When in 2014 she visited South Africa’s capital city, Pretoria, for an education project with vulnerable young girls, she spent 6 weeks and never expected to continue on the road of volunteering. However, her short stay in South Africa marked the beginning of her journey.
How did you become involved with volunteer work, and why is it important for you?
I was involved in a global education project – I think it is important to educate people in my country about other countries, to make them more open-minded.
For many years, I had read a lot about Africa and the Middle East, for some reason I found these parts of the world very interesting and I noticed that there are many stereotypes – like famine in Africa, wars, terrorism, etc. I thought, “It’s not a complete picture”, that’s why I decided to get involved in this project.
Now I’m involved in a refugee mentors’ network. At a certain point, I realized that taking part in discussions in our warm and cozy armchairs didn’t solve anything, so I decided to go and do something real. I also wanted to be able to tell people something from my own experience. Before my departure to South Africa, many people feared for me, but I went anyway, and I was happy to spend that time surrounded by Africans. I felt that prejudices that people have are often the result of lack of knowledge.
Once you arrived, was there any moment you doubted yourself or felt that the issue was bigger than you?
Yes, I felt often that there were many problems that I witnessed, and I didn’t know what to do.
I could play with children who experienced war trauma, but… what’s next?
That didn’t change enough; they were still children, deprived of the right to an education.
I know that now, some of those children went to school because of a good job done by volunteers who found places for them and organized financial help, but I also know that there are many children who cannot go to school, and I feel that education is important, so I’m afraid for this generation.
For sure I didn’t do enough to help them. But I’ve got the impression that in some way, it was important for them that we came from our countries to hear their stories. They felt that they matter, that somebody cares about them.
Can you recall a particular story or moment, while in Turkey, that touched your heart?
It was when I spent the night in a refugee camp for the first time.
Families who were living there invited me and my friends to their tents and shared everything they had with us, including their stories and their beautiful culture.
Eleven-year old Silva took my hand and led me to her tent. After that, each time I was in the camp, her family hosted me and her father, Ahmed, treated me as if I were his own daughter, even though we often didn’t understand each other, we used different languages and mostly signs to communicate.
When I was there, I heard an explosion and after that, when I fell asleep, a storm woke me up. I know it may sound silly, since it was only a storm, but in that place, in a tent so near to the Syrian border, it was a bit frightening. Ahmed said something in his language, which is kurmanji, I didn’t understand it, but he was speaking to me in a very calm way, to make me not afraid. I felt belter because I was not alone. I found it amazing that they treated me as one of their family. It was really amazing that, despite the language barrier, we had this great connection.
There was also another special moment, when, after the first day spent in Suruç, the small society of the camp gathered with us, and the men took the saz, a middle-eastern instrument, and started playing and singing their beautiful traditional Kurdish songs. In that moment, I felt that it would be completely wrong to say that I was there to help them. The relation between us was much more than that, they were also hosts, and I was their guest; they were people who suffered, and I was there to be a witness.
And I learned that you can take everything from a person – you can destroy their houses, kill their relatives, take their sense of safety and stability, but not someone’s dignity.
Now that you are back, and after this journey, what are your plans for the future?
After I came back home, I started to write, and I published some articles about Syrian refugees, to give them a voice that the Polish people can hear. I plan to write more, to go back and maybe one day write a book.
Photos: Dalia Mikulska