I have some good news! I’ll be heading back to Greece in February. And...my daughter is going with me on this trip!! How cool is that!?! Not a day goes by that I do not think about my Syrian friends and the situation in Greece. My thoughts and conversations are constantly flooded with their struggles. Fortunately, I am in weekly and sometimes even daily contact with one particular friend.
I also apologize for just now getting the third installment to this series but my thoughts are often changing as I continue to process my time there. I have two major issues regarding the current situation. And I hope this trip will help me wrestle through one of them. The vast majority of refugees (I’d say 99.5% of them) have been left in limbo and are currently incapable of usefulness. They have been ripped from their homes, occupations, and culture. And now they are being robbed of their dignity.
I don’t mean to suggest that people are intentionally doing this. I don’t think that is the case. People are doing the best they can. Those who are volunteering themselves, putting their lives on hold (see my last post), are my heroes. But the refugees have become completely dependent upon the goodwill of others. Whether that be the EU, UNHCR, or the Anarchists (which I’ll get to in a later post). They sit around aimlessly most days awaiting interviews so they can be vetted for resettlement. Unfortunately, most have or will spend more than a year in this process.
That’s a lot of time! Just think, there are somewhere around 100,000 Syrian refugees in Greece right now. I cannot even begin to imagine the talent and gifts available in the camps and squats. There are teachers, business people, medical persons, storytellers, and so much more simply sitting around aimlessly. In the meantime, they are lost in grief and fear.
One problem facing squats and camps is the lack of school opportunities for children. Greece welcomed the refugees and opened their schools to the children but unfortunately the schools filled up and there is no longer any room. Another is the need to learn English or another language. English is a valuable language that will help refugees resettle in new countries. Additionally, Greece has been pretty welcoming of refugees but the lack of solutions to the crisis does have some impact on the situation.
What if we could empower and mobilize the refugees to serve themselves? What if they could teach the children who can’t get into schools, teach others English, create business in Greece, and/or prepare them with entrepreneurial skills for the future?Can you imagine the beauty that could come out of this?
I’ve often heard it said, “Don’t hand someone a fish, teach them how to fish.” Well...what if we just handed them a damn pole and let them fish? These are intelligent people with lots of various experiences and skills. I believe they can and will use their God-given talents, gifts, and creative imaginations to make the most of this horrible situation, if we can create space and opportunity for them to help themselves.
What if we were able to discover the gifts and talents the refugees possess? What if refugees could begin finding solutions to their own problems? Obviously, I am all for outside help. But rather than being paternalistic, what would happen if we empowered the refugees to begin organizing themselves. I am certain there is a wealth of resourcefulness, gifts, and talents among them. And that is what I’m determined to go discover.
My intention behind this trip will be to meet with some of my friends, as well as new ones, in order to ask them how they might envision helping themselves. My hope is to spark a new imagination of how they may serve and care for one another. I want to gather around a table and give them permission to dream. Who knows what will happen. Maybe some really cool ideas will come forth, maybe it will plant a seed for future ideas to be generated, or maybe (hopefully) I’ll discover that this is already taking place.
During my last trip, I met a refugee group that organized itself to serve their community. This group comes and cooks for one of the squats on a daily basis and recently began working with the children on various dances as a way to preserve their culture. I hope to meet with them during the trip to learn more of what they do. Here is a video and an excerpt from Facebook of what they’re doing with the children:
Among the Jafra team activities with refugees in Athens, the team established Naji Al Ali Dance Ensemble that consists of 12 children and trained them on traditional dance. After more than one month of training with children, the dance ensemble made a performance inside the 5th school (refugee squat) where they live. On 18 December, the dance ensemble also performed in an open event for public in Monastiraki Square. The event involved singing, traditional dance “Dabke”, and another dance performance where they expressed their messages as children who witnessed conflicts in their countries and who escaped from their countries seeking for a safe haven for them with their families to find themselves stranded in Greece.
Along with meeting with various people regarding what it may look like to begin empowering Syrian refugees to self-organize, we will also sit and listen to those living in the squats and camps. We will share pictures and tell one another stories about our families. As my friend Muhamed explained, “The greatest thing you can do is come and visit us. It shows us that you care and we are not forgotten.”
We will also supply various basic needs for the squats: diapers, baby formula, food, etc. During my last trip (with Servant Group International) those on the trip were able to raise enough funds to purchase two months worth of diapers and baby formula for 5th street school (one of the squats) as well as a week's worth of breakfast and two weeks worth of dinner for another squat of 40 families. There is NEVER enough formula and diapers. So if you’re interested in helping please visit our gofundme page (click here) and consider giving 10, 25, 50, or 100 dollars today. Or...even $500 :).
As always, if you have questions or comments, feel free to contact me. Thanks for everything!!