I write as a call to everyone not to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the current refugee crisis, but to focus on the little things that we as individuals can do – by Kirsty Carter
It’s been two weeks since I returned from northern Greece where I had the opportunity to volunteer in two refugee camps, Kalochori and Sindos, both run by the Greek military. I was there for only a week, working with Nurture Project International.
* Please note that names have been changed in this article for privacy.
When I arrived in Greece, I spent the first few days feeling somewhat frustrated at bureaucracy and a general feeling of having our hands tied in certain situations.
There was the example of Nour*, the young mother who had just given birth to her first baby less than three weeks before I met her, at 34 weeks gestation. The baby had been born in hospital and was still in-house, but the most shocking thing to me was that the mother had not even touched or held her baby yet, and was having to adhere to “visiting hours” of one hour twice daily.
Given that Nour was in the camp, visits more than once a day were impossible, and even that was not being achieved. Despite having the involvement of several people from different organizations, trying to communicate with the hospital, Nour still hadn’t held her baby by the time I left Greece, and it wasn’t clear to anyone whether the breastmilk she had been expressing in the camp was being given to the baby.
Both times I saw Nour, she looked worn out and sad, to be expected given her situation. It was incredibly frustrating to witness.
And I felt particularly angry and overwhelmed if I stopped and looked around at the camps and remembered that all those people were there, without freedom of movement, waiting in a limbo for who knows how long.
And that’s when I realized that the difference that we can make may seem so small, but it can mean the world to those for whom you’re doing it.
For Nour, she felt the frustration and sadness about not being with her baby, but I know she appreciated having people try to fight the system for her.
For the old lady who came into our container every day, and cried and rocked the breastfeeding demo doll back and forth; she appreciated having someone massage her neck, her hands and give her a hug.
For the kids who came outside the factory building to the cold concrete slab that was their “play area”; they appreciated having some chalk to draw hopscotch, ropes to jump and bubbles to blow into the sunlight.
For the Elbaz* family, who invited me into their home and fed me coffee, tea and hot sandwiches; they appreciated having someone to listen as they told their stories and showed videos and photos, of their journey from Syria to Greece, which they hoped would reach a happy conclusion within a month as they awaited family reunification in Munich, Germany.
For Sayid*, who along with his pregnant wife, had walked with two bags on his back and carrying his son, sometimes in the dark to avoid military along the route, and who had paid 30 times more than a tourist would pay to cross via boat from Turkey to Greece; he appreciated empathetic ears.
For the mothers who came into the tents to bathe their babies in warm, clean water; they appreciated having a safe and cozy space to go with their kids.
And as such, I appreciated having this experience. I felt nothing but graciousness from everyone in the camps and by the time I left Greece I was incredibly positive about the tiny mark that I had left and energized to do more.
The differences that we can make may seem small, but next time you feel an urge to make a difference, or you read an article about this crisis that makes you angry, consider translating it into action. It can make a world of difference to people’s lives and it will truly enrich your own.