Humans of Moria

Tonight we will be reading books to the children in Moria, the camp that everyone knows from the horrible images on tv as ‘the prison’. I am with my colleague who stepped into glass while we were swimming with the woman’s group last week. She has not been able to walk nor work since then. She hobbles with her crutches and one arm in mine up the hill but she is happy anyway, she just really wants to do something for these people here and help out. Our stroll towards the family compound normally takes 5 minutes, but this time at least 15. Not only because she can’t walk fast, but mainly because we are held up by the refugees the whole time: What happened? You okay? Can we help? Shall I carry you?” Everyone is helpful and engaged. We look at each other and are surprised again over the amount of love thats hanging in this 38degrees air. The refugees spend their days in the heat, mostly staring purposeless across the barbed wire, waiting for news or a decision about their future. Most of them have been here for months without any news. The situation makes them desperate, those are stories that we hear everyday. But not today. Today everyone is doing whatever they can to help my colleague getting around.  There is even a volleybal area, just created, and there are 21 guys playing, and one woman dressed in a hijab. Girl power. We smile towards each other. Small things, big effect. When we get up the hill at our destination, we hang our bags on the barbed wire. It is weird but it starts to become normal as if we have never done anything else before. During the reading session, which is led by Afghani mothers, we both really enjoy what’s happening. The mothers read in Farsi to all the children who are sitting on a blanket on the floor, listening silently. This is what we aim for: facilitate that the refugees run their own educational and social support projects. It works a thousand times better than anything else and is much more sustainable. The women feel empowered and useful and of course, they can do this way better than we can! My colleague looks at me and smiles a smile filled with gratefulness. Sometimes it’s possible to forget the bizarre situation we are in and for a few seconds it is just really really really nice to be here.

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Humans of Afghanistan

“We want to talk about colors!”, says one of the Afghan beauties. The whole group agrees. Well, let’s do that! The Afghan ‘woman’s group’ is a support group for young woman who join twice weekly and want to find support and relaxation. The goal is that they run the group themselves as much as possible. We are only there to facilitate. But tonight they have asked me to give some input. I give them a little class on ‘color psychology’ and ask them for the meaning of colors in their opinion. Our answers are quite similar. After I have explained the meaning of a few colors as simple as possible and we have written it down in both English and Farsi, I ask them which color has been most represented in their lives up until now. The answer “black” (the unknown, secrets”) is mentioned way too often in my opinion. Luckily a few of them answer “pink” (love, girly-ness) as well and explain that they feel loved by their families. So nice to hear. The next question is of which color they would to like to have more of in their lives. The answer is almost unanimous “blue” (peace and trust!) and “pink”. All of a sudden I feel really connected to them. I guess that’s why I came here in the first place – to give them a little of this because I feel like we should, can and need to do this together. I hand out a feather to each one of them in the color they wish for and ask them to hold it with both hands and close their eyes. We do a little wish-exercise in which they focus on the quality of the color and how to receive more of this in their lives. While they have closed their eyes, I look around the circle. There they are, the women full of talents and positivity, who came here with a longing for a safer life in freedom, but got stuck here at a camp where they should not have stayed for longer than 3 days in the first place.. They all are so special. I feel the tears burning behind my eyes. How much I wish I could take all of them with me back to Holland. All of a sudden my wish is more blue than ever. There is only one way to finish this exercise. Turn on the music, take off the hijabs and dance. Cause if there is one thing than unifies and relaxes, it’s music and dance. With a huge smile I say goodbye to these brave women. If they don’t get there and make it, I don’t know who will.

Humans of Iraq

A 20-year old boy walks up to our medical cabin. We have not seen his face before. He is here for a friend, who needs to see the doctor but doesn’t speak any English. He does speak English and wants to translate. He introduces himself as Fridoon and after the visit to the doctor he asks us if there is any psychological help available. As much as I as a psychologist wish to say yes to his request, we can’t since we are not allowed to provide any psychological care at this camp site. When I ask him if he is interested in translating for us for Afghani patients who only speak Farsi, he responds with enthusiasm. The next day he shows up right away. He appears to be an excellent help for us and all Farsi speakers that visit our doctors. We get to know him better and better over the week. He tells us about his trip to Europe that has taken him 6 months time. About the jobs he has done during his trip so he could stay alive but where he never got paid for. About the money he has lost on smugglers that made false promises about a crossing. About the severe physical torturing by smugglers as soon as he and others would speak their own language. And about the nerve-wrecking crossing two weeks ago and about the 4 people who fell overboard and drowned. These are all stories we hear more often here. But Fridoon also tells me something that I haven’t heard before. “My journey was horrible, so much inequality, discrimination, conflicts. But at that moment that we stepped on board of that boat with 40 people, we were one, despite our different nationalities, cultures and religion. We all had the same goal, getting to the other side alive. I felt warm, warmer than I had felt at any time during my journey before. We did it together, as one big family. It gave me hope for the future of this world.” And this is how the horrible stories can teach us something and give us hope too. There are so many refugees like Fridoon. Their stories are worse than we can actually take in from our safe harbors in the west. Let’s try to solve this together too. We ARE one.

Puzzled

Today I am making puzzles with a few teenage boys. De puzzles are meant for 4-year-olds but it doesn’t seem to matter for these boys, not even for the teenagers. They really enjoy creating this Lion King puzzle, whether they are trying to be cool or not. My new friend William comes and sits next to me. He is from Cameroon, speaks a few words French and is a beautiful sweet little child. We guess he is about 8 years old and wants to make the puzzle too. I give him the pieces. He picks up a few pieces, stares at them for a while and then decides to shove them to the side. All he does is gaze at the picture at the front of the puzzle box. I realize he doesn’t understand what to do with the pieces and maybe he even has never made a puzzle in his life before. I wonder what his life has been like before arriving here by boat in the middle of the night. Has he been to school at all? He points at the animals on the picture and his face lights up when I start roaring like Simba does. His little sister Bena is 2 years old. She is the cutest toddler I have ever seen, but we can all see she is struggling a lot. She can’t interact with others normally and keeps on hitting the other children and taking away their toys. And of course, therefore others don’t want to play with her. With us she is very clingy and she starts crying as soon as we focus our attention on another kid. She just wants to be held all day long and stay with us. When her mum comes in to pick her up, she jumps excited into her mothers’ arms. But her mother does not respond, nor hold her. My heart breaks when I realize that this mother can’t give her baby what she needs. She is probable exhausted and jaded from everything she had to go through to get here with her children. And still she has no idea how life will unfold for her and her two children in the next couple of years. Everything is unclear when you are stuck in Lesbos and your life has been put ‘on hold’. I am more then sure she too wishes it all would have worked out differently…