Meeting people where they are

Guest post by Ali Paul and Sonja Ruthe, Canadian Red Cross aid workers who were recently in Germany to support the German Red Cross response to the refugee crisis. When they are not working as Red Cross aid workers, Ali Paul and Sonja Ruthe are social workers in Victoria, BC

Children drawings at the refugee camp in Feldkirchen, Germany
Children’s drawings at refugee reception camp in Feldkirchen, Germany. /Photo credit: Ali Paul
Sonja and Ali pictured in the refugee camp
Canadian Red Cross aid workers Ali Paul and Sonja Ruthe pictured in the camp with Cyril Stein, deputy team lead.
Posing for the camera at the refugee camp
Posing for the camera at the refugee camp in Feldkirchen, Germany

Two weeks ago, our world looked a bit different. We were providing psycho-social support at a transit camp for refugees in the community of Feldkirchen, near Munich in Germany as part of a Canadian Red Cross team assisting the German Red Cross. There we witnessed the best of humanity, the resilience and the courage of refugees, as well as the devastating effects of conflict in home countries, and the consequences of trauma during migration.
The goal of the psycho-social unit was to meet the people where they were – whether on incoming buses, in the waiting area, at camp registration, in the triage tent or dining hall, in the play area where children draw or play soccer, or upon departure. We went to them to provide emotional support and psychological first aid, to ensure their safety while respecting their right to self-determination, and to help with family reunification.
Just small steps that we hoped would increase their sense of control, and help empower them in their pursuit of freedom and safety.
In the three weeks the 5,000-person capacity camp was open, we saw almost 17,000 people take their first steps in seeking asylum in Germany. We were privileged to be with our colleagues to witness tangible expressions of humanity. We saw refugees who provided support as translators even before meeting their own needs; we were part of a conversation that convinced an incredibly ill man to stay in the camp until morning before continuing his journey; we shed tears in empathy when a family that had been separated for decades met again at the camp’s entrance, and we had profound exchanges with men whose wives and children had died crossing the Mediterranean, and with mothers who had left husbands and children behind.
We experienced that smile of recognition when Red Crescent volunteers from an affected country entered the camp wearing our emblem with pride. We felt joy when a young girl dressed as a giraffe suddenly appeared, proud and confident. We consoled a 16-year-boy who had cared for his 10-year-old brother as they travelled alone from Afghanistan.
At the camp we rejoiced in seeing children who could be children again, making coloured drawings and playing soccer. We were astounded by the resilience of people.
All of these moments had an impact. We shared these experiences together. We changed too. We bore witness to the adaptability and struggle of everyday people in extraordinary circumstances. Now, back in Canada, we have brought with us that spirit of determination. These memories will stay with us forever and continue to inspire our work with the Canadian Red Cross here in Canada. 

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