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31 Oct

‘’Coming here made me realise, that every individual matters’’

Silke Reiter, 36, anthropologist from Austria

This is my most memorable moment…
I am super impressed by the kitchen team. Cooking for so many people in such a tiny place is an incredible task. The kitchen team is so dedicated to their work and they always try to make the best out of everything and they are cooking delicious, nutritious and healthy food.

This struck me the most…
The stories that the people keep telling me about the life in Moria. When I sit down with them, they often start talking to me about what they experience and they show me pictures and videos of it. What especially hits me every time, are the horrible conditions that especially people in the tents have to live in. It is hard for me to deal with their stories, I really can’t imagine how it must be for them, to live there, to go through all of this. Still and nevertheless, when they come to One Happy Family, they have a smile on their face and they are really trying to have a good time! I think, as a volunteer, I can learn a lot from them and it reminds me how privileged we are. 

One Happy Family is…
A lovely place, where people have the possibility to hang out together and have a good time. I think it’s a good way for them to be distracted for a while of what they have been through and get some time out from the life in Moria.

This is what I would like to tell other people…
I think that everyone who has or could find the possibility to volunteer with refugees, should do it. It doesn’t matter if it is back home or somewhere abroad. You will meet the people behind the statistical numbers. This makes it real and you will understand that all of them are humans like you and me. I think it is our responsibility to speak up for those who can’t and give them a voice. We have the power to do so, instead of them. 

My tasks in One Happy Family are…
I help out wherever needed. I help out in most of the projects. The bank, the barber, the tailor, the cafe, etc. I try to help improve whatever I can and also learn from whoever I can, as much as I can.

12 Oct

‘’We have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.’’

Ross Ireland, 64, a semi-retired businessman from England.

This is my most memorable moment…
My favourite time of the day is when we close the main building to adults and the school kids come for their supper. They walk in singing songs and reciting the alphabet in English and they’re always happy and full of energy. It’s great to see that the kids are happy, even though they live in very bad circumstances.

This struck me the most…
The scale of the problem on this island. The number of people stuck here and the number of new people that arrive everyday. We would like to do more to help them, but it’s impossible for one organisation to do everything. At least when they visit One Happy Family they are treated with respect and being here is a positive experience for them.

One Happy Family is…
A haven in a living hell – a safe place for people to live a normal existence for a few hours every day.

This is what I would like to tell other people…
Despite the diversity of the people and the complexities of the problem we have many things in common as all humans do. Most of the people are fleeing wars and violence and genuinely need help.
We need support to carry on this work. Help from the outside is important to maintain the work that we and others are doing here.

My tasks in One Happy Family are mainly…
Organising building work, repairs and maintenance. Just generally keeping things going.
I enjoy taking part in the lunch service where we serve about 800 meals every day. I also help with the hygiene shop where we distribute basic items like soap, toothpaste and shampoo, also diapers to parents with babies.
I’m an enthusiastic but not very good chess player and when I arrived we only had 1 chess board so I bought another 10 so that more people could play which has become very popular. Chess is a really absorbing game and a good distraction from the problems of daily life. Amongst the visitors to One Happy Family there are an Iranian and an Afghan chess champion!

What do you think makes One Happy Family different from other similar organisations…
It’s the very successful recruitment of helpers from the camps who actually run mostly everything here. One Happy Family is organised in such a way that it facilitates through trust and cooperation rather than top down management which is great for efficiency – and the self esteem of the helpers.

26 Sep

‘’ We need to keep fighting for people’s human rights!‘’

Lily Peck, 27, agriculture/ plant sciences PhD student from England

For the past 5 weeks Lily has been working with us in One Happy Family for the second time this year. After this experience, she wants to raise more awareness in her home country. ‘’People think that the crisis here on Lesvos is over. It is not over and that is why we need to keep raising awareness in our home countries.’’

This is my most memorable moment…
‘’My most memorable moment is our day trip to the women’s festival in Eressos with a group of women from Moria. The women’s house in One Happy Family and it’s visitors had been working on making bags out of used clothes, including a wedding dress, and we sold those bags at the festival to raise money for the women’s house.
They told me that they loved the trip because they never really get out of Moria or Mytilini. We spend time swimming, eating lunch and hanging out in the sun, listening to music. When we dropped the women off at Moria, they told me that they wish they could turn back the clock to the start of the day so they could do this day all over again.’’

This struck me the most…
‘’The strength and the bravery of the helpers and the visitors in One Happy Family. I also worked with the women’s swimming class at Sport For Refugees. The strength and the bravery that these women showed by getting back into the water really amazed me. Mostly all of them have had a traumatic experience crossing over from Turkey. You can see that they are scared to get in and put their heads under water. But seeing them trying to overcome their fear and learning to swim was incredible’’

One Happy Family is…
‘’A utopian communist society where everyone is equal regardless of religion, status or age. Everyone here is treated fairly and with love and respect.’’

This is what I would like to tell other people…
‘’The crisis here is not over, even though it’s not in the media anymore. People are still arriving here, for example there were over 500 new arrivals in one weekend. We need to keep raising awareness and promoting the organisations that are trying to do their best to help out here on Lesvos. We need to keep fighting for people’s human rights, because they cannot do it themselves while they are stuck here. The people here are fleeing genuine persecution or danger and we should never forget that in Europe, where often the humanity is removed, and the situation here is seen as a problem. We have to keep raising awareness in our home countries.’’

My tasks in One Happy Family were…
‘’Supporting the 3 helpers, Sara, Zahra and Hanan, in the women’s house to make it a calm, peaceful and empowering environment. I introduced a new program while I was here, which includes key health advice from DocMobile once a week, legal advice and English classes.
As I told before I also helped out at Sport For Refugees with the swimming classes and the running classes. It was so good to help, support and engage young people to take them out of Moria and make them do physical excercises.’’

12 Sep

‘I didn’t know I could learn so much from other people in just a few weeks’

Anja Otth, 25, social work student from Switzerland

After working with refugees in Switzerland, Anja decided to come to Lesvos to see things from a different point of view. She wanted to see what the people here are going through so she could use this experience in her work in Switzerland. ‘Working here as a volunteer on Lesvos taught me to see things from another perspective. In my time on Lesvos I learned so much from the people that are here.’ 

 

This is my most memorable moment…
The thing that I really liked to do was the cleaning day. All the volunteers and helpers were working together to make One Happy Family even more beautiful! We started the day with some yoga to relax our minds and bodies and I really enjoyed this because it was also a kind of team-building thing. Days like this make the team grow even closer to each other.’

This struck me the most…
When I worked in Switzerland I had a very professional role so it was easier for me to keep my distance from the people. Being here, working as a volunteer so close with the people is different. I heard a lot of personal stories and the whole situation comes so close! When I talked with people who have been here for a long time, I heard many rough and touching stories. I knew living here was hard before I came here, but I didn’t realise how many things are actually going wrong here, on this island.
One moment that is really stuck in my mind, is my visit to the lifejacket graveyard and realising that the inside of the lifejackets actually suck up the water instead of making them float, because of the cheap quality.’ 

One Happy Family is…
‘A safe place were people can learn from each other and where people get the opportunity to use their skills and share this with others.’

This is what I would like to tell other people…
I think it would be good if everyone once experienced how it is to work here so they can see what is actually going on. For the 1,5 years that One Happy Family now exists I am so surprised by how it grew and how it is still growing and helping the people in such a positive way! I hope that more people will come here and spread the idea around so more places like this will appear.’

My tasks in One Happy Family were…

I was coordinating the adult school, the youth space and the guitar classes for the youth and the adults. I also helped out wherever my help was needed.

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

11 Jul

‘Refugees are not from a different planet’

Gaelle Dietrich

Gaelle Dietrich volunteers in a center for refugees in Germany. To learn more about what these people are going through, she decided to go to Lesvos. ‘I wanted to go a little bit further in the work I am doing. I felt the need to see where the people I work with have lived and what they’ve experienced. In Germany I wasn’t able to get fully confronted with this.’

‘When I heard about One Happy Family it sounded like a perfect place for me to work. There are many different activities and you also have the time to talk to the people. In this way you can understand the situation they are in much better.’

This is my most memorable moment…
‘What has impressed me is all the love and solidarity I’ve received. The name ‘One Happy Family’ is not just a brand mark, it is a reality. It is so easy to talk to people and to have a good and honest conversation. The trust they have in you is amazing. I met a boy who suddenly told me he missies his mother. That he opened up to me and told me something so personal really touched my heart.'

This struck me the most…
‘The refugees in this center have so much energy and are so joyful. But at the same time there is a lot of pain in the background.  You can see this when someone is sitting on their own and is thinking. Or when they tell you something personal.  There is a big contrast between joy and reality.  And there can be so much feelings in just one hour. This must be exhausting for them.’

One Happy Family is …
A world apart. A place where people can escape from life in camp Moria. It is surprising how calm and restful the people are here. Some adults are drawing flowers the whole day and are so peaceful in that moment. This is amazing to see. One Happy Family provides this place, where  people can express their feelings and relief the stress they are experiencing

This is what I would like to tell other people …
'I would like to tell the people who are living in Moria that I am proud of them. I am proud of their strength and their wish to stay alive at any price. Please continue in this way.

I would like to tell people who are living in other countries to visit Lesvos.
A lot of people think it is difficult to talk with refugees. But it is not. We are all humans and we can all communicate with each other. A lot of people are afraid of refugees and they don’t know how to deal with this. But when you visit this place, you will see that they are just like us. Human beings. They are not from a different planet.’

Age: 34

Country: Germany

Occupation: project manager

Stay: 20 April -22 May

04 Jul

‘My impact starts now’

Tina Leiser

She decided to go to Lesvos because she felt the need to know what refugees in Europe go through. After this experience, Tina Leiser is ready to raise awareness in Switzerland.

‘I know my impact in Lesvos was really small. But I needed to come here to understand the whole situation. Now I can take the next step which is raising awareness. My impact starts now.’

My tasks in One Happy Family, were …
‘Teaching English and translating for the doctors in DocMobile. The English classes were very interesting. Even though I was the teacher, I also learned a lot of them. I learned about their language, their culture but also about their powerfulness. These people are so strong. And most of them also have a good sense of humor.’

‘Translating for the doctors was a bit more tough. I have heard a lot of horrible stories and I had to protect myself by setting a distance. You cannot get to personal, because it is terrible to realize that everything they describe truly happened to them. Despite this, I did feel very useful doing this job. As there are many Africans in Lesvos, a French translator is necessary.’

This struck me the most …
I did not realize that the refugees are stuck in Lesvos for such a long time. Some of them are here for months or even years. And they are living in an overcrowded camp with more than 7000 people. A camp where they are treated like animals. These people experienced the most horrible things but look how we welcome them. I feel so ashamed of this.

One of the hardest things for me was how the local people treat the refugees. I will always remember the night when greek people attacked refugees who were having a peaceful demonstration. They threw stones at families and children. This was the first time I experienced something so violent. It showed how tough life can be for refugees. They are not seen as human beings. It still makes me so sad.

One Happy Family is …
‘A bubble. But this is a good thing. The people need this. Over here they can rest, relax and maybe even enjoy their days. I really like how this community center is being run. It means a lot to me that we work together with the refugees to reach something. Also all the volunteers are involved in the projects. We all carry this wonderful center.

What i’d like to tell other people …
We are all part of the same world. We are all equal and we all have the same rights. The people I've meet here deserve it to have a life which they can enjoy. Not a life where they are worried whether they will get asylum or not. Think about this. And care about everyone. Not only about your own friends and family.’

Age: 28

Country: Switzerland

Occupation: project officer

Stay: 1 april - 13 may

14 Jun

‘Try to imagine how it feels to be a refugee’

Soa Krummenacher

She wanted to travel, but she could not decide where to go. A documentary about Moria made her decide to go to Lesvos. ‘It was not a problem, but the fact that I had so many opportunities in my life stressed me out. What if I didn’t make the right choice? After seeing the situation in Moria, I was sure I wanted to do something for other people instead of for myself.’

‘Volunteering in One Happy Family has been great. I met a lot of amazing people and got to know different and new cultures. The most special thing was that all these different people could get along with each other so well. This community center really is a family.’

I came to Lesvos, because …
'I knew that there were refugees in Lesvos, but I didn’t hear much about it in the media. I wondered if there was still a crises going on. Now that I have been there, I know how bad the situation is. And that there really is a big, humanitarian crises in Greece.’

My tasks in One Happy Family, were …
‘Driving the shuttle, painting and coloring at the art table and working at the bank. Especially driving the car was fun. Most of the times it felt like a big party, with nice music and good vibes. Working at the bank was sometimes difficult, because the people wanted more drachma then we gave them. I understood them. They have lost everything. It was hard for me to say no to them, but I had to. Otherwise I wasn’t able to do my work properly.’

One Happy Family is …
‘A place where people really care about each .The atmosphere is so friendly and warm. I haven’t been in Moria, but I hear it is so horrible. One Happy Family is a place where the people can get away from this, even if it’s just for a short time. They can drink coffee or play some games. They are able do things to free their mind for a while. In my opinion this is very needed.’

This struck me the most
‘Like everyone else, I sometimes read about the horrifying things that are happening in countries that are in war. Even though it is heartbreaking, I still find it difficult to really feel what these people are going through. When I was in Lesvos, a boy told me his pregnant sister got killed by a bomb in front of his house. This confronted me with the reality. I really felt his pain. And I realized that this is happening to so many people. It really touched my heart.’

What I’d like to tell other people …
‘It is hard for me to exactly know how the refugees feel. I did not leave my country. I still have all of my family members with me. I can leave this island. I am free. These people have gone through hell and they are still in it. I think it is important that people try to imagine how this feels. Try to think about it, and ask yourself the question; how would this be for me? Maybe people will empathize more with refugees in this way.’

Age: 23

Country: Switzerland

Occupation: psychology student

Stay: 15 March - 5 April

06 Jun

‘I am confronted with the reality now’

Brigitte Fredriksen

As an English teacher, Brigitte Fredriksen decided she wanted to use her education skills somewhere else. Her experience in One Happy Family has moved her and opened her eyes.

‘The people I’ve met in the community center are so open, friendly and welcoming. The daily life of the refugees is so different from mine, but still I was able to relate to them. It was a very intense experience, but also so valuable.

I decided to go to Lesvos, because …
‘I wanted to learn more about the situation there. First, I was thinking to work with refugees in Libanon. But then I realized that there are also a lot of refugees in Europe. The fact that we have refugee crisis here is interesting. I felt like I needed to help, since I am a citizen of this part of the world. I wanted to do something meaningful. But I also wanted to see if the crisis was still going on. Unfortunately, I now know it is.

What were your expectations of One Happy Family?
Before I left to Lesvos, I read a lot of information about this community center on the internet. The philosophy of this organization - not for the people but with them - really appealed to me. I believe humanitarian aid is not only about helping, but also about empowering. I was hoping to see this in One Happy Family. And luckily I did. This is a really vibrant community, where refugees are given the chance to use their qualities. It makes them feel human again.’

My task in One Happy Family was …
‘Teaching English to adults. This was interesting. Back home, I am very strict during my lessons. But here I had to be more flexibel. The people have to walk one hour to visit this place. When they were late for classes, I decided to let them in. This is something I wouldn’t do in Norway.

Although it was sometimes difficult to explain certain things, all the people were really motivated to learn. There are many people with different language backgrounds and some of them are not educated. But still, I did not had to stimulate them myself. This was wonderful to see. ’

What struck me the most was …
People telling me how they cannot sleep at night. I wonder how long it will take before they go mad. It also got to me that I was not able to do anything about this situation. Imagine how the people themselves feel. This is one of the many reasons why there is such a need for a place like One Happy Family. The people can relax a bit and enjoy themselves.’

What I would like to tell other people …
At this moment, lives are being destroyed. This crisis is still going on. And the fact that this is happening in Europe, is mind-blowing. The way we treat refugees is not according to the human rights. The politicians have made a major mistake.’

I am confronted with the reality now. You can think, talk and reason about this crisis. But when you meet the people and feel their pain, you feel the obligation to do something. When I am back in Norway, I will start raising awareness about the situation in Lesvos. It’s impossible for me to accept this any longer.’

Age: 43

Country: Norway

Occupation: teacher

Stay: March 18 - April 1

29 May

‘This experience will stay in our hearts’

Elisabeth Tobler, Barbara Aulopi & Alexsandra Hitz

Elisabeth Tobler, Barbara Aulopi and Alexsandra Hitz wanted to make the world a little bit better. When they got to know about One Happy Family, they knew this was the right place to volunteer. ‘We feel close to the motto of this community center; not working for, but with the people. As teachers we try to do the same. And we can tell; it works.’

‘We are sad to leave. We’ve met so many smart and good people. They were part of our daily life. It is normal to get a bit attached to them.’

We came to Lesvos, because …
‘Elisabeths son was here a year ago. He organized a fundraising event where he told about his experience in One Happy Family.The same evening we decided to book our tickets and volunteer at this community center. His story just caught us. The fact that we would go together also motivated us. We knew we were with the right people to share such an intense experience with.’

Our experience was …
‘Touching. I think this is difficult to explain to people who haven't been here. It is a feeling. You can see the pain in the eyes of the refugees. This community center really is a happy place. But it is sad at the same time. Because at the end of the day, they will go back to Moria. A place which is too horrible to describe.’

Our most memorable moment was …
‘Teaching English to the helpers. They were so grateful and keen to learn. As teachers, we know that this is not always the case. The courses were sometimes difficult for them. But despite this, they told us they learned something new everyday. It was wonderful that we were able to give them our full attention. They were the most important persons for us while we were teaching. That was heart opening.

What wasn’t a nice experience, but did stuck with us, was the driving to Moria. We had to take the helpers there after they worked in One Happy Family. We could see the fences and the bad condition of the camp. Knowing that we had to leave them there for the night, made us so sad.’

One Happy Family is …
‘Really a family. It is the home for many people in Lesvos. It is a place where the people trust in the abilities and knowledge of others. It shows that, if you just have faith in people, something beautiful like this community center can be the outcome.’

What we would like to tell other people …
‘There is a tragedy going on in Greece. You can’t realize how bad it is, if you haven’t been here. We would like to advice people to visit this place and volunteer. Human work can change something. The fact that you are volunteering, shows that you support the refugees. The warmth you give them, also returns back to you. You will keep this in your heart. Something more beautiful than this doesn’t exist.’

Alexsandra Hitz (left)

Age: 26

Country: Switzerland

Occupation: teacher

Stay: 9 april - 19 april

Elisabeth Tobler (middle)

Age: 52

Country: Switzerland

Occupation: teacher

Stay: 9 april - 19 april

Barbara Aulopi (right)

Age: 36

Country: Switzerland

Occupation: Teacher

Stay: 9 April - 19 April