Quinoa? Quiyessa says Tessa!

In the spirit of this blog, we started small.

Some time ago me and three new friends I met online (after my last blog) started an initiative: we aspired to the following: People in refugee shelters should be able to eat the same healthy and responsible meals that we – well-to-do Dutch people – eat.

Quinoa_ySo we started a collection: we asked people we knew to donate healthy foods such as biologically grown vegetables, free range chicken eggs and fresh cowmilk. We made food packages of these contributions and headed to a refugee shelter near Amsterdam. The employees at the shelter were surprised, but also very friendly. They accepted our five food packages (yes, we started small) and promised us they would give them to the kitchen staff.

We were glad to have been able to help, but I personally felt a little…. Dissatisfied.

It doesn’t seem as if we’ve made a substantial contribution.

A small group of people will have had a few good meals because of us. But what is next? What will they eat next week? And what about all those others?

In the spirit of this blog, we started small. But we need to go bigger. We need to go hashtag.

We need to scale up and use the power of social media (it’s huge, believe me) to provide healthy food for refugees.

We need to get #quinoaforrefugees (#qiunoavoorasielzoekers in Dutch) trending and get some attention to our cause. We need to get on the map and on the national tv-shows and involve large companies and political parties.

So I am asking: how do we do this? Has anybody here any experience starting a social media movement?

I believe it can be done. Don’t say quiNOa, say quiYESsa!

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How to help refugees at home…

Last time on this blog I wrote about my experiences on Lesbos. My trip there was quite confronting to me. I realized that I am probably not the right person to help people on the frontline. I wish I was, but I am not strong enough. Unfortunately.

I ended my blog with a call for donations to the Red Cross. I donated a substantial sum myself, and for a part that was – I must admit – paying off that sense of guilt for my failure on Lesbos. Some people pointed out this out to me as well. They told me that it seemed “a simple way out.”

azcAfter some discussions I realized that there must be more that I can do – apart from donating money. I did some research, and found out that it is possible to help from home. There are refugees and refugee shelters here in The Netherlands as well – or in any country in Western Europe. The people over there – although better off than those in Greece – need our help as well.

There are volunteers needed to teach language classes, for example. And people who will organize sports tournaments for the kids. Like this.

And you can sign up to help people whose immigration request has been granted, and who now have to make themselves at home in our society.

I myself – I was particularly struck by a story from the refugee shelter in Nijmegen. Refugees there complained about the food. I was surprised. Don’t we offer good food to these people?

quinoaTurns out that we don’t. People in refugee shelters live on a diet of overcooked vegetables and all the wrong kinds of carbohydrates. And I would not be surprised if their food comes from the supermarkets where they sell genetically modified monsterfoods, sprayed with insecticides.How difficult can it be to organize a dinner service that offers biological, sustainable and responsible meals for people in refugee shelters?

I am going to find out and report back to you.

Helping refugees in Greece

I believe that you can only make the world a better place by doing small things yourself. That is why last month I took an airplane to Greece, to help refugees on the island of Lesbos.

Many Syrian refugees take little inflatable boats to travel from Turkey to Greece, looking for peace and prosperity in Europe. Many of these refugees die, but those who make it to Lesbos live there in terrible circumstances. They are only helped by the UNHCR, the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders and Dutch organisations like the Boat Refugee Foundation. So it is a good thing that thousands of volunteers, like me, go to Greece to help some more.

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I had a bit of a rough flight, but out on the ocean, on the ferry that would take me to Lesbos, I felt better again. The ocean and the winds reminded me of family holidays to Guernsey. Unfortunately it started storming and I spent the rest of the day ill in the ladies room.

But I like to see things from the sunny side. So I told myself: “Tessa, do feel bad. For if you yourself feel terrible, at least you’ll be able to imagine the plight of the refugees.”

And plight there is. I had only just arrived on Lesbos and dropped off my luggage when I joined a group of German and Belgian volunteers to take a look at the camps and shelters where the refugees live. There are thousands of them, packed closely together, with not enough showers and toilets, and no schools or playgrounds for the children.

I could not help myself and burst into tears. While the others started handing out blankets and food packages, I excused myself and retreated to our van. I could not bear facing these poor people, who are so brave, while I was crying like a little child over their misery.

That night, in the hotel, we had a late supper with the group, and Alice, a nice German lady, comforted me and told me that the next day we would go to the beach. We would get to work on cleaning up the beach after the refugees had landed, to get rid of all the life vests and waste. I looked forward to doing some actual hard work and slept better than I had expected.

teddyThe next day, on the beach, the day started out well. We spent a good three hours cleaning up and sorting the rubbish. I felt really useful. But then I found a teddy bear in the rubbish. It was old and dingy, and it was missing one eye, and it looked so lost. And I could not help but think of the little boy who had left everything he owned behind in Aleppo, taking only this old stuffed animal with him. Who was now somewhere on the island, in a camp, alone, and without his teddy.

I again spent most of the afternoon in tears.

Which led me to wonder, late at night: What am I doing here? Who am I kidding? I have no steel stomach. I do not have enough callus on my soul to be here, day in and day out. I am utterly useless and no help at all on Lesbos.

So the next day I packed my bags and got on the ferry back to the mainland. Back to Athens and from there, back to Amsterdam.

But I did write a big check for the Red Cross, and I do not feel bad about that at all. In fact, I encourage you, reader, who has made it all the way to the end of this blog, to do the same.

Love, Tessa

 

Happy holidays?

I know I shouldn’t get worked up about it. Michael tells me all the time: “Tessa, don’t get worked up about it. It’s not worth the hassle.” But I cannot help myself.

screenshot_623For the last years, hundreds of thousands of people have fled Syria because of the civil war in that country. They’ve fled to Lebanon, to Jordan and to Turkey, and now they’re coming here. And they are drowning in the Meditteranean while doing so. And nobody is doing a damn thing about it.

Except a Dutch commercial tour operator. They’re actually organising holidays to Greece, themed ‘help the refugees’. They are earning money over the backs of these poor, poor people. It disgusts me.

There is nothing wrong with travelling to Grece to help refugees. In fact, I myself will do exactly that and I will write about it on this blog. But the idea of a boardroom meeting where someone says: “You know what we can do with all these Grek hotels we’ve got fully booked and nobody wants to go to? You know how we can earn money there…” Ugh.

Happy holidays.