יום שלישי, 12 בינואר 2016

We are all in this together

Back home in Ithaca NY I can finally bring myself to wrap it up and reflect on my journey to Lesvos. I have been asked to tell my story by the community, friends and family. Some are proud of my volunteer work, some are curious about it and some question the entire thing. 
                                                  [Volenteers husband and wife from Switzerlan] 

For my part, I am curious about what people are expecting to hear or what people are ready to hear. It is not a usual humanitarian crisis (as much as humanitarian crisis could possibly be usual if at all). This is a crisis with global political, cultural and even religious aspects. Mass immigration and unknown implications are scary for ordinary people in the countries even as they offer new homes. 

                                          [ Upon arrival feelings of survival]

There are prejudiced opinions about Arabs and the Muslim world. And of course there is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and or Jewish-Arabs conflict in the air when we discuss the Middle East. Even during my stay I was asked to comment about an antisemitic incident in the refugee camps at Lesvos that was widely reported in Lesvos but I could not comment and didn’t. 

I came to Lesvos with an Israeli NGO, I came as an Israeli, I came as a Jewish person, but I left as simply as a human that cares. When I arrived I was worried how I would be accepted and fit in as an Israeli helping Syrians. In the end I left with many new friends; friends from Germany, Spain, Greece, England, Norway, Sweden, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Arab Israelis from my country. 

                                                   [Volenteers from Canada, Israel, Egypt and Greece]

So many volunteers from all over. When there are as many volunteers as refugees, you realize how humanity cares and that is the dominant feeling. We are all in this together. I still find it hard to tell the story of the refugees. I have seen so many faces and such pain every day. 

I am not medic and not a doctor but I carried, I waded out in the sea, I held IVs and I wrapped people with foil when they were cold. I carried babies and hugged mothers and comfort those who lost and those in shock. I helped children to change clothes and put a smile on their faces. 

                                                  [ Doctor from "Doctors Without Boarders" joined the IsraAid team]

I wanted to ask the refugees how they arrived on the shores of Europe, what made them flee? I saw the fear and sadness on their faces but also the pride and their respect for the country they have left behind. 

                                                  [ This raft carried over 50 men, women, children and babies] 

There were two incidents where I felt the hostility, but these were minor and insignificant compare to all the love and welcoming I felt by all including the refugees who were nothing but immensely grateful to whoever helped them. There is something about helping others in need that peels off the sense of self and ego. 

Humanitarian aid is not about where you are coming from, it is not about what language you speak or even your attitude. It is all about helping others that have been caught up in life-threating situations with no ability to sustain normal life. At times it is physical attack, other times it is the lack of food, places to sleep, clothes, medicine and basic conditions. 

                                                  [ Children from Syria draw pictures at Platanous a refugee camp]

If anyone asks me why I help Syrians or Arabs I say simply because that is what caring humans do when they see others in danger, and in need and I am proud to be privileged enough to give back. A person at the refugee camp asked me "What Israelis are doing here?" And I told him "We are here to rescue the enemy". He could not stop laughing and he said to me “Mazal Tov” (congratulations in Hebrew). That was my small win, just to touch someone’s heart, to move past the propaganda, person to person. I am from the Middle East and so is he. Together we can build a better future for our children.

יום שישי, 1 בינואר 2016

A special guy

A special guy

I would like to tell you about a special man that I had the honor to volunteer with, a man to contrast all stereotypes and against all conventions. A man who makes me believe there is true hope for us Jews and Arabs living together. This man, Ali, is an Ambulance medic in the Israeli company Red David Shield in Israel. He is Arab, Muslim, Bedouin and Israeli. He always wore the IsraAid shirt so proud and every time he spoke to new refugees comers in his wonderful Arabic when asked he said: I am Arab, I am an Israeli Arab. He has saved babies lives, saved women’s lives. I was with him everyday all day and filmed him and took pictures of him and listened to his stories. 

I had breakfast, lunch and dinner with him and I still can’t still can't believe my good fortune to be around this special leader. He is the first to come to the séance, the first to carry the children to safe place. The first to rush the wounded to the infirmary. Today, something extraordinary happened in the camp. After brining three children to the infirmary a Norwegian medic came to me and told me: “I want to volunteer for IsraAid. I want to be one of yours. Can you please find me a shirt with the flag of Israel? Can you give me your organization's number? You Israelis are the best team here.” As I write these lines I cannot fully acknowledge the change we made here, the impact of what this work means to people. It makes me so proud of my country Israel and so proud to be Jewish and honored to be able to co-volunteer like the legendary Ali.  

 If it wasn’t for IsraAID I could have never have made so much peace and seen the possibilities for coexistence and friendship across boundaries in the Middle East. Thank you IsraAID for giving me this amazing opportunity to help others in need. To cross cultures and to bridge differences and get to know so many wonderful people will surely make this world a better place. 

Love Mirit Hadar

This island has many lives

One day on this island seems like a few as many intense events follow one another closely.

This morning I said goodbye to one of the most amazing Jewish families I have ever met. They came all the way from San Francisco with 25 suitcases of kindness and their good hearts: hand warmers, chocolates, soap and blankets. Their generosity and kindness went beyond the donations as they were on site and on call to anything needed. They brought their teenage son and college daughter as the family bonds together over this important cause. At times I feel quite privileged being in this place where so many impressive people come together.
Family picture of the Jewish family 

I departed Mytilini and headed to the north shore with the IsraAID doctor. It was a beautiful drive off the beaten path. Many boats arrive on this side of the island, as it is situated closer to Turkey than the south shore. Since the EU-Turkish agreement it has become harder for refugees to cross the border at this location. Also, refugees pass through Mytilini where they are housed in temporary camps called Stage 2 before heading to a bigger camp of Moria located near Mytilini. In Moria refugees officially register and are moved by ferry to Athens and from there to Germany. The registration at the camp in Mytilini is much closer to the port where the ferry departs which shortens the waiting time these refugees face.

Going to the north shore feels like going back in time as if 21st century life has not yet arrived in this sleepy town, as the small café I am writing these lines to you seems so welcoming and warm. Here, place many volunteers gather together every night in the local restaurant talking about the events of the morning, to plan better strategies to help out in the sea and to bring some joy to a very not joyful humanitarian situation. 

I met the Israeli team that works at this location and was so surprised to find out how warmly Israelis are welcomed here. One of the defaults of this phenomenal NGO is the collaboration between Arabs and Jews among the IsraAID team. Speaking Arab and Hebrew and English and going back and forward was an amazing experience for me. I am very proud of this work of IsraAID that facilitates such needed coexistence.

As winter approaches and the temperatures are getting lower it is very apparent that refugee arrival is becoming more challenging. The sea was covered with meter high waves when three boats managed to land on shore. The first boat arrived in front of the first stage camp with minor incidents though the passengers were completely soaked up to their waist. 

In the second boat that arrived shortly after, an Iraqi woman had medical emergency. She was rushed to the stage 1 camp medical center. This refugee arrived with her entire family; her husband, four boys and a girl from age 16 to age 5. The three small children needed a female volunteer to help them change into dry clothes. They were worried about their mom and needed support. I guided the children to the changing area where volunteers were ready with everything from dry socks to kids clothing and shores and even toys and stuffed animals. I helped the refugee children choose clothes, get dry and coaxed a smile out of them. The volunteers fixed the girls beautiful hair and helped the boys choose a toy. By the time we finished with the younger children the mom returned with two older brothers so I took family picture of them all. These are the moments of struggle, joy and love on the island of Lesbos.

Happy New Years from Lesbos, Greece

It has been over a week here on the Island of Lesbos since my arrival. I find myself in awe of the situation, the people who save the lives of refugees, the refugees themselves and my small part observing and helping in all of this. Although, war  is terrible and aweful, I have found hope in here. I know how we all talk about peace in the abstract. We hope for peace, we advocate for it. But few if any are in a position to promote it. A lady here recently told me: “Mirit you won’t change anything, we are not here to change” and I must say my experience has taught me she was wrong, that ordinary people can indeed make change.

I have made peace here on the Island of Lesbos in every possible way peace can be made; I have learned other people's languages, about different cultural approaches and I cared. I was not afraid to say who I am and where I am from. I gave a smile to all who needed it. I have made friendships with people from every corner of the world. Yes, I have made friendships with Palestinians, Syrians, Iraqi, Iranian, Afghani, Kurds and I must admit none of them ever said to me anything bad to me when I said I am Israeli.

There was one Syrian woman I spent time with, my age with a child the same age as my own child. She asked me where I was from and I said I am from Israel. She stopped what she was doing and she came to me and hugged me ever so tightly. She said to me "God bless Israel". I was in tears. She was in tears. I really don’t know what is peace if that is not that.

I have so many stories to tell you, not all are easy to tell, not all have happy endings but through many struggles, debates and cultural differences there are important lessons to understand. We are all human. We care for our families, we all need to make a living, to provide and to live a respectful life. We do have different ways to understand each other, different mentalities, different customs, different languages but we all want to feel that we belong.