The three ÅF employees who went down to help refugees in Lesbos two weeks ago have now returned home. We talked with Rikard, Samuel and Eva to hear more about the situation down there.
Tell us what you did during the week and what you helped with.
R: Lots of different things, like at night or early in the morning we helped with the boats landing on the beaches. Or helped people with new clothes, food, warm blankets. The refugees had been out in the boats for two to six hours, and it was windy and damp, so many of them were freezing cold.
S: We rented cars to drive the refugees from the beaches to different camps, depending on nationality.
E: It was important to make sure that families weren’t split up. We also had a portable burner and a big pot of soup so they could have something to eat. We even gave them electric blankets, hats and gloves, and we had jackets for the kids with us on the beach.
S: Then we helped out at one of the refugee camps there. Everything from handing out stuffed animals to setting up lighting in the medical tent and talking to people.
How many came every day?
Eight to ten boats with about 50 people in each. On the last nights it was up to 40 boats per night.
Who or what made the biggest impression on you during the week?
R: Big sisters who are barely ten carrying one sibling and holding another by the hand. They were fleeing too, but were still pretty unaffected and seemed very present in the moment.
S: I particularly remember a boy who was about 11 who had come with his mother and two siblings. He was very wet and got help changing clothes in the car’s boot. We gave him dry pants and socks and when we came up with a pair of dry underpants he was overjoyed. I’ll never forget that; it made a big impression on me.
E: There was a girl of about eight who had fled Iraq with her parents and little brothers. It was going to be cold that night, and I just wanted to take them all home under one roof and tuck them in under a thick down quilt. She got clothes and a stuffed dog that she hugged tightly and the joy in her eyes was indescribable. She never said a word to me at the time, she just smiled and held my hand. I’ll never forget that kiss on the cheek I got when I hugged her goodbye.
Did you want to stay longer?
E: I felt that I wanted to be there for several months and “finish up”, but it won’t be finished in a few months either... It was really hard to go home, but very nice to see and know that so many volunteers from around the world are going there and to other places.
What do you think people can do to help more on an everyday basis?
R: Besides donating money to organisations, I think a more hands-on presence is needed here in Sweden. Go to the asylum centres and get involved in organisations that sponsor activities or become a mentor or something like that. Many people probably think they need to be really involved and spend a lot of time to make a difference, but just focussing your efforts on a weekend can also help a lot. And if many people could do that, it would be amazing. You can do so darn much with so little.
You are in leadership positions at ÅF. What would you think if more consultants in your groups wanted to do the same as you?
R, S and E: Positive and enriching! Good for ÅF, good for Sweden.
Is there anything else you would like to share with us that people here at home should know about?
E: I recommend that everyone join Facebook groups where they can read stories from refugees and volunteers in order to understand what’s happening and just who the people fleeing are. Hopefully that will provide a better understanding of what they are fleeing from and the terrible years-long journeys they have been on before arriving in Europe. Most of them used to have a life just like you and I, with families, homes, jobs and friends. They want to live their lives again.
Christer Karlsson is business area manager of the areas in which Eva, Rikard and Samuel work.
Christer, tell me what you were thinking when these three employees came to you and said they wanted to go down and help refugees.
C: It seemed obvious that they should go! There is so much going on in the world and we have the ability to help. Their enthusiasm was touching and moved me as well as the other managers in the business area, so their proposal got a resounding yes from all of us. There was no hesitation. We also chose to reallocate some funds within the business area in order to send money that would go directly to the refugees. We reduced the amount of sweets and instead sent down a considerable sum with the volunteers, money that could go to clothes, food, blankets, equipment – anything that was really needed there. It’s nice knowing exactly where the money goes.
Is this something that you and your business area will continue in the future?
C: Yes, we’re looking at Easter and seeing if we can do something similar then. We want to reduce our own little luxuries for the benefit of others. There are many people who need help.