Even though I don't want to admit it, I can assure you that even I in the past, have become desensitized by the current refugee crisis. We constantly read about the terrible things occurring in Syria, and the people who suffer. We often lose sight of how the people being affected are people, not just statistics. I’ve read about the gruesome details and ordeals of schools being bombed, but my imagination can only stray so far away from what my reality is. Not only can I admit that I find it hard to imagine what these people feel, but I’ve also painted a specific picture of whom I imagine these people to be. I naturally expect someone who's experienced unspeakable tragedy at a young age to be reserved and unhappy, however, when faced with some of these people I was taken aback when my preconceived ideas were dismissed.
Obviously, the refugee crisis is a vast topic, and every individual involved has their own story. However, my sole point is that before meeting a refugee, I expected everyone involved in the crisis to have the same approach and outlook on life. A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to meet some refugees on a Saturday, and teach them English. I was put in a group with boys under 18. I expected all of them to be from war-torn countries I see on the news (Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan) however more than half of them were from Pakistan.
I was buddied up with two boys, Aruf and Harun, both from Pakistan. Harun was 16 and Aruf was 18. Our interaction was nothing out of the ordinary, we laughed made jokes and acted the way ‘normal’ teens do. One thing I expected was for their stories to define them. I expected that the struggles they had faced to come up in the first few minutes, however majority of our conversation consisted of Bollywood movies and soccer. Little bits and pieces explaining what they had been through emerged subtly across a 3-hour time span. When teaching Aruf a list of English vocab, one of the words listed was ‘lice’. I explained to him the meaning of lice and how they are tiny bugs that live in one's hair. He immediately understood, explaining to me how he had previously lived in a refugee camp in Turkey for 6 months, where he had to share a small tent with 27 other people. He explained to me how everyone had lice, and the overcrowding and lack of sanitation led him to come to Greece, by boat. It’s then that I realized that I had only seen the tip of the iceberg with Aruf, despite his optimistic approach towards being in Athens, I understood the hardships he endured and how Greece was not his optimal destination.
Positivity and hope are things that get most of these boys through life each and every day. Religion is what motivates many of them, the thought of being reunited with family is another. I am honestly so inspired by these boys, many of them arriving in Greece just a few months back and already speaking conversational Greek and English. Upon reflection I thought of what motivates me to live, my family was my first thought. Most of these kids have lost their families in transit with the chance of being reunited very slim. At a young age the thought of only living for myself is extremely hard to grasp, but for many, themselves is all they have.
Simple lessons the boys taught me
We are all the same
Find purpose in everything, including the little things
Never stop asking questions in order to grow and learn (you are always learning even outside of a classroom)
Find what gives you hope (whether it be religion etc.)
Persevere through hard times, have a clear goal and work hard for it. (For example, Aruf's goal is to get to Germany. He spends a countless amount of hours a day on online sites such as 'Duo-lingo' learning German. He works hard for his goals and uses bad experiences to drive him for a better life).
Home to over 57,042 refugees.