Essa, from Syria, teaches basic hygiene and contributes to the census efforts in the Nea Kavala camp in Greece. Danika, from Sarajevo, is on the front line aiding refugees in Paris. Maria, from Vietnam, has used her influential position in the Silicon Valley to found an NGO that supports rescue efforts. Collectively, these individuals demonstrate what we at Prosper hold dear--when refugees are given an opportunity, they give back. In honor of World Refugee Day, we hear how three people in different stages of the refugee experience are taking action in the current crisis: Their words are their own, with minimal editing.
We begin with Essa from Aleppo. Essa fled Syria after finishing his degree in civil engineering. He arrived in the Nea Kavala camp in Greece in February and one month later began volunteering with the Red Cross and Red Crescent. He writes,
"The living situation was very bad. When it was raining and cold, our tents were full of water, and nobody helped us. The toilets and shower were also very bad. There were biting insects and many snakes in our tents. I wanted to help the people and to be their voice."
I remember when we first got to the camp, most people were not washing their hands with soap, and we asked them why not. They answered that they did not have soap. So we hung bars of soap on strings on the taps every morning.
Later Essa joined the Mapping Team. "We created a database including the full name, age, gender, language, nationality, profession, and health needs of each person and we update it regularly."
Essa's goal is to return to study for a Masters at an EU University. He says, "I hope that the civil war in my country will end, and I can go back to see my family again."
Danika Jurisic fled Sarajevo alone as a teenager in 1992. She coordinates aid efforts in Paris, documents the lives of displaced peoples on the streets, and advocates for refugee rights. The following is a portion of a speech she gave at a TEDxIHE talk in Paris this spring.
"I am a refugee. My identity, my life, my entire existence has been marked with this word. It was not a choice, it is just what I am.
"With the end of Yugoslavia we became a 'mixed family' overnight. I left everything behind, my family, my home, my identity. I was one of those numerous nameless children that came in busses, abandoned and exposed to many predators.
I had no support during those years and depended entirely on social services. Being in the vulnerable position of an underage refugee, gave me insight that is useful in my present activity as a volunteer.
"You have to be aware that refugees are burdened with memories of a better past. This is why the presence of volunteers is vital. I have met hundreds of people during this last months who have jumped in and done their best to help. I just wish their voices were more strongly reflected in the current policies of the EU."
For many volunteers in the current refugee crisis, action began with a photo. The photo of three year old Aylan Kurdi resonated particularly with Maria Tran. Maria began to share her own story publicly as a way of calling attention to the refugee crisis. The following is part of a speech she gave at her former workplace in the Silicon Valley.
"Reading about the dangerous sea route and seeing the photos of Aylan Kurdi reminded me of a period of my life that I haven't thought about very much. I was also three when my parents and I were chased out of our home in Vietnam because we were ethnically Chinese. My parents sold everything they had and paid for passage on a little fishing boat. We were lucky and our boat was picked up by coast guards and brought to safety."
When I think back to that time and how I'm here today, all of that only happened because I was rescued. Aylan Kurdi wasn't that lucky, and so he ended up dead on a beach.
"I realized that my story could help people motivate action. In October of 2015, I decided to spend two weeks volunteering to humanize the stories of refugees. I had no plan. I don't speak Arabic. I'm not a photographer. I'm not a journalist but I felt passionate and that trip changed my life.
"I was shocked at the humanitarian crisis that was unfolding. Upon my return I came together with others and started Sea of Solidarity, a non-profit organisation committed to addressing the needs at landing sites and refugee camps."
As we collectively navigate this crisis we must consider the cost of failing to act. Essa, Danika, and Maria are living proof of how our society benefits when refugees have the opportunity to learn, to work, and to give. Acting on behalf of refugees is not merely altruistic. In Danika's words, "By saving refugees, we are saving ourselves, our future, our morality, and our civilization."
Photos by Anne Barot, Danika Jurisic, Facebook Global Causes, Kayra Martinez