Let’s demand and offer “Life”, not just “survival” !
From Athens to Berlin:
When the refugee crises burst out the previous summer (2015) I was still back in Athens. Suddenly it was the main topic of the media. The Greek islands close to Turkey (Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Leros, etc.) where in a very stressful condition. Everyday more and more refugees used to arrive to the islands by the sea. The locals did their best to help. Although, soon, the crises spread to the rest of the country. Everyday thousands of refugees were arriving at the port of Piraeus and from there at Victoria Square. It was then that I was involved with the great and spontaneous solidarity movement that was arising in Greece.
My name is Nikos and I am studying at the Athens University of Economic and Business which is in 5 minutes distance from Victoria Square. We started with a small group of students an assembly to help refugees and immigrants over there. When we started they had nothing. No food, no clothes, no toys, no ID’s. When we started we also had nothing. We didn’t know how to organise ourselves, how to organise the distribution of the things, how to communicate with the refugees. I will never forget that day that we went to the square with a bag full of biscuits for the kids and when they saw us they all start running towards us and taking the biscuits with no distribution at all. It was mess. It was really hard for us to learn how to organise.
When I left Athens, some months later, and I came to Berlin I was wondering how was the situation there. I remember that my first week I was in a café at Neukolln with a friend. It’s name was k-lab and it had a flag “refugees welcome” close to the entrance. Some days later I went out to experience the nightlife of Berlin. Outside of one of its biggest clubs there was a graffiti outside with the same picture and quote: “Refugees Welcome”. I knew that something was going on in Berlin but I didn’t know what. Then the courses started. My first week I joined a lecture of intercultural management and met mrs Cynthia. It was then that I heard about the course of “Service Learning in der Flüchtlingsarbeit” , about the term “Notunterkunft”, the “Volunteer-planner” and other things like this.
Volunteering in Berlin’s Notunterkunft :
At the beginning I had to plan my volunteering in Berlin. I signed up in the volunteer-planner and I found “Moabit Hilft”. I put my name in the schedule for Friday and I went there. When I arrived, at the beginning I couldn’t find where should I go to help. I have to admit that this place is huge. The concierge was speaking only German and I could speak only English so it was really hard to communicate. After 20 minutes, and after asking a lot of people I found out where did the volunteers meet. But it was already late. There were already too many people to volunteer over there but they hadn’t just put their name in the “volunteer planer” so they just told me there that was no need for more help which made feel really disappointed.
After this experience I decided to communicate with mrs Cynthia and she introduced me to Andreas from the campus of Lichtenberg. In turn he told me to go at the Notunterkunft at Levetzowstrasse 3-5. There he told me to find Karin and Petra at the ‚Kleiderkammer‘ and this is what I did. This place was also really big. Almost nothing can be compared with it back in Athens. Also what impressed me was the fact that in every Notunterkunft there was security. I talked to the security at the entrance, I explained him everything and then he let me go to the Kleiderkammer.
My experience there was amazing. Karin and Petrea were really helpful and very well organised. The “Kleiderkammer”was divided in two different rooms. The one was something like our storeroom. There the volunteers used to collect all the clothes and distinguish them in different categories according to the sex, the age, or other categories (winter/summer clothes, pyjamas/athletics clothes, etch). The other room was something like a store. The refugee families were coming inside this room ( one or two families it’s time ) and they had some time (15min or more) to try on clothes. They had a mirror and no pressure. They could feel like they where out for shopping as they probably used to do before they leave their country. One person from the volunteers was just writing down “who” took “what” and “how many” clothes. That was impressive. People there weren’t just offering help. They didn’t just give them some random clothes in the bag. They tried to help them live again their regular lives. Not just as refugees but as they know before the war.
This is what we need I think and this is the important lesson I learned from my experience there. Our aim shouldn’t be just to help those people survive. Our aim should be to open our society to them. To remind them how it was before. Or, even better, to help them imagine a future even better than that. From my experience, volunteering in Berlin, of course I learned a lot about organizing. Of course there could me more that I could offer from my experience in Athens. The crisis is not over. But there is one thing that I will sure remember: Let’s offer “Life”, not just “survival” .