Before I left to work with the Boat Refugee Foundation, I had many ideas about what I would see and experience while working on Lesvos. I expected to meet people who had suffered horrendous ordeals; to see through dreadful living conditions. What I never expected, and what took me by surprise was the warmth exhibited by the people I met, the friendship they offered to each other, and to me, and the resilience that they demonstrated on a daily basis. These people had left behind everything and everyone they knew. They fled for their lives, made treacherous journeys and experienced highly traumatic situations. Now some people have spent over a year waiting to be processed. Their lives have been put on hold. Yet they still have the innate ability to be kind to each other, and to help whoever and whenever they can. There are hundreds of examples I could use to illustrate my point, but there is one that has stuck with me.
It was during a medical shift in Moria. It was about 11:30 PM, when all of a sudden a crowd of people carried a Syrian woman to the medical cabin who had collapsed and was unconscious. They had with them a small child, a girl of about 3 years old, who was the woman’s daughter. They had arrived to Moria 4 days ago by boat, and were sharing a tent with 10 other people; 10 strangers. These strangers carried the woman and child up the steep hill to the medical cabin and then stayed en masse to monitor the woman’s condition for hours. While she was being treated by the medical team, her little girl was sitting on the ground. She asked me if her mother was dead. The way how she asked the question, as if it was something she just expected, broke my heart.
After I reassured her that her mother was just sleeping, a young Afghani man sat next to her – a child whom he had never met, and kept her company for hours. He played with her, helped her draw pictures and comforted her. They were strangers; different countries, different languages, but it didn’t matter. She was a child that needed help, and he stepped up.
The mother recovered, and when she was able to, her and her daughter were escorted back to her tent by the same people who had carried her up. 4 days ago they were strangers, now they have become much more.
This act of kindness, and many others I witnessed during my time in the camps, are what I will take home with me. That even though people can be subject to horrendous and inhumane experiences and conditions, their humanity still shines through.
Text: Helen O’Dowd
Photo: Henk van Lambalgen