For this post, we decided to use an email exchange of ours from earlier this week while the sister is on a volunteer trip abroad.
What’s happening? How’s your day so far? I can’t believe how jetlagged I am on this trip – I woke up at 1am last night and was up until 5. My body is like – you can’t trick me, fool!
Anyway, this is my delirious hello from abroad!
It’s cold here back home. How are things in Greece? What are you doing exactly?
It’s so different than where I was last time when we were in an open camp of 1500+ people at a gas station on the side of the highway. This camp is in an abandoned airport so where most of the people are living we don’t even go. We set up the project outside. I’m here to establish a protocol for identifying vulnerable populations and then creating a training for volunteers in what they should do once they have identified someone at risk of abuse/neglect/trafficking/etc. This camp is really established so I think it will not be too hard once I have all the info and type something up that I can print. I’m also just doing a general child safety check on the premises. For example, a couple of well-meaning Spanish guys wanted to build a swing set over concrete hung between two shipping containers. Had to politely tell them thanks but no thanks – don’t really want kids cracking their skulls on concrete where we are trying to provide a safe, calming environment. And then there’s a giant, heavily populated road that little ones are meandering toward which gave me heart palpitations so trying to come up with a creative solution to keep kids closer to camp even when they are not engaged in our activities. Once I’m done with this camp, I’ll head west to the other site we’re planning to operate in to basically do the same – establish a protocol, evaluate the site for safety, etc. My hope is to finish that all in time to go meet up with the people I met in spring to help them for a couple of days with their mobile library. I hope this makes sense out of my jetlagged brain…
Yes, that makes sense. Even heroes get jet lagged. How are the spirits of the people there now opposed to when you were there in the spring? Are they happy with the new accommodations at the airport instead of the side of a road? How are folks adapting to a whirlwind of change in the lives of so many?
These are completely different families. It’s a bigger population of asylum seekers from Afghanistan. The camp I was in was mostly Syrians – from what I understand most of them are still up north but I have heard of some who finally got relocated to other countries and reunited with their families. The energy in March was so anxious, vibrant, a lot of people were still newly arrived and that camp was just getting set up. Some have been here for almost a year – still getting a feel for things but the volunteers are using the word “resigned” a lot. The level of trauma on some of the kids was physically noticeable – this little girl couldn’t have been older than 2 and her little face was so tense & serious. Everyone told me it’s impossible to get her to smile and she never cries.
Damn, my heart goes out to that little girl and the families coping with the situation. Keep her away from concrete swing sets!
It’s encouraging that people are being relocated and connected back with their families. Although it’s challenging to imagine having to be ‘relocated’ from my home here in Folsom and to have to start over in a new country or another state of someone else’s choice. I mean, what if I was told that there was room in the Sahara Desert to start over? Or a slab of ice floating in the arctic? This makes me grateful to have a home and still be with family and friends with our big houses and fancy cars. Not sure how long we would last in a tent or a rundown airport without all of the luxuries that we’re accustomed to. It’s amazing what we take for granted around here. You had to remind even me the other day when I was pouting about not having this or that.
Right? I think of what we take as necessary for recreational camping for a weekend. Most of these people fled with nothing. They had to leave everything behind and cross the deadly and dangerous sea, only to be met with contempt by an entire continent of misinformed people who would just as soon send them back to the bombings. Thank God for the Greeks! They have a failing economy of their own but they are processing massive people with the help of NGOs and volunteers, trying to relocate people to be with family, etc.
You make a great point. It’s hard to even think of how easy we have it & how hard we make it on ourselves. To be warm and fed and have someone who loves you. What the hell else do we really need?
Jesus. I can’t imagine being forced across the sea to a completely unknown future packed onto a flimsy raft in potentially shark-infested waters or turning back to a destroyed country having to dodge bombs. To be stuck in a decision like that. My toughest decision right now is what gym cloths to stuff in my bag or what to make my mini-me for dinner or who to ask out for sushi. Good job to all the volunteers and everyone reaching out a hand to help!
Two days later, after a phone conversation when I was feeling pretty down and Tony lifted me up…
I think it’s like midnight or 1am your time. I wanted to tell you THANK YOU for that talk we had on Wednesday. It brightened my spirit so much. Also, time is kind of warped here so it feels like that was a year or maybe just a minute ago – hard to tell. It’s also hard to tell because I’ve officially moved on from single to double cappuccinos.
Anyway, I realized that I was getting really overwhelmed with the depth of the crisis – there are some 60,000 refugees in camps across Greece and so many issues facing them, from the cold winter coming in, to being exploited by traffickers to worrying about the friends, families, neighbors still being bombed to shit back home. I think I started feeling a little frozen – like what good can I really be doing here? Who cares if I make a policy about child protection. We need to stop the flipping war and get all these people to permanent safety. But our talk and getting some perspective really helped. And the starfish story is such a good reminder. Whatever good we can put out in the world, even if it only positively impacts one person. It positively impacted that person. And that is worth all the effort in the world. Remembering that energizes me. It reminds me to just stay open to every opportunity to be of service, whether it’s in a small way like reaching down to pick up a little girl who has her arms reached up to me and looking past the scabs on her face into her dark brown eyes and smiling straight into her heart; or providing some simple administrative support to try to train volunteers in how to understand the way trauma manifests in behaviors and how best to respond. That energy is for good. And it’s worth it.
Love you so much. Thanks for always bringing the perspective I need and for being you.
Thanks to you for being present and open, that little girl was the starfish. Besides the unconditional love that you two shared, she may now have a sense of compassion in a dark time and maybe someday will be able to pick up a little life that has arms stretched out without hesitation. I think that is where the big impact starts, with one and not 60,000. Our actions speak volumes compared to our words. I know that someone else witnessed that act of selflessness and it filled their heart box and they will be driven to reach out themselves.
Thank you for starting my day with a swollen heart and a mind full of gratitude.
The Starfish Story:
Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he started working. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions. Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small girl approaching. As the girl walked, she paused every so often and as she grew closer, the man could see that she was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea.
The girl came closer still and the man called out: “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
The young girl paused, looked up, and replied: “throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves.”
“When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”
The old man replied, “but there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”
The girl bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she turned, smiled and said, “it made a difference to that one!”