Dear Boldleaders and anyone who is reading,
Just a few weeks back i took an important decision: to go to Lesbos and volunteer for the refugees that are on the island. We all know the very challenging times that Europe is facing with regards to the refugee crisis.
Below is an account of my thoughts from the journey.
And a final reflection….it is time to go
I hadn’t written anything the past 3 days with the aim of collecting some last and powerful thoughts as I leave Lesbos. The past days and this whole experience has certainly being something extraordinary. It will be a long post but I invite you to read! I want the world to hear their story not mine!
After spending 10 days in Lesbos and 8 days on the field I feel I am leaving with experiences and realizations that I will carry for a lifetime. Experiences that make me feel the great responsibility me and mostly my generation has in the years to come. It is simply wasn’t a simple journey to Mytilini but another one that begins from here.
After the inability of our institutional mechanisms to deal with the refugee crisis a large amount of individuals and NGO’s stood up to fill that gap. Listening to many different narratives (mostly negative) about the whole crisis and the actual refugees I felt a responsibility to discover in person and on my own the reality on the ground. And what I first realized was that no pictures, videos, texts or articles have the ability to describe in the most personal way the current situation here.
My decision to come here was a decision to seek and look up to something greater to be able to motivate and inspire myself but also other people. It was a decision of going one step beyond, a decision based on ‘I am who I am because of who we all are’ or to put it otherwise “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity”. It was about doing my part in this collective responsibility that I believe every single person has towards another.
My time here has given me so much. New relationships, personal connections, moral growth, personal development and many more. I found every minute to be valuable beyond description. But it also left me with very mixed feelings. On the one hand the great work of individuals and organisations from all over the world are carrying out a great job and on the other hand a great amount of bitterness, anger, disappointment and frustration.
It hard to accept that in year 2017 human beings are living under such conditions. And this goes for all refugees whether in Jordan, Lesbos, Turkey or any other place. It is a question of values – we need to urgently re-define our values and principles.
I will never get to forget the smile on the people at the Kara Tepe refugee camp. They would look at me in my eyes and say “Hello, thank you” whether they had known me or not, whether I had helped them or their family. I felt so small in front of them. I felt that while a narrative exists that those people have nothing to give actually crush humanity in their own way. They have the courage to dream, to live with less and appreciate, they have the power to wake up and live every day. They have the power to inspire and send a message only with their look. And all this from those people who live in tents, who are poor, who are different than us, have a different faith, a way of life and thinking. They are themselves the counter narrative and the most powerful response to the above narrative I describe. They are powerful beyond measure. They still go to do their shopping, they still smile, they still cook sing and dance.
I will never forget those very short and quick encounters with many families from Congo, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan. All with a very traumatic story to share. Among them many scientists, doctors very bright and intelligent young people. We need to crush the narrative that surrounds the definition of a refugee. We need to remind ourselves the very basic needs and expectations that those people have. They never fled home because they saw Europe as a dreamland. They didn’t leave their homes to exploit what we THINK Europe has to give more to them. They fled to live a more dignified life, to find HOPE, to find home away from home. They left to end the fear of death, the uncertainty if they will wake up the next morning. And certainly we do as westerners have to bear and accept the responsibility for the rise of this phenomena.
And while departing this beautiful island I would ask myself every single day what is it that we can do as individuals?
-We need to speak about it in our communities, homes, schools, universities. The mere fact that big media outlets cannot sell these stories anymore don’t mean they don’t exist
-We need to find ways to contribute more in substance. It is about taking a bold decision to go one step beyond.
-We need to give HOPE to those people. We need to make them feel as assets to our communities. We have so much to get and learn from those people
-We need to think of a long tem plan. In a decade we will be faced with the challenge of how do we integrate a new generation of refugees that have had such a traumatic past.
-We need to re-define our values. We need to stand for something or simply we will fall for anything. We need to look deep inside us and take a stance. We need to demonstrate how gracious we are to those people and embrace them as fellow human beings, not strangers.
There are many more to list, but for now I can say: it doesn’t take much for us to do our bit.
Here in Lesbos, there was also another very important community to me that I learned so much from! It was my fellow team members. People from all walks of life, from other continents, with different passions but a very similar goal! To contribute wholeheartedly. People who in cases literally quit their jobs to be here, left family and children behind, their jobs and loved ones. The conversations I have had with them was astonishing. A lawyer and an economist sitting in Lesbos wanting to make some lives easier. Sharing very personal stories of what makes us who each one of us is. And to them I owe a big THANK YOU! You have given me so much and I appreciate it.
I want to close with a very personal story, a story that kept me up at nights a story that will be with me forever. The first day at the camp I promised myself I would not take any photos. I felt it would simply be a ludicrous act on my behalf. Pictures don’t mean much nowadays.
I did however meet Birhat a 3 year old boy who fled Iraq with his family. They belong to the Yazidis an ethnically Kurdish community that has gone through a lot. He was qute and sweet. He would always smile and laugh. He would run like crazy around the camp. His family was in the camp for 11 months waiting and hoping to be relocated somewhere elsewhere in Europe. I would do most of the work with him aside me. Just when I went to say goodbye to him the very last day he turned around and saw me with disbelief. He would start walking away pretending to be crying and taking a glance now and then. When he realized it was true that I would be gone for good he started throwing stones at me saying: ‘go and leave me here’ . I felt so small in front him, so powerless, so ashamed of humanity. For a moment I couldn’t feel the ground below my feet. I couldn’t accept that this was true. Birhat is NOT a 3 year old refugee from Iraq, he symbolizes every human being. He symbolizes what we have to stand for or we will simply fall for anything. Birhat is a reminder of how we ought to be more empathetic to each other. I can’t wait to see him again very soon.
Last but not least thank you again to those who supported me and made this mission possible for me! I always believed and believe in the power of people working together. ‘I am who I am because of who we all are’.
My mission was not my mission. This was a mission that anyone and everyone can take up. We owe it to ourselves. It can be in our home our communities, our schools. Let’s go one step beyond!