I have been away from this blog for a long time due to a trip to Mexico, a visit to Germany, a large contingent in town for a family wedding, and a general malaise caused by the steady drumbeat of bad news around the world. But I always find that my volunteer work at the Caritas soup kitchen lifts my spirits, despite being around desperate immigrants and refugees and impoverished local Greeks.
It encourages me about the future of humanity because I encounter so many young people from around Europe and the world who come here hoping to help out a bit–whether for only a day or two or for an extended period. Like the group of minority and immigrant youth from Paris with whom I worked the other day (pictured below.) These were young people whose parents had emigrated to France from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Pakistan, and other countries. Now they were doing a summer program learning about and helping to serve refugees from other countries who have made their way to Greece and are now stuck here.
The Caritas volunteers make up a little United Nations–on one recent day I struggled to speak Italian with the kids from the church group from Trieste, English to the Czech medical students, French to the French college student volunteers, Spanish to my regular co-volunteers Adriana and Veronica from Mexico, and Greek to Caritas staff members. Sadly, my aging brain is no longer so nimble as to manage such a task and I’m afraid I ended up speaking an incomprehensible babble to all.
But with all the terrorist attacks, the crazy election campaign in the US, the never ending wars in Syria and Afghanistan, and the endless flow of general bad news every day, it warms my heart to see these young people coming from all over the world to try to do something positive. Some are organized by church groups and come out of a sense of charitable obligation, but most seem to be self-motivated, just wanting to do some good.
The refugees who have now been stuck in camps here in Greece for months, with no sign of a solution to their problem–no way to move forward and an absolute determination on their part not to go back–are getting visibly more weary. But in my brief conversations between washing dishes, I continue to be amazed at their calm and determination to reach a better life. I commiserated with a middle-aged Syrian man the other day who had been stuck for six months in a camp here in Athens, telling him that his situation must be very hard, indeed. “Life is hard everywhere,” he said to me, with a resigned smile. “It’s hard for everyone.” Don’t feel particularly sorry for me.
I have observed that more and more infants and small children are coming to Caritas these days, which always makes the volunteers happy. I often wonder what will become of these kids, hoping that at least some of them will find a better life somewhere away from war and danger.