The refugee crisis is reality: it is taking place in our cities, here in Europe. Zooming in from an emotionally-detached piece of factual news on the flickering screen to the actual scene of directly involved individuals “on the ground”: Asking oneself what can be done, Ségolène – a brave mother of two wonderful children – decided to volunteer by hosting refugees at her home. In the interview below, she shares her personal experience on the up-to-date topic with us:
How did you get involved in volunteering with refugees? It all began in October last year when I felt deeply touched by the volunteering experiences shared on the public “Plateforme citoyenne de soutien aux réfugiés Bruxelles”. Called into action, I joined the platform’s group “Hébergement citoyenne” on Facebook. In this group, members can quickly fill in a daily online survey requesting to help refugees in various ways: either as a driver giving them a lift in Brussels and other parts of the country or as a host providing shelter for a night or longer to refugees who would otherwise sleep in the street. The organisers present in the Park Maximillien where the refugees gather also try to pay attention to the specific situation of the host family concerned. I have two children at home and prefer to occasionally host young refugees on weekends for example.
What have your experiences been so far? I have already hosted about 15 boys and girls aged between 16 and 28 years from countries such as Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea. Once you start, you cannot stop: you spend time with these young people becoming increasingly engaged. They gave a lot back to me and my family in return for our hospitality. This includes not only multicultural exchanges as regards exotic dishes which remind them of home but also, and more importantly, lessons learnt such as this one here: a smile full of hope, optimism and determination – despite all the hardship they’ve been through in their life – appears like a simple gesture but it moves me deeply as it helps me and my children put things into new perspective. The last two refugees I helped were two young boys from Ethiopia with whom my family got along well despite some misunderstandings due to language differences. Needing a break and being able to not only physically but also mentally escape all the tragedies they experienced in life, these young refugees appear at the end of the day also only like normal teenagers: they like to watch TV, listen to music, and enjoy taking selfies with their phones.
Who are the organisers that make all of this happen? The organisers are incredible people. Despite their jobs, studies and private lifes, they still find the energy to go every evening from eight to one or even two o’clock in the morning to the Park where they try to help about 400-500 refugees find shelter for the night. The organisers’ optimistic spirit and sense of solidarity is inspiring encouraging citizens to get involved in volunteering activities for refugees in their communities. Since October 2017, the volunteering platform has grown from 3.000 to more than 40.000 members!
What important role do smart phones play for refugees? Representing a vital object, the smart phone helps to create a “bridge” to their old life whilst helping them navigate in and adapt to a new and unfamiliar environment abroad. On the one site, it allows them to stay in contact with their family and friends back home, who like to send them news, music and videos in their native language. On the other, it provides them with vital information about public services (medical treatment, legal support, etc.) and functions as a useful translation tool to overcome initial language barriers. It’s in this sense that the smart phone is considered by some refugees to be even more vital than food, for example. Unfortunately, these important electronic devices are often being confiscated and destroyed when caught in public.
What can I do? Help our community continue to grow by joining us at: https://www.facebook.com/plateformerefugiesbxl/
Whether giving your old smart phone a “second meaningful life”, donating clothes, hygiene products or volunteering as a driver and/or host – any charitable act is greatly appreciated!