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 staggering contrast between life at The Village — with its country club, pools and thriving 20- and 30-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.”
Jason and Tess were robbed at gunpoint during one of their first visits to Vickery Meadow. Despite that, in 2008, they moved in.
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,” Jason says. “Healing benefits the refugee, the neighborhood they live in, and, ultimately, the world beyond that.”
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. They strive to foster widespread peace, beginning with one person (“be the change you wish to see in the world …” as Mahatma Gandhi put it).
Seek the Peace’s office is inside the Ivy Apartments (notorious as the place 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 multiple misdemeanor offenses, he cannot 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.
The 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 or his peers facing similar tribulations.
“People aren’t projects,” says Jason, who refers to Daniel as his “good friend.”
Daniel spends several hours a day at Jason’s office. He is studying for his high school equivalency test, he says, and, with Jason’s help, trying to straighten out his legal matters and land a job.
Jason has enjoyed past success in the private sector. Tess is an interior designer, and the pair own a remodeling business. They had two children and moved into a house. Although they could take a safer, easier path, they refuse.
When Jason talks publicly about accepting refugees into our country and city (something that, due to today’s political climate, he is frequently asked to do) 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. Ignoring isn’t right,” he says. “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.”
MORE: Visit the website at seekingpeace.org. Learn how to volunteer and purchase merch that benefits hardworking, creative peace-seeking refugees. The Seek candle collection is one of their newer offerings. Made by refugees who are teaching others to make them, the sleek, sepia-tinted jars deliver scents such as tobacco and leather, grapefruit and mangosteen, floral and fig, to name a few, and they cost about $22 apiece. “Our mission is to bring people together – in the midst of conflict – in an effort to restore what has been broken. When you purchase an item from Seek you enable us to work toward this mission in a more sustainable way.”