She wanted to show me the woman behind the refugee, to remind me that she is a normal person who not so long ago lived a usual life, one we can all relate to in some way or other. She looked on these photos of herself with a joyous smile and tears in her eyes.
Jacob Stuttard :: Age 20 :: English Literature Student :: United Kingdom
My name is Jacob Stuttard, from London. I’m currently studying English Literature at Manchester. I’m 20 years old.
Myself and my friend Stan originally planned to travel to Lesbos and volunteer there. However the day we arrived in Athens coincided with the EU-Turkey deal which spring up over night – news swiftly reached us Lesbos was now a police detention centre, and we quickly changed our plans and headed north to Thessaloniki and through to Idomeni. Together we were part of a project called Team Bananas and worked every day to ensure that 4500 bananas were distributed to children, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers. I have never felt so purposeful, or so collected in my aims, desires and actions.
My time in Idomeni will be defined by the people I met and got to know. In a sea of mud and dust there lives thousands of people, thousands of children, thousands of lives irrevocably changed by the worst of humanity. They have lost their homes, their possessions, their identity, their dreams, friends, families, loved ones. They have lost who they were, the very streets they lived on, the bit of earth they once called home, their ambitions and their futures. Everyone I spoke to had experienced the darkest aspects of the world. Fleeing from bombs and rockets as they exploded and tore apart the lives they lived, fleeing the bullets and swords of hate. Watching with helplessness as the world they once new vanished and was replaced by darkness. Almost everyone you talk to had experienced the destruction of a world, the killing of men, women and children, torture, imprisonment, at the very least the undeniable understanding that all they once had has been taken away, and the paths they had made for themselves and their children were wiped away for ever.
In Idomeni I experienced humanity in a way I have never before encountered. Such kindness, communication in its rawest form. Interactions of the most sincere quality. There were families and friends I got to know very well, but there was one Syrian family in particular who made the biggest impression on me. I met a girl, about 10 years old, called Nisryn during our daily banana distribution. She always had a cheeky grin and a wide-eyed, fun and eager expression on her face. We became friends, something I hadn’t really expected or thought about before I arrived, and over the next few days I was introduced and got to know her family. Everyday I would spend time with them at their tents, around their fire, or would be off playing with the children. One day I was invited fishing with Nisryn’s father and uncle. I remember sitting with Nisryn’s mother, and she was showing me pictures of herself back in Syria, dressed up in make up and looking pretty. At first I found this a little strange, but then I noticed the sad fondness with which she was looking at these photo’s of herself from a time she can never go back to. She probably will not be able to dress in that way, at least not for a very long time. She wanted to show me the woman behind the refugee, to remind me that she is a normal person who not so long ago lived a usual life, one we can all relate to in some way or other. She looked on these photos of herself with a joyous smile and tears in her eyes. A while later she showed me a picture of her and her sisters. I asked where her sisters were now, and she said Daesh had murdered them. I could go on forever about the experiences which were told to me, about sense of loss which enveloped the camp, or the brave and limitless hope which sustains those who have lost so much. But it was the exchanges, the interactions, the shared experiences of the most sincere kind that will cling to me most. In the photos which are blared out from the media, I don’t see refugees any more, I see people. And it breaks my heart over and over again.