Boys will be boys

These tiny little fella’s look like boys anywhere else. They play, they joke, they laugh, they fight. The only difference is their stories. Stories of devastation, lost homes, lost lives, lost parents. Sometimes even losing them violently in front of their eyes. Eyes who are way too young to watch what they have watched. All growing up without a mother or a father. Here they are, on their knees, sharing their secrets and worries. And still, they play, they joke, they laugh, they fight. Like any other boy. If there is one thing I am learning from them, it is resilience. The courage to keep moving, to keep going forward. To not let anything make you give up. They are such clever, brilliant and wise human beings. I have faith that they will get wherever they want to go. Because they don’t give up. Giving up simply does not exist here. Let my little brothers inspire you on this Thursday night. To chase your dreams and go where you want to go. And don’t tell me something is stopping you. It’s only on your mind. Dream big and move forward. You simply owe it to them to do so.

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Lines of laundry

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.

Waiting for the sun

Life is never easy in a refugee camp. I have heard so many stories of people losing hope, fear and even worse, their dreams. There is no such thing as Sinterklaas or Christmas here. All they do is wait, waiting for the war to end, waiting for a future in the area where they fled from. Three years of waiting… Just compare that to our frustration when a train is five minutes late.. luckily, those displaced people invented the concept of resilience. And so a sunset like this one is still noted. Thanks to the ones pointing beauty out to me today.

Opgesloten in vrijheid

Soms interesseert het me echt geen reet dat ik opgesloten zit en het land niet meer uit kan. Zoals vandaag. Ik stel je graag voor aan Beri, Mardeen, Fawaz, Nasr, Hani, Sara, Mousa en Thanaa. 8 psychologen uit Syrië, Irak en Koerdistan. Werkend met onze kinderen en families op 14 verschillende kampen voor meer dan 10.000 vluchtelingen. Omstandigheden: ruk. Verhalen: verschrikkelijk. Situatie: schrijnend. Energie: onbeperkt. Je moet het maar doen hoor, week in week uit. Ik was al een miljard keer naar Europa gevlucht, klaar met de shit, maar godzijdank zijn zij als doorzetters hier. Voor die duizenden kinderen die de aandacht en het luisterend oor zooooo hard nodig hebben. En dus zoomden we vandaag in op NEEDS. Want die worden hier nauwelijks vervuld. En daar maken deze 8 A REAL CHANGE. “Het Masterplan”, noemden ze het zelf. Dat valt alleen maar uit te voeren met echt masters and that’s what they are.

Providing Psychological First Aid

************* I am sure that I HAVE *NEVER* BEEN THIS *** >> P R O U D << *** IN MY entire LIFE BEFORE! ******************

Look at my newly recruited and freshly trained team! 😍 My training has just finished and they are READY TO GO! 💪🏼 In the past three days they have already helped over 500 disaster-affected Afghan beneficiaries. Can you imagine how big their impact will be in the upcoming months?! Incredible!

I am SO SO SO SO happy and even more G R A T E F U L for their work, effort, energy, wonderful mindsets and HUGE hearts 💚 T H I S I S W H Y I D E C I D E D T O C O M E H E R E and this is what makes me want to stay 🙏🏼

Ps. OF COURSE I have also some great WOMEN in my team, but they cant be in the picture because of security reasons. But they are awesome, just believe me. Sister-power! 👭

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.

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…

Deep dark brown

Her eyes catch mine. Deep dark brown. In this moment it seems like I can see everything that her beautiful eyes have witnessed. Not beautiful. Probably horrible devastating frightful. Human beings at it’s most inhuman. Not to speak of the sounds. Or the feelings that came with it. Her eyes keep tracking mine. This little warrior seems to be looking for a yes. I wake up from the moment and hurry up with my nod, with a smile. She immediately crawls over the table on top of my lap and makes herself at home. Cuddling, joking, laughing, reading and speaking a few words of her newly acquired language. She sits here for over an hour and doesn’t leave until I really have to leave. Why does this hurt a little?

Next week. All children seem to have gone on a day-trip. I notice my own disappointment when I make my way out of the shelter. “This is selfish Anne”, I tell myself. “They are on a day trip, good for them”. My thoughts are not so kind today, at least not towards myself. I walk outside, feel the Dutch wind stroking the pores on my arm while I make my way back to my bike. Suddenly, the sound of footsteps and cackling coming from the soccer court. I turn my head and see two hands waving at me. Deep dark brown eyes. Two pairs this time. It’s her again, with her older sister.

“Book! You! Me!”. I nod happily and my whole being radiates my smile. Without any hesitation I drop my stuff on the courtyard and start playing. We run, laugh, giggle, score and let go of the ball. And I let get of my schedule. She points at her coat-less body and tells me to take of mine. I guess I am staying. Her fingers point at my bag full of books. We sit down on the courtyard, all three of us. She immediately crawls on my lap again and we go over the books together. I take out her favorite book from last week and she looks at me with joy. We try to read words and I give them search-assignments. Her older sister takes care of her the whole time – she definitely is the most supportive big sister a little sister could ever imagine. I observe how I am moved by the love they seem to share. Have they always been this kind towards each other? What were they like before they got on that boat?

We are the only ones outside today. The sun is on our face and it warms my whole being. Or is it them? I can’t stop staring at these two beautiful little beings. Little? No. They are so big in their kindness and compassion. In their resilience. In their love. In their curiosity and openness. They represent everything that we still need to learn.

My little warrior turns around as if she feels I am watching her with a smile full of admiration and delight. She smiles back and puts her little arms around my neck and pulls me towards her. Safe and sound. Finally. The world breaks open. Filled with hope for a better future for all of us.