”Our comitment to our work with A Drop in the Ocean has strengthened our sisterhood. We are closer than ever due to our work as volunteers’’ – Tone Jøssund
By: Vibeke Hoem
Translated by: Kathrine Dørum Middelthon
The sisters’ volunteer work with A Drop In the Ocean have resulted in three trips to four different locations. To be able to work on the ground and in direct contact with the refugees have given them experiences they would not want to miss. The knowlegde they have attained is now being put to use as volunteer coordinators in Møre og Romsdal and Trøndelag. They are also busy raising awarenes in their local community with, amongst other things; a concert and baking.
From a desire to volunteer to a harsh reality in Greece
It all started in the autumn of 2015 when the refugee situation changed and A Drop in the Ocean was founded. Siv was talking to her sister on the phone, telling her that she wanted to volunteer with the boat landings on Lesbos. Tone had been thinking the exact same thing, in her home 250 kilometers away, and told her sister that she had read on Facebook about an organisation called A drop in the Ocean. The travel arrangements were made during their Christmas vacation and the departure date was set two months later. Their employers were very accomodating and allowed time off work and thus they were on their way.
Reality set in as soon as they touched ground on Lesbos. ‘’You are thrown straight into the tasks and, at first, the island and the roads along the coast seem really complex, but we soon got the hang of it all.’’ They will never forget the first boat they assisted. The coast is 17 kilometers long and is divided into four zones. The volunteers were placed on various shifts and zones. The sisters were on the morning shift in the zone where this particular boat made it to shore. ‘’All of a sudden we spotted something orange in the ocean and the feelings that rushed through us are hard to explain. It was impossible to see how many people were on board until the boat came a lot closer. The refugees had endured a 6 hour long, streneous trip and our most important task was to welcome them ashore’’- they explain.
Siv remembers one of the fathers from the boat especially well; ‘’as soon as they came ashore, one of the fathers went back down to the waters edge and stared across the sea while a small child was pulling at him. The father took no notice of the child as he stared over the ocean with tears running down his cheeks. I never found out why, however, I understood that he was thinking of something or someone he left behind. Maybe a loved one or the life he had had at home’’ Siv wonders. Siv remembers giving him a warm hug and believes showing the refugees love and a warm welcome is one of the most important tasks for a volunteer. Tone adds: ‘’It is so important that we remember that the ocean can represent something completely different for the refugees than it may for many of us. It may represent their road to safety or a grave yard for all the refugees lost at sea.
Memorable encounters in the field
Seeing that the twins have volunteered at all of the Drop in the Ocean’s field destinations, they have great knowlege of the vast differences that exist in the various refugee camps. They both find volunteering in several camps very educational and tell us ‘’that the differences lie in how the camps are organised.’’ While volunteering in one camp after the other, they have been able to meet refugees whom they have met in previous camps. ‘’ It is wonderful to be able to meet the same people again, but it is also heartbreaking knowing they have not been able to move further as time passes” – Siv tells us.
She especially remembers a small girl they got to know in Nea Kavala (Northern Greece), and they met her again in Skaramangas (Athens) the following summer. ‘’ I was so happy to see her again, but so sad at the same time. Just imagine; they had not been able to move on from Greece yet.’’ She then tells us that the mother of four had been given financial support and was able to rent an apartment for six months, but as the support ended they had to move back to the refugee camp. ‘’Can you imagine? It is a big transition – moving from an apartment to a refugee camp!’’
They sporadically keep in contact via social media with several of the people that they have met and helped through the years of volunteering with A Drop in the Ocean. Tone mentions one boy in particular, he got asylum in France, but felt isolated and alone in his new home country. ‘’Several people contemplate going back to their birth country Syria and risk dying in the war, rather than living in a Europe where they are not wanted’’ – she says.
From volunteering in the field to volunteering locally
Siv works as a teacher and turns her excperiences as a volunteer in Greece into teaching opportunities for her pupils. She shows the students selected pictures and tells them about her experiences and new knowledge. ‘’It is so important that we tell the children that the refugee children are just like themselves, and that they have the same hopes and dreams.’’
Many predjudices exist in regards to refugees, and therefore it is so important that we present children with a different view, namely the one we see on our travels.’’ – Siv says. She has also had presentations at a high school about their experiences as volunteers in Greece. Siv says that kids get emotional and engaged on the subject and never look at their phones during her presentations.
There is no doubt that the sisters are deeply committed to working as volunteers ‘’We never do anything less than one hundred percent,’’ – Siv says. They currently work as coordinators for A Drop In the Ocean in their local communties. Their responibiliets include hosting information meetings for volunteers, guide and help volunteers in their local Facebook groups as well as help arranging events and fund raisers.
Tone has recently been responsible for arranging a Christmas concert for equality in Trondheim, with several contributing artists. The concert received funding from Trondheim City Counsil and collaborated with Kolstad Church were the concert was held. A local flower decorator donated flowers. Tone admits that this was a large undertaking, but luckily she received help and support from great friends. ‘’To see so many musicians and artists donating their talent and time really touches my heart and makes me so proud. It gives me encouragement to continue this important work’’ Previously she has arranged a multicultural cafe in an area inhabited by people from various backgrounds. ‘’ I believe that spending time together will contribute towards integration into society’’ she says. As her sister, so has Siv involved her local community in Møre and Romsdal. In addition to having presentations at the high school, she has, together with friends, baked 600 buns and 300 rolls! This resulted in sales of 21.000 NOK (approx 2200 Euros) ‘’ A social and nice task’’ she says. ‘’ Not all of us are able to volunteer abroad, but everyone can bake or contribute in another way. ‘’We believe in local involvement and in working together’’ the sisters agree
In conclusion, the sisters say that even though they cry every time they fly home from volunteering in the field, they always want to return. ‘’I guess we will never stop. Beeing a volunteer gives you a new perspective, we actually think you become a better human being.’’