Volunteer stories: Memory (Jun 16)

Tomorrow will be my last day at Camp Alexandreia before heading south again by train, back to Athens and then on to Budapest. It will be difficult to say goodbye, as I surely will be leaving a part of my heart with the people I have met here.

If someone were to ask me what it is about my experience at Camp Alexandreia and working with the refugees that surprised me the most, I would say that it is what I’ve come to know about the young refugee men who are staying here. I came to the camp, expecting to be moved with compassion for the children, for the women, for the old people. But (and I’m sorry to say this) after so many years of war and media reporting about the threat to our nation and the world from Islamic terrorism, I initially responded with an almost unconscious suspicion toward the young men. But a greater truth about who they are was revealed to me through my day by day experiences with them, and it changed all that for me.

Each day I’ve gotten to know these young men a little better, and despite our cultural differences, have discovered what loving and beautiful people they are as a whole. I have been moved continually by their gentle smiles and wit, their thoughtful, respectful and appreciative ways. I have felt profoundly distressed by the hopelessness of their situation as it appears at this time–and perhaps it has been for them that I’ve shed the most tears.

I know if you were here with me, you would be able to see what I see. You would know as I have come to know, that the best way we can ever hope to fight any “war on terror” will never be with fear or bombs or building walls which can only inflame hatreds and create further disasters like the one before us. It will only be through our efforts to build understanding and trust between us. It will be through our actions to help these people and their families rise out of their currently hopeless situation, and move toward a future where they might realize their potential to live happy and constructive lives. In spite of what many may say, we Americans and others in the western world and beyond, have the power and resources to make this happen if we should make the decision to do so.

As I fall asleep tonight and anticipate another final busy day at camp tomorrow, I will be remembering the words of one young refugee man who recently said to me, “we only want peace.”

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