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18 Jul

‘Kindness can go a long way’

Ashley and Jordan Johnsen

Living in the United States, Ashley and Jordan Johnsen know the refugee crises is a hot topic. But with Trump as their president, they say there is not a lot of information about displaced people. A reason to come to Lesvos to see the situation themselves.

‘Trump dominates our news cycle. And his administration does not really care about refugees. We wanted to come here, so we could share our experience with the world.

We knew it was going to be a difficult and emotional experience. But we did not realize that it also would be so enjoyable. These people have suffered and survived. And they continue to survive by living in terrible conditions. But despite all of this, they have such a positive attitude. We are amazed’.

We came to Lesvos, because …
‘We wanted to be able to interact with refugees. We could have sent money, but it was important for us to meet the people first hand. We believe that kindness can go a long way. The people we have met have suffered a lot. They are treated as numbers in the camps. We wanted to show them that there are people in the world who empathize with them on an equal base. We came here, because ‘just’ being kind to someone, can make a big difference’.

These were our tasks …
‘Ashley mainly worked in the woman house. This was interesting. A lot of the women cannot speak English. Most of them were also quite reserved. She would spent the whole day in there and eventually the women started to open up. Because communicating with them was difficult, we found different ways to interact with them. We danced, sewed, or drank tea together.

‘Jordan did a lot of activities with the children. It was wonderful to see that, once you are playing with them, a smile appears on their face. Still, it was heartbreaking to realize that they don’t know a life without worries. When they weren't  playing, they looked miserable. Their lives will never be the same as how it was before’.

This was our most memorable moment …
‘The intimate conversations with the people we have met sticked with us the most. Even though we are from totally different lives, we were still able to connect and share different experiences.

Ashley had a conversation with a woman about the hijab and what it means to be a muslim. In the beginning we had our ‘western thoughts’ about it. But to hear someone talk about their culture and their pride, really affected us. It changed the way we think about topics like these. This woman helped us understand why wearing a hijab is so important for her and why it is a source of pride. She helped us seeing it through new eyes’.

One Happy Family is …
A special and empowering place. This community center gives the people a sense of purpose. And this makes a difference. Refugees are trusted to do their tasks and no one is monitoring them to see what they are doing. They get back a bit of responsibility.  One Happy Family is also a safe place. The people can escape everything that is going on in their life for a while.

Besides this, this community center is a place full of love. Refugees here are so used to volunteers coming and going. You would expect that they are not so welcoming anymore. But the opposite is true. They really embrace you and let you in their heart. This is touching, but it also makes it much more harder to leave’.

Our message to other people …
It is hard to put this experience in to words. We want to encourage people to come here for themselves. You can hear about this in the news, and it may upset you, but you also distance yourself because that is there and you are here. When you visit Lesvos, you cannot distance yourself anymore. And this is important. People have to see this with their own eyes’.

Ashley Johnsen

Age: 30

Country:  United States of America

Occupation: Law student

Stay: 29 April - 13 May

Jordan Johsen

Age: 34

Country: United States of America

Occupation: Real Estate Developer

Stay: 29 April - 13 May