“As an EVS, I am currently involved in the work of the Greek Forum of Refugees, in Athens. Defending human rights and being an activist are definitely my way. Since I’m here, I have been able to enhance my understanding of what we call the ‘refugee crisis’. For me, participating in the Route to Connect is an amazing opportunity to have more knowledge about the intricate situation of the persons seeking international protection in Europe today.”
Thoughts about privilege, exoticism and other terms
‘A Route To Connect’ trip started with a 3-day seminar in the mountains of Slovenia. With no wifi, the participants really had the perfect opportunity for teambuilding, getting to know each other and preparing themselves for the trip.
In one of the workshops the participants had to discuss in groups about the following terms: privilege, racism, cultural appropriation, exoticism, voluntourism, stereotype, othering, Global North & South and developing country & developed country. Here some interesting thoughts that came up.
“Privilege is something you didn’t earn. If you are privileged, you don’t see it.”
“We will the privileged ones when we go to the refugee camps”.
About cultural appropriation:
“Using a ceremonial sacred thing for fashion purposes is not ok”
“Exoticism makes us want to travel and explore the ‘exotic’, but what is even more amazing is when the veil drops and you discover that the ‘exotic’ people are no different from us”
“It’s important to be aware of stereotypes so that you can question them and also break them, if needed.”
“It’s a difficult question whether you can make fun of stereotypes, but making fun of your own culture’s stereotypes is a great way to break them.”
“Othering can be very dangerous if you think you should only take care of your own people. This can easily lead to dehumanisation, when people think we shouldn’t help refugees because they are “others” from us.”
Time to play outdoor games
It was a rainy morning when we came to the city of Filantropija, on the second day of the trip. We arrived in a social centre which hosts unaccompanied minors. We went there with the idea of playing or doing any activity that could please the minors present that day. Since most of them were teenagers, we finally played different games that first enabled us to learn each other names, and ended with a circle in which each one had to share something personal about a specific topic to the person in front of him/her.
At first, our visit was probably surprising for the minors residing there. Shyness was spread in the boys’ looks and behaviours. But progressively, playing games, as simple as it seems, contributed to make them feel comfortable with us; we laughed, we put our energy in the moment – simply, we had fun. The language barrier can impede interactions. But the time we spent there shows the opposite: that closeness can be reached by other means.
Survival as the only option
In Šid, in the North of Serbia, the clowning team performed in front of the refugee camp in the afternoon. More and more people joined, attracted by the noise and the growing crowd surrounding us. Later, we joined volunteers from Aid Delivery Mission at the time of food distribution. They are a team of self-organised volunteers who decided to take a break in their everyday life to come here and help refugees by cooking a meal once a day. They are dedicated to their task and their commitment is impressive. Without them, the refugees residing outside of the camp would not have anything to eat, as they don’t benefit from any kind of support from the authorities.
The place we were, in the midst of a forest, is where a lot of refugees stay as they cannot enter the camp. Many nationalities are represented there. Although their backgrounds, journey and expectations are different, most of them sadly experience the same brutality, despair and feeling of being in a deadlock. Words were the same when it came to denounce police violence every time they try to cross the Serbian-Croatian border. Words were the same when they were describing the dire situation they have to face everyday. Faces expressed nothing but distress and hopelessness. Survival is the only choice left.
Cleaning the beaches
On the 29 May in the morning, all the team came to a place named Palios, in the North of Lesvos. Our mission there was different from the other activities we carried out the rest of the time. We helped two volunteers from Lighthouse Relief to clean the beaches in the area. Their work contributes to reduce the environmental impact of the massive flow of refugees who arrived every day on the island. Indeed, even if not very highlighted, the ecological consequences of the refugee crisis have been important. As Alex, one of the volunteers, precised, thousands of life jackets and dinghies have been left after people arrived on the shores. The Environmental Clean-up operation helps then alleviating the material aspect of the crisis and bringing back the nature to the local community.
During the time spent there, we could have a new perspective of the refugee crisis. By seeing all the plastic bottles, life jackets, dinghies and even toys and shoes left behind, we had a more concrete insight of the reality refugees experience when reaching Europe in such difficult conditions. Finding the belongings of people we don’t know, with the only hope that they have been able to make it to reach a safe place, was emotionally challenging.