 percent range, Jason says, which leads to a loss of opportunity and an increased sense of despair. There is no quick fix for Daniel. “People aren’t projects,” says Jason, who calls Daniel his “good friend.” Daniel spends several hours a day at Jason’s office studying for his high school equivalency tests. Jason and Tess own a remodeling business. They had two children and have moved into a house. Still, they refuse to take the safe or easy path, though. When Jason talks publicly about accepting refugees into our country and city, a frequent calling these days, he contends that we cannot deny people help in the name of perfect safety, “something we can never achieve anyway.” He takes the same approach in his own life. “We have to either engage or ignore,” he says. “Ignoring isn’t right. There is real fear, on both our side and theirs. So we must engage in a way that transcends that skepticism and builds trust, by spending a lot of time with people. Then they go back and build peace within their own faith, language and culture.”
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