The Town Volunteer Program. Helping Refugees: Part 2

When dangerous months on foot or voyages in unstable boats are your only options, things are bad indeed. Refugees may be met at borders by hostile police or herded in subhuman conditions. Criminal bands now make more money from human trafficking than drugs. Millions are making the exhausting trek, often cheated and robbed.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has declared Germany will take in refugees, particularly those fleeing Syria. This doesn’t begin to meet the challenge of how to integrate all these newcomers. The scramble is on to figure out how to register, and house, and provide for over one million asylum seekers, all arriving at the same time.

My community will receive 300 refugees. Every empty building is being assessed for use as temporary or permanent housing. I live in a 1,200-year-old village – with fewer than 20,000 inhabitants. Strangers definitely stand out.

I began asking myself questions. What does it mean when an outside crisis brushes up against the everyday? Can I help? If yes, am I prepared for what that entails?

I called the Rathaus (Town Hall). “English is my native language and I’m fluent in German,” I said. “I can translate. We’ve got lots of household goods to donate. I’m a massage therapist: I can offer therapy if someone needs it.”

I was informed that my town has taken in earlier refugees from the former Yugoslavia, Pakistan, and other countries. The town runs a training program for volunteers (how to help the newcomers who suffer from shell shock and/or culture shock, what to expect, etc.). Translating services are in place; the town has more donations for supplies than they can use. But, the offer for medical services… They took my contact information to pass along.

The next morning, I received a phone call from A, the German liaison. [1] “Your offer is like hearing from someone from another planet,” she declared. “For months, a severely traumatized refugee has been requesting massage. How soon can we meet?”

I didn’t know it yet, but there would be no time for the training program.

NOTES: [1] To respect the privacy of all persons involved I have changed the names and use initials only. Part 3 to follow.

11 thoughts on “The Town Volunteer Program. Helping Refugees: Part 2”

  1. Jadi,
    This is such an interesting series about your work with refugees. It’s a simple and a complex problem to help, isn’t it? I also live in a small and generous village that has welcomed refugees. It’s inspiring to read about your experiences.

    1. Laurel, doing this work taught and continues to teach me things I never expected…. I was surprised at how rapidly treating M became a part of my weekly routine. I visited her and my mother-in-law every Monday afternoon. The work forced me to confront stereotypes I wasn’t even aware of having. Some remain; some are erased forever. I continue to be startled by insights that arrive unannounced and unsought. Where are you located, and what is the situation with refugees? I wish all of you a gentle and successful integration and transition….

  2. You are a perfect example of how everyone has something to offer. I’m sure others are inspired to look inward and see what they can do to ease the unimaginable suffering.

    1. I hope you’re right Marilyn! My decision came from being inspired by my German friend. When I heard how she cared enough to volunteer, it really moved my focus. I tried to stop being so scared of what’s coming (- it’s coming anyway -), and for the first time wondered if I could help. And THAT thought shifted things. I’m still anxious about the changes hitting Europe, but no longer quite as scared. This topic is going to be a big part of my blog in the coming months. I welcome all of your responses; thanks so much for commenting.

    1. Thanks Carol. It turned out that I was (am) the first and only massage therapist to have done so. There are volunteers involved who donate many more hours and indeed their life efforts to helping refugees. I am in good company.

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