For refugees we met in 2016 and 2017, the most difficult season is winter. The basics of life take all one’s strength, volunteers slip away to regular lives back home, and finding one’s mettle is more difficult.
Last summer, Expressive Arts Refuge ran its music program at Skaramagas Refugee Camp in Athens. Many of its young people remain in the camp and go to school. Some avail themselves of extracurricular classes, like those offered by El Sistema in music. Along with most refugees in Europe, they shiver in clothes not up to the task of keeping them warm. Most live in shipping container with shrunken families, and hole up in them for both physical and emotional comfort.
Some of our friends from the unofficial encampment known as Calais Jungle studied French as though their life depended on it, which indeed it did. A lucky few now study at university in Lille, France. Those whose PTSD, needs, concerns, and lack of formal education led them in a less disciplined direction, are finding small jobs, studying French outside university, cooking for friends. With the closure of EU borders and French accommodation centers, and asylum hard to come by, many are floundering.
Those who arrived in Calais after the demolition of the camp in October 2016 face police brutality and scant supplies. Intrepid volunteers with Refugee Community Kitchen manage police interference when delivering meals to keep them alive. Refugees have no option but to endure pepper spray and beatings, and confiscation of sleeping bags and Sim cards.
For Expressive Arts Refuge, winter is a time of separation from refugees we’ve come to love. We no longer see them as refugees, but as multidimensional people whom fate has not favored. We keep in touch on social media.
It remains a privilege to witness their warmth and resilience as well as their despair and anger. If fate removed our privileges — home, family, work, a future in a place of our choosing – I wonder how well we would pull together, graciously accept help, learn a new language, delve into our souls for refuge.
Since we don’t have to wrestle with that question, we are researching refugee camps in which to run our summer, 2018 music program. Lebanon is pulling out in front as a possibility.
Donate to Expressive Arts Refuge here. One hundred per cent of our donations go directly to help refugees. None are used to pay for the expenses of our all-volunteer team.