I have had a fascination for lines of laundry since I started traveling. Not sure whether I am just a bit obsessed or crazy but it just always shows where in the world I am and what life is like. Here the children only have 1 or (if they are lucky) 2 sets of clothing and as it’s really cold these days in the desert, it takes more than a day to dry 1 set (on a barbed wired fence). Most of them only wear pajamas because those were distributed when they arrived here. They did not have time to pack their wardrobes because they had to flee quickly. The kids told me yesterday how they don’t want to go to school because they are too embarrassed to go in their dirty clothes. Plus, they are cold so they are hesitant to leave their tents. Can you imagine? I never had to worry about these things. I was only reluctant to get out of the hot shower into a cold bathroom. I actually still do, here…Crazy differences.
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.
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.
Meet my new inspirators: Kevin (middle) and Stephen (right). World-improvers pur sang. We met on Kevin’s 25th birthday over a week ago. I fell right with my nose in the butter, as we would say in Dutch (; In the middle of the Belizean jungle I met my kind of people: conscious people with the wish, need and determination to make the world a better place. Kevin works as a counsellor with HIV-patients for the National HIV Programme, Ministry of Health, Belize. He works in a clinic in Belize City and goes out into the rural areas to do HIV outreach work: giving information, free HIV-testing and helping patients to cope with their life-long-struggle of HIV or AIDS. His friend Stephen should have ‘NGO’ as his middle name. He has worked for several in the past and is a member of the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights as we speak, but together with Kevin also just founded the Belize Youth Empowerment for Change. With this organisation they are improving the chances and opportunities for the youngsters in Belize. Everyone knows Belize has amazing beaches and reefs, but on the other side of the beauty, there’s loads of challenges here: discrimination based on gender or sexual identity, crime-related-pressure, early sexual advancement, physical and emotional abuse and racism. Stephen and Keving help out wherever possible and give the young Belizeans a voice. I am telling you, these guys are making the world a better place and I wish you could all meet them in person. And guys, just so you know, the world already ís a better place with you in it. Mesi & Damou!
“My name is Juan Carlos, I am 12 years old. I go to school from 8AM till 2PM and then start working as a shoe polisher. I want to become an artist and need money to be able to go to college when I am older. It is my dream to become a painter. I don’t want to be in the picture alone, but you can take one together with my friend.I just polished his shoes. He is an amazing guitar-player and dreams of traveling to Europe to play in the Concert Halls there.”