Why these Scouts are volunteering to help refugees and asylum seekers in Europe
Millions of people have been forced from their homes by conflict in the past few years – 68.5 million according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees - and some continue to risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean to find safety in Europe. Time to Be Welcome has been operating across different European cities for the past year, including Thessaloniki and Kevala in Greece, offering language classes and fun activities to refugee children. Led by young people from seven European nations, including Scouts, and funded by the European Commission through the Erasmus+ programme, Time to be Welcome is designed to help the young refugees settle into their new homes and prepare them for the start of school in September. A new group of volunteers has just arrived and will be with the programme until the end of August. They told us why they decided to spend their summer working with the children and young refugees aged between eight and 18 years old.
An opportunity to volunteer with like-minded people from all over Europe on a relevant and important project was exactly what I wanted to do before finishing my degree. I hope we can achieve something in these two months that will last even once we leave. I do not expect to change lives while I’m here, but I hope to improve some opportunities for the young refugees we work with. I have volunteered with young people and with vulnerable adults before in Ireland, and am looking forward to using and developing my experience while I am here.
Unionist Guides and Scouts of France
My name is Caroline. I’m 21 years old and I am volunteering for two months in Greece. Being a Scout in France, in the Éclaireurs Éclaireuses Unionistes de France, the specific values of mutual aid and open-mindness of this organisation led me to start a Masters in International Development, with a specialty in crisis situations. It’s in a similar state of mind that I volunteered for this project. Social cohesion and peace building are two of the many challenges that need to be supported for long-term stability, not only in Europe but all around the world. I am pleased to be able to do what’s in my power to be part of that and in this wonderful project.
Catholic Scout Movement, Spain
Since I was a child, my family and the Scout Movement have taught me the importance of helping someone in need, giving my assistance to any person without caring (about) the differences we can have, and of course doing all of this without asking for reward, doing it only for love. When I saw the opportunity to be able to go to Greece, I did not hesitate. I think it’s a beautiful project especially since I love children, so for me there is no better way to make their life more bearable during this so complicated time than by preparing a camp for them. I am aware that I will not be able to give them a better life, but I will put all my effort to make them smile and, as a Scout, create a better world.
Mario, Aleksander, Leo, Gjorgi
Scout Association of Macedonia
As Scouts from Macedonia, we decided to take part in the project in order to take an active role in promoting the idea that young people from Europe should get involved in helping the refugees become part of European society. We strongly believe that Scouting can make a great contribution to wider European efforts aimed at welcoming and including the refugees in their respective societies. The values that unite Scouts around the world encourage us to take the lead whenever we face a challenge. And we do it because we know that we have the power to be the crucial changemakers in this crisis.
Having learned of the migrant crisis that has inundated Europe since late 2014/2015, I have always felt a sense of what I can only describe as almost guilt. This crisis did not appear, to me at least, to be treated like any other disaster we would be familiar with. There were fewer donation campaigns, fewer calls for international cooperation and as resources became stressed it seems like we forgot these were real people who weren’t just coming for a better life out of choice or trying to move away from extreme poverty, they were largely fleeing persecution and war zones. In fact, as we got accustomed to terms like ‘refugee camps’, ‘rubber dinghies’, and ‘border control’, the entire situation became normalised and it really made me feel like a passive witness to one of the most chaotic and unimaginable humanitarian crises in recent times. I never thought initiatives like TTBW existed. I never believed that someone like me could do anything to help these people other than simply raising awareness back home where the atmosphere felt like worlds apart. When the opportunity arose to directly contribute to the support and wellbeing of young people who have been through these traumatic experiences and who in some cases are still in the lengthy process of finding some stability in their lives, I knew I could not let it pass. I could not think of a better way to spend my summer (than) getting to see first-hand what it is like for them and to do whatever I can to put a smile on their faces and to show them that people do care, people are listening to them and not turning a blind-eye.