Don’t feel sorry for refugees…

“Today, it is estimated that more than 7,600 asylum seekers and refugees live on Lesbos. Some 5,000 of them live in extremely poor conditions in Moria, the largest camp on the island which has previously been described by some as a “prison”.

In November 2017, Lesbos Mayor Spyros Galinos had warned that the island ….”

NO NO NO STOP. I’m not here to tell you what you should already know. I’m not here to be the guy you see on the news who makes your tears choke in your throat when he shows a lifeless child’s body floating on the water or tells how many people were killed in the bombing last night. If you feel sympathy for these losses, that’s great but I can’t tell you but this; IT IS NOT ENOUGH. Your tears won’t heat those who live in the freezing tents out there, it won’t save their lives, it won’t fill their empty stomach or give them any better life than the one they’ve lost. Your tears will not. But, trust me, YOUR ACTIONS WILL.

Countless times I’ve seen posts on my facebook feed about the war in Syria and the refugees’ crises. 99% of them just made me sad, frustrated and helpless. Recently a friend of mine shared a video of two little Syrian girls describing the destruction in Ghutah. I couldn’t help but feel terrible, and when I was about to hit the share button I asked myself: “Does this really help? How many of my facebook friends would feel terrible the same way I did, hit the share button and move on?”. I didn’t need to share that video to spread the news, everyone knows what the fuck is happening in Syria. To “share” is the bare minimum we can do BUT most of the time it is the ONLY thing we do!

When the Egyptian revolution began on 25 Jan 2011, the news was all I was watching. For months I was following every single detail, day and night. It was the light everyone was waiting for, the hope for a promising future. When the revolution failed I was so devastated, I stopped following the news and cleaned my facebook feed from anything related to it. And for 5 years since the war broke out in Syria and refugees fled their country, for all that long I can’t remember if I did anything worth mentioning to help. Not that I wasn’t informed about what was happening but the opposite. Still, my facebook feed was full of photos, videos, and posts about the crisis. But the more I saw of it the more I felt helpless. Feeling sorry and sharing was all I could do… OR that is what I thought.

“Want to change the world? Start by being brave enough to care”

Finally, in December 2017 after my friend Thai told me she’s going to Lesbos island to volunteer for one month I decided to join: it was the time to do something. The first 2 hard weeks went by and it was Christmas time. We wore our red hats, walking around the camp, two other volunteers and me, knocking doors and giving chocolate away to kids. I felt a tiny warm hand holding mine, her other hand pressing on my loose fingers making sure I’m holding tighter. Jana from Syria, 6 years old with her pink pajamas wasn’t looking for chocolate, just a hand to hold.

At that moment I realized why I wasn’t doing much for all those years. I wanted a magical button to press and end the world’s suffering and without that button whatever I’ll do would be worthless and maybe somehow you are still looking for that button too. Most of us are passive about what’s happening around and that’s why the world is still the way it is. It took me 2 weeks in Lesbos and a touch of Jana to understand that saving the world doesn’t need a magical button, doesn’t need a fortune or superpowers.

“If you can’t do great things, do small things in a great way.” – Napoleon Hill

In two months on Lesbos I met all kind of people. Those who left their home country and moved to live on the island to help, volunteers from all over the world, young and old, those who kept leaving and coming back, all headed there simply because they care. So if you can go there and help you should definitely do it, not only because you will change people’s lives but because they will change yours too.

It has been 2 months since I left Lesbos and I don’t want to fall in the trap where you go help for a while or donate some money and then go back to your normal life like you are done fixing the world. The challenge I’m trying to overcome is to keep helping and a sustainable contribution and not based on my physical presence in the camp.

One of the projects I’m trying to push forward is teaching refugees English though WhatsApp by pairing them up with one of my friends who does speak Arabic/Farsi/Kurdi in addition to English. Not only because English is very critical in their situation but also because it helps them make friends, feel less isolated and stay in touch with people who speak their language and could help them with a variety of things.

“We can’t fix the world all at once, but piece by piece.”

So if you’re still wondering what you can do to help, me and other friends are trying to launch all kind of projects to get more people involved and it would be great to have you onboard. So if you’d like you can fill and share this form.

It’s a long list of things you can actually help with. If you can’t go onsite, motivate others to do so, donate to NGOs, fight the stereotypes about refugees, welcome them in your country, help to integrate them into your society. And maybe the next time you want to hit the share button, think what else you can do, or at least attach to it a link/message to make your friends get involved and make a change not just spreading news and negativity.

Don’t feel SORRY for refugees — believe in them.