It was not an easy task to write this article. The feelings of love, compassion, and pain have overwhelmed my heart. Life in the region is getting worse and has changed the daily life of millions of children. A child who should be playing in her own neighborhood with her peers in her own city, and going to a school with teachers and students who understand her, is being displaced to a foreign country. She forgets the faces of her grandparents, aunts, and uncles. This story repeats itself with millions of families who have been scattered because of evil.
During our many trips to Jordan, Turkey, and Greece over the past three years, we have met thousands of those who have experienced this cruel war and displacement. Some of them we only met once, but many we see every time we go. Their stories are similar: trauma of war and crossing the sea, the pain of alienation, and coldness of their new surroundings.
Rostom, Zozan, and their three children are an example of a family that is looking for a brighter future. They were raised in Aleppo, Syria. They married there and raised their children there - one girl and two boys. Rostom studied hospitality and hotel management, and had a successful career as a chef. He excelled at his job and was used to working hard and faithfully for the sake of his family’s future.
Rostom was forced to leave his home, his community, and his extended family. War did not distinguish between peaceful man and fighter, between a father working for his children’s future and a radical who kills those who dissent. Rostom fled to northern Iraq to work there. He became a master chef and started a new life as his family settled in their new home. Yet again, the danger of war arrived and Rostom and his family had to flee again, this time for Turkey. They stayed there for 27 days on a military base where they were used as human shields. It was a very difficult experience for Roston, Zozan, and their children. In order to use the bathroom they had to wait for hours, hours of humiliation for the sake of their basic needs in their daily lives. It was harsh and humiliating. This is the story of millions who have been displaced against their will: war, humiliation, suffering.
After this painful experience in Turkey, Rostom decided to take his family to Europe via Greece. This required a dangerous journey on the “Blom,” the boats of death, as they are called. How could they find hope on the boats of death? The cruelty of life made them cling to nothing and take risks to travel by these boats that take more passengers than they should hold. Many people lose their loved ones and their belongings on these dangerous passages across the sea. Some were saved by a miracle. Rostom and his family were longing for a safe land and brighter future. It was a risk getting to the Turkish beaches without being arrested. The escape was organized by smugglers who charged $600-$1200 for an adult, not including the cost of a life jacket.
Rostom’s trip lasted for three and a half hours. Their hearts were full of fear, but this was the only way for them. Rostom’s sister, who was traveling with them, wanted to continue to Germany to meet her husband. Rostom simply wanted to escape from war, alienation, and humiliation.
It was an unforgettable experience. The arrival to the capital, Athens, was painful. When they arrived on the Grecian shores, they came to a camp that had food and water contamination. It appeared that the companies who contracted with the UN were using the refugee crisis to gain a profit. But still they had a glimmer of hope, although even to this day, they are still hurting from the impact of all their suffering. Today, a year after their arrival in Greece, they are still looking for stability, a decent living, and the new beginnings of hope on the distant horizon.
Rostom says, “I used to work and depend on myself. I am looking for a job every day. I want the best for my children. In the resettlement program, Romania was chosen for our family, but I refused. I want a place to move on, to work, and assure a better future for my children. We do not want to remain a burden in a country where citizens themselves have difficulty looking for jobs. Since I refused to go to Romania, the officials are dragging their heels on the matter of our residency. I do not want anything but to work and guarantee a better future for my three children.”
“My oldest daughter, who is ten, is still suffering from all the changes that have taken place - moving between schools, communicating in different languages, and dealing with children who bully her at school. This is in her heart and affects her today. I thank all those who helped me and supported me from outside Greece and the Greeks themselves. They understand our situation and showed us love. But I want a job and to live in a peaceful and loving atmosphere for my family. Today I live in a house that is very cold in the winter. This has caused my children to be sick most of the winter days.” Rostom sighed. “I do not want anything other than a promising future for my children. I am still waiting.”
Whenever we visit Athens, we have activities to help the refugees. Rostom and Zozan do not hesitate to help, despite their pain. He uses his profession as a chef to cook food for the refugee camps, or help when we distribute supplies to those in need.
My story recounts the story of Rostom and his family; but please know that this is the story of many others. Many refugees do not hesitate to help others in a time of need and have joined our team in service in Greece, even though they themselves are in dire need of support and care.
We have visited Rostom several times in his home. Last time, Zozan insisted to prepare lunch for us all. It was the best feast because it was made with hands of love and from a thankful heart.
This thankful heart deserves more. This giving heart deserves the best.
Can anyone provide hope to the hearts of our friends? Rostom’s and Zozan’s children, Tania, Ronnie, and Raber, deserve a better life, as do the millions of other displaced families. Do we take seriously our role to invest in their lives so they can see the love in the midst of a dark, hate-filled world? Do we hear their voices?
Enough of the bloodshed. Enough of the homelessness…