As of November, 2017, over 7,600 refugees lived in camps in Lesbos, Greece, many of which have been described a prisons. And it’s pretty accurate, from what I saw when I was volunteering in one of the camps that winter. But what does that fact make you think about? Maybe you’re calculating the amount of people in your high school class, trying to figure out how to visualize over seven and and a half thousand people. Maybe you’re feeling a little guilty about the fact that you know about these camps, but thinking about them makes you feel sad, and you usually scroll past articles about them in favor of lighter news. Maybe you’ve read up on this, talked about it with friends over coffee, but still feel helpless thousands of miles away. I’ve done all three.
There’s only a split second between inaction and action, but that’s where all the change happens. Your thoughts, prayers, and facebook shares can’t give warmth to those living in the freezing tents over winter, nor will it fill their empty stomach or give them any better life than the one they've lost. But, trust me, YOUR ACTIONS WILL.
Countless times I've seen posts on my Facebook Feed about the war in Syria and the refugees' crisis. 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?". 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, 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. 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 a month and I decided to join and finally DO SOMETHING. The first two weeks were tough and before we knew it it was Christmas. 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 held 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 thought without that button, anything else I'd do would be worthless. 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’s little hand 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
I stayed an additional month and in those two months, 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 have the means to go to Lesbos and help in person, you should definitely do it, not only because you will change people's lives but because they will change yours too. If you can't go onsite, motivate others to do so, donate to NGOs, fight the stereotypes about refugees, welcome them in your country, and help to integrate them into your society.
When I left Lesbos, I knew I didn’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 fixed everything. The challenge I'm trying to overcome is to keep helping with meaningful, sustainable, and realistic contributions not based on my physical presence in the camp.
One of the projects I'm trying to push forward is teaching refugees English through WhatsApp by pairing them up with one of my friends who speak Arabic/Farsi/Kurdi in addition to English. Not only because English is very critical to learn in these refugees situation, but also because it helps them make friends, feel less isolated, and stay in touch with people who also speak their native language.
"We can't fix the world all at once, but piece by piece." - Unknown
Another thing I’m doing is running the Buy One, Give One campaign through my apparel company, Kaukab. For every BOGO shirt you buy, Kaukab will distribute one of the same original, Arabic design to someone living in this camp.
Please join me in doing something for these refugees, who escaped a horrible situation, lost everything, and are in the process of building a new life. They don’t need pity, just a little compassion and action.