Updates and field stories

Seniors can make camp life more bearable

Are you practical? Do you like to repair, repurpose, see concrete results – even though it is neither artistic or professional work? Are you good at building relationships and have a highly developed solidarity gene? Do you like to sew a shopping bag from an old pair of paint stained jeans? Are you comfortable stacking, sorting and clearing? Your qualifications are requested.

By: Kari Ronge Translated by: Kathrine Dørum Middelthon

Jwanna (5) offer Kirsten (72) cherries. Photo: Kari Ronge

Many of us are experienced grandparents. We know that spending time with the little ones will give us both so much. It’s nice to spend time together in the weekdays when possible, and involve children and youngsters in daily tasks – cook, teach them to ride a bike, change a bike chain, patch tires. Learn knit and purl stitches, take a quiet time out, draw and paint, read comics, make a boat or a sword in the carpentry room. Maybe learn some English phrases or throw a stick. The little ones enjoy showing off how fast they are on the ipad, and to beat grandpa’s best time.

It should be unnecessary to say that children living in Greek refugee camps have exactly the same needs as our grandchildren in Norway have

The humanitarian aid organisation Dråpen i Havet (DiH) is currently the only Norwegian non-governmental organization (NGO) still assisting residents of Greek refugee camps (see later facts).

If you can spend a minimum of 10 days for volunteer work and pay for your own tickets and accommodation (estimated you need to calculate about 10 – 15,000 NOK, all inclusive); you are more than welcome to register as a field worker. Preferably already in the fall of 2018 and winter 2019 as the need for more helping hands and wise heads is great! If your personal economy or other issues prevent you from traveling, you can contribute from home: spread information, organise fundraising events, become a monthly donor to help organisations you know you can trust. 100 or 200 kroner a month makes a huge difference for those in the camps.

Why is a senior a resource in the refugee camp?

I got to know, Anas Mhpop from Syria, in 2016 when he was working as a volunteer for A drop in the Ocean in Nea Kavala. Photo: Kirsten Falkung

As seniors we, both men and women, have many qualities to contribute with in the field. Upon meeting a soon to be mother-of-two, living far away from the family she was forced to leave behind after discovering she was pregnant again; a mature womans support and care will mean more than language barriers can stop. Later, if the Norwegian senior can then cradle the newborn baby and put it to sleep with lullabys the next time she is volunteering in the camp, unbreakable ties will be made.

The same applies to the young Syrian boy who fled when he was called for military service in his war torn country. Maybe upon her return home, the grandmother will follow the young man on social media and learn that he receives asylum in an EU country. Their dialogue now and then, throughout this time in his life will truly give a new meaning to the term extended family.

It may be sending smileys and hearts to ‘My Norwegian Granny’, but also expressing anger, frustration, empathy and loneliness. Maybe the longing for his loved ones. back home is growing as he feels safer. There may be eruptions of frustrations when he is not allowed to take a job while attending an introductory course. The conflict between gratefulnes and plans for the future.

There is a father still living in a tent in a refugee camp for the third year in a row. He is ashamed of the unworthy life he offers his loved ones. Now he has been assigned a container where he will live with his wife and two children this coming winter. If he could get help from a handy volunteer to build a roof outside the container, their new lodging would be much more practical.

Maybe next, the two new friends will, together with other residents and volunteers, start constructing a pergola above the common areas and sand box where the children play – this is where the educational program is being held in the day time and where many residents spend a lot of time, and a roof would provide a welcome shade from the hot sun in the afternoon.

The background for this autumns recruitment project

It was in the middle of the 2018 summer vacation, when Janecke Thesen, a general practitioner and a Facebook friend of mine, wrote a post that left me thinking about taking the initiative for a recruitment program for senior citizens who want to volunteer but have been unable to do so for various reasons:

‘I think I speak for many, “wrote Janecke. “The heavy lump in the gut, the bad conscience, an easy and safe life in Norway, with orchestral seating to the drama being played in Syria. Syrians are killed, systematically, instrumentally, even by one of my colleagues, the doctor behind the wheel in Syria. I’m not brave enough to help in Syria and I’m embarrassed about it. My Darling here, my children, and my six grandchildren are too important for me to go. As I said, I am embarrassed about it. ”

“But there are others who are not cowards like me,” she continued. The doctor who early on started working with solidarity projects across socioeconomic borders, talked about the psykologist Solfrid Raknes. In addition to her ordinary work including the introduction of the “Psychological First Aid” method for children in Norwegian schools, Raknes has in recent years put considerable effort into voluntary field work, among other things, affiliated projects in several refugee camps in Lebanon.

In addition, she has been the initiator of various drawing and craft projects in her own network in Norway. This way she provides money and equipment to continue her work towards people seeking refuge.

I immediately thought about how the situation were when my sister Lena went as a voluntary “drop” to Athens in Easter 2016, back then it was still ‘Welcome Refugees!’ in Norway. I thought about how my spontaneous reaction to Lena’s accounts – full of suffering, but simultaneous strong hope for a better future – was that: “I could not bear it’’. The emotional pressure would be too big. It was great that you went to the refugee camp, but I would rather contribute from home, with money or whatever it may be. “Since then much has been changed; I’ve had a lot of experiences in making a difference. With my sisters’ experience in mind, I formulated an answer to my Facebook friend:

“Dear Janecke and others who may hesitate, or maybe not dare. It was a wise reflection you gave. I believe we all contribute within the limitations we have. Before my very first trip as a volunteer among mainly Syrian families in two Greek refugee camps, in November 2016, I believed my limitations would be broken and surpassed. But I went for it, and since then, there have been several trips and collaborative projects with various NGOs, but also new friendships which can be nursed online and on social media.

Volunteer drops in Nea Kavala, spring 2017. Photo: Bettina Patel

What I am first and foremost left with, is how good we humans are of making the best of a situation. If we behave well towards each other, there are few barriers. One of the best things which A Drop in The Ocean, founded by mother of five Trude Jacobsen, has managed, is to eliminate the differences between “them” and “us” – in their organisation. ” Although the media’s attention to the situation in Greece has mostly moved on, I still get reports on how large scale the need still is. The number of boat arrivals is increasing, and both official and unofficial camps are more than full. Thus, it is necessary to recruit more volunteer workers to fieldwork – young as old.

I believe that it is not the lack of will, stopping people from volunteering. Rather, there is a lack of knowledge about how safe and prosperous relief work with an organisation such as a Drop in the Ocean and other humanitarian aid organisations is, and how much it actually matters. In the contact with Janecke Thesen and others who had not been a field volunteer so far, I recalled what we had talked about, us who had already been volunteers in camp several times. And it struck me how much we can contribute – everyone and anybody. Be it when you are a retired healthcare workers or have had other types of jobs in their career. When we take this aside and just volunteer as a fellow human being.

Ingrid Skjong and Kirsten Falkung in Nea Kavala. Photo: Kari Ronge

Above all, us seniors are usually experienced and safe around setting boundaries for known and unknown children, whether we have had a background in teaching or not. Also, we are no strangers to pulling ‘Harlem Brundtland’ and care about if the kids in our community bully each other, simply because we know our commitment really is about caring. With this backdrop, I could deepen my dedication in my answer:I did not want a place in the front border either for example in assisting the boats coming across the sea, nor did I want to go to the war zone. The effort in already established camps in the Greek mainland has been a safe and good option for me. To just be able to be the grandmother I have been to seven grandchildren so far, has been my ‘skill’. Even though the majority of those who volunteer are younger idealists who make an effort for a few months among refugees, we have good adult qualities that are very useful. We can exchange common experiences about crafts, carpentry or sharing food recipes and meals and all appreciate this company.

From idea to action

A few days after the summer holiday ended, A DropIn the Ocean reported the need for more volunteers in all of the various locations it is involved, for the autumn of 2018 and winter of 2019.Thus, my idea began to take shape. So, I and some women I have been working closely with for several years in Greek refugee camps – started our new senior project:

Getting people like you and me, women and men, to take a leap and make the difference we know will mean something important to those affected.

You do not need to have a self-experienced trauma in your luggage to understand how little is needed. To meet adults embracing, accepting, affirming – it may be enough to survive, to make those with no hope left, see that there is still hope! Give and have good moments, here and now.

We have established a partnership with the organisation, and through our own Facebook group Drop in the Ocean – Senior we can be contact persons for questions that the seniors are particularly concerned about: Communicate specific information about A Drop in the Ocean’s locations, beyond what is found on the website (recommend hotels, where to rent a car etc), attend information meetings – and, after request, hold lectures for teams / associations, etc. Via the Facebook group / website, ideas will also be exchanged for how to help, for example, find links for good projects we know it’s worth supporting practically and financially etc ..

Handicraft workshop. Read more about the project in the blogpost “Kreativiteten kjenner ingen grenser i Nea Kavala”. Photo: Kari Ronge

Furthermore, we are of course open to establishing support projects from home – for seniors who for various reasons can not be field workers but who still want to make efforts with fundraising or local events. Eventually, we also hope to expand the senior project for refugees in communities such as Jordan and Lebanon, yet with the security and continuity that everything will also be organised through trustworthy, reliable and well-established relief organisations.

French Juliette Tassy and the norwegian Kirsten Falkung are testing the sew machines they got from funding in Norway. Photo: Kari Ronge


Reasons for not volunteering in the field

What has prevented you so far? I know many active retirees, women and men who are older than me. Their weeks are full of meaningful chores, and they have often committed themselves in different ways at home. I have heard different arguments why they have not prioritised a few weeks as volunteers in a refugee camp:

• It is too stressful to see so many people with needs that can not be met.• This is mostly suited for women. I am a man, and my qualifications are not demanded to the same extent.

• It is too expensive to travel, stay in a hotel and with a lot of living expenses that I have to cover.

• It is too hot in the south of Europe. The days are too long. I usually need a dinner nap.

• I do not want to travel alone, I need someone to share the experiences with.

• I do not want to assist for political reasons. This is a job that the EU countries and the politicians should be responsible for.

• I don’t dare to drive a car abroad.

• I have some physical limitations, pain in the hips and knees, and other age-related ailments.• I’m still at work. I want to spend my holidays with family and friends in peaceful environment. I do not want to spend my holiday performing unpaid work in a refugee camp with a high level of conflicts.

• I am not a healthcare professional and do not know how to deal with traumatised children and adults, who are sure to be angry and unhappy.

• What about infectious diseases I can not be vaccinated against? What about the hygienic conditions, is it safe enough?

• I am just an ordinary person, what in the world can I contribute with?

To those who hesitate

Our senior project is established to enable you to make contact and ask about anything, discuss the individual reasons stopping you from going. We know – and have learned – that in the schedules for field work, individual adjustments will be made within the team of volunteers the field coordinator have responsibility for at any given time.

People from countries in the Middle East have rich traditions on handicrafts as for example weavers and tailors. Photo: Kari Ronge

We know that if you need a break, there are plenty of tasks to deal with in the organisation’s local warehouses of clothes, shoes, vegetables, dry goods – these jobs are also most necessary to get the logistics in place. And we know that we, who have already been there, can provide good and safe advice on hygiene, organisation of the work days, etc. – if you do not see you get sufficient answers from the organisation you travel with. As volunteers in a group of enthusiastic people, we quickly experience that all help is welcomed. And perhaps most important of all: It is not the experience that “we are the kind ones” and “they are the poor victims” you are left with after being a senior volunteer in the field. But simply mutual, important and highly meaningful human encounters!

The recruitment campaign among seniors that you have read about in this article may hopefully inspire you to consider signing up for volunteer work as a seniorby several women and men of good maturity to sign up for an effort. The facts you’ll find below more than justify the need!




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