It’s been quite a year! I had always wanted to volunteer overseas but had always put it off. I would say I would wait until my children are grown, until I am better prepared financially or until I am more skilled. And like most, I thought I would need to join a large charity organization or NGO. Once I made the leap of faith and just jumped in to help out with the refugee crisis in Greece my life has changed dramatically. I am not the same person I was before. I am willing to take huge risks and my life’s priorities have been realigned.
My family is and always will be number one on my list of priorities. Fulfilling my need to help others is next. I want to be a philanthropist – unfortunately, I don’t have the financial resources. Instead, I have become a humanitarian and it has been one of the most rewarding choices I have ever made. Still…this is an unpaid position and I need to make a living so that brings me to third on the list, my career. The need for a reliable paycheque has stood in the way of me reaching for my dreams. I always dreamed about being a philanthropist and a writer. I have a few book ideas in my head that I need to put to paper. I have no idea if anyone will actually purchase them so until I can afford to “quit the day job” I have readjusted my work / life balance priorities. I am committed to finding work in an industry that isn’t just for profit but works towards bettering our lives somehow and with regular hours so I can schedule more time for family, volunteering and writing.
When I came back from my first jaunt volunteering overseas I had a huge adjustment to make. Coming home is not easy! Our physical bodies may have returned but our minds are constantly on the events happening back there. I spent many hours constantly scanning my news feed, searching the groups for information of what was happening on the ground. Doing as many of us have I helped moderate groups remotely and aided the efforts from home. I found an online group of Canadian volunteers that had also volunteered in Greece and we get together to spearhead rallies to raise awareness and also to just chat as this amazing group can relate where my friends at home can’t. I also found a group sponsoring a family from Syria and teamed up with them. I started taking humanitarian courses. I signed on at the local community centre. I was constantly searching for ways to do more.
I knew I would be going back overseas; I just had to wait out the visa requirements and do something at home in the meantime. While I was prepping to go back I went out of my comfort zone, I spoke to the media, to groups, did some interviews. I honestly hate public speaking; it is one of my greatest fears. Yet I ended up taking the TEFL course as I decided one of the best ways I could help new arrivals to Canada would be to teach English as a second language. I found my voice, although I still prefer to write it out.
Helping in Greece has made a profound impact on my life and it would not have happened if it weren’t for social media and the tireless work of the independent volunteers. It was posts from independent volunteers in Greece that made me aware of the enormity of the crisis. It was these posts that made me realize I could be over there helping too. And it was through social media I contacted a volunteer for advice on how to go about it.
There are those who would argue that social media has disconnected us and they have valid points. We do spend too much time staring at our cell phones, laptops and tablets instead of personally engaging with our friends and family. That said social media is playing a huge part in the management of the refugee crisis.
My friends’ list has quadrupled since I’ve gone to overseas. The increase is a large network of independent volunteers. They are my colleagues, people that I personally worked with in Greece, Serbia and Lebanon and remote workmates that I have never met face-to-face. Many of them I consider my closest friends and confidants whether I have laid eyes on them or not. We cry together, laugh together and teach each other what it means to be human.
As volunteers on the ground we keep in contact with each other using Whatsapp and religiously scan Facebook group chats so that everyone is getting the most current information. Each of the islands and hotspots on the refugee trail has a group dedicated to sharing relevant information and resources. We can state our problem and receive help almost immediately. Invaluable remote volunteers set up and moderate the group pages. They sift through hours of posts and compile organized files of information for volunteers to reference. From all corners of the globe, the remote volunteer coordinates aid and workers efficiently and help raise funds and awareness.
Most of us volunteers update our friends and family at home through our posts or by creating our own pages to keep everyone up to date. This is an incredible tool to bring a human face to the crisis. What we hear on the news is nothing compared to the devastation and misery on the ground. Humanizing the crisis is what I consider one of the most important jobs out there. It is vital to evoking empathy for our fellow human beings suffering and it is in our power to demand our governments and large NGO’s do something to alleviate it. Suffering that could so easily be ours. (i.e., if war breaks after Trump is elected)
The independent volunteers are an incredible group of people from all over the world, from many nationalities, a variety of professions, from all faith’s and of all ages who have come together for one common cause, to alleviate the suffering of our fellow humans. We are concerned citizens of humanity serving a higher purpose – the humanization of mankind. It is so much bigger then ourselves.
The past year has been an intense journey for all of us volunteers. Together we have witnessed immense suffering, turmoil and even death and banded together to advocate for human rights, save lives, comfort those in distress, and accomplish miracles.
It has been an honour working with such an incredible group of people and I am blessed to call so many of them my friends. They have my deepest gratitude for their kindness, humility and selflessness.
And when I do meet my online buddies face to face I am giving them a great big hug.
To Donate please click here – Be Kind to Refugees
The following are some of the stories I wrote after my first trip to help refugees in Greece