Tomorrow, I get on a plane. I’m heading to Greece, I’m flying alone, leaving my family behind, but it’s not for a holiday or some glamorous adventure. Tempting though it is, the idea of a week relaxing in a warm country, catching up on much needed sleep and time to myself. This trip has required a fair bit of sacrifice, in terms of organisation, planning and letting go emotionally. My family are supporting me wholeheatedly, though.
So why is a middle aged Mum, with a busy and slightly crazy life, leaving her family for a week to go to Greece then?
I’m going to spend time working with an organisation that is involved with the current and massive refugee situation in Greece. I will be spending a week doing whatever tasks and jobs are delegated to me, and those could be anything from preparing food for people, to working in a warehouse, sorting supplies, playing with children or even basic cleaning work. I don’t know yet. I will be staying with people I’ve never met and hopefully learning and also being stretched far out of my very comfortable comfort zones.
I’m expecting to be challenged and surprised and also face a reality that is far bigger and hopefully see more than what is portrayed in the media…
Why am I going?
A year and a half ago, when we were coming back from holiday, we drove back home via Calais. I think everyone is aware of the large refugee camp that has grown there and the dire state of the living conditions there. The official figure is that there are 8,000 people there but the figure is more like 10,000. I’ve watched the news, read the reports and articles and seen social media feed about it, but I don’t think anyone actually understands the reality.
When we arrived at Calais it was when there were worsening issues with people desperately trying to get onto the trains to take them to the UK. The authorities were building new fences and barricades and travellers trying to get to Calais to board trains were being diverted and held in car parks and spaces to try and limit their exposure to the crisis.
We drove this new route and we drove past the barricades and we saw people on the other side of them. They weren’t doing anything, just sitting or standing, watching the cars drive past. I watched out the window and we tried as best we could to explain what was going on to the children who wanted to know why there were people behind fences.
Then I saw a woman, sitting alone on a grass verge, with her two children, aged roughly the same as my own. I could see she was pregnant, too. It struck me, so hard, she and I, not very different really, both of us mothers, both of us trying to get somewhere, but then the reality is that she had nowhere to go and I have no idea of where she had come from, whereas I have the knowledge that I have a home and am safe. What I do know, as a mother, is that no woman would willingly drag her children and her pregnant self to a place like Calais and the Jungle Camp, just on the off chance that she might get to the UK and a better life. What she might have seen or been through and lost, to be there, in that place, is incomprehensible to me. If I could have, I’d have stopped our car and if we’d had space somehow, fitted her and her children in, to offer them the chance of a new start. Sadly that wasn’t possible, of course. We had to drive on, but I couldn’t get her out of my head.
Since that day, I’ve wanted to do something, anything to help. I’ve knitted blankets, donated money to charities that try to help the situations, I’ve sent clothes and other items with people going to Calais and other places, but I wanted to actually do something tangible. I’m tired of sitting in my armchair thinking about it, I need to actually get out of my comfort zone and go do it. I’m generally a person who likes to serve and help those around me, and my gut and my faith have been whispering “go”.
So, this oppertunity has come up and tomorrow, I go. There are approximately 57,000 people in Greece who have come from Syria, Iraq and other places that have been broken and battered by conflict. They have left home and walked away from destruction devastation, with no choice but to run. I cannot imagine what they have had to go through.
I have no idea what I will face, what I will learn, what experiences I will come back with. I’m not going to be some benefactor or do gooder or to tick it off some bucket list, I’m simply going because if I don’t, then who will? If I can’t show my own children that we can help, we can care for those who need it most, in circumstances we will never understand because, but that we can and should have compassion for, then who will? They are also my why. I want them to see the world around them and realise they can and should reach out.
That’s my why. I can’t do nothing. At least this is something…