Giving - in the refugee context

Almost every day people all over the world witness on their TV and computers screen, violence and war, natural disasters and the human suffering that comes as a result. Most people will not be left untouched by the misfortunes of millions of refugees who had to escape war and persecution. Most will be sad and left wondering where the world is heading. Some will then wonder “how on earth can I – as an individual- help and make a change?” and then carry on with their lives as they are convinced that there is nothing really an individual can make. Others are convinced that they can’t afford not to give to some causes; they will respond to a charitable request or get involved with a local or international humanitarian organisation and find out more on how they can help- whether by giving money, time or advice to those in need.

How Charis and Francis* decided to assist Zahra*

Charis is a successful businessman in Cyprus, dealing with the supply of raw materials to various industries. For Charis and his wife Francis, it is a natural understanding that they have an “obligation” to help: “We were brought up in a Christian environment where we were actually called to implement the values of Christianity. The parable of the Good Samaritan has always been part of our lives.” Francis recalls that she and her family used to go and visit vulnerable families back in her home country: “For example, we used to wrap a toy and take it to a kid who was in need”.

In Cyprus, the couple has been responding to various humanitarian crises, participated in gala dinners and other social fundraising events, but felt that they lacked the connection with the person being assisted by their contribution. In addition, having worked extensively with charities in England, Francis knows that one of the usual concerns of potential givers is where the money you will donate will exactly go. “It is very constructive to know the individual you are helping” she says and Charis cannot agree more: “when you know the person you are helping, this is a motivating factor to give more”.

That’s how they have decided to support Zahra, the refugee from Palestine who fled to Cyprus 12 years ago. The couple met with the Representative of the UNHCR Cyprus four years ago and ever since the couple is supporting UNHCR’s projects and at some point they expressed the wish to help a particularly vulnerable refugee family. Although all refugees are by definition vulnerable, the profile of Zahra seemed to meet the benefactor’s requirements. The saga of Zahra, nurse by profession and a mother of three, is composed of an abundance of hardships but the most recent one was her financial inability to pay the fees for a compulsory training course for nurses who were not university graduates. Being herself a graduate from the nursing school and not the university, she had to undergo the course – in accordance with the new regulations- otherwise she would lose her licence to work, the only source of income for the family given her husband’s serious illness. Charis and Francis were immediately eager to pay the semester’s fees.
Zahra is deeply appreciative of the generosity, but the couple does not think that they need to be thanked. “After all she might be the nurse that one life she will save my life or yours” Charis said reminding us what the author of Mobby Dick, Herman Melville, once said: “We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibres our actions run as causes and return to us as results”

“Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world, indeed it is the only thing that ever has”- Margaret Mead, a distinguished anthropologist and intellectual of the 20th century.

Sometimes when confronted with the enormity of suffering, Francis cannot feel morally satisfied; she feels the powerlessness more than the sense of satisfaction, but on the other hand Charis says: “ No one should ever think that any contribution is small; simply smallest contributions multiplied by many people it will make an impact”.
Giving does not necessarily mean money, but it can also mean giving time and advice, care and affection. When Mr. George, a 65 year old pensioner, heard one year ago about the mining explosion along the Green line which left severely injured a Palestinian refugee from Iraq, he immediately went to visit the refugee at the hospital. From then on he found himself involved with the Palestinian community in Cyprus, advocating for their refugee rights.
Similarly, Father Panaretos, an Arab speaking Orthodox priest, apart from being a priest he also engages actively with Arab speaking refugees and assists them in many ways including translation. For example, he translates for patients at the hospital, he escorts parents at Greek speaking schools who wish to find more about their kid’s progress and he is ready to assist in any other possible way.
Many people give because they feel gratitude for something or to someone. For Carlos Ayala, the manager of Gnoysoft with 30 years experience in both private and public sector, when asked by UNHCR Cyprus to participate in a mentoring programme for the integration of refugees, he felt that it was time to reciprocate to the attention and dedications that others showed to him: “My greatest learning experiences, the ones that helped me grow, didn’t come from books or classes, but from the attention and time that others dedicated to help me understand and practically use the classroom knowledge.” For Carlos, giving meant time. He started meeting refugees at his office with a clear target – to acquaint them with the new working environment in order to equip them with the necessary skills to find work or better jobs, by getting to know their academic and practical profile and providing them advice on how to find work, where to look for it, what kind of jobs are available in the market that could perhaps meet their qualification etc. The feedback that he has received so far from the refugees he has mentored, allows him to believe that refugees will be empowered to help themselves.
Givers to a refugee cause, whether individuals or companies, can come from all walks of life and from across the spectrum of wealth: from a giver of kind words, time and money, to a giver of a job, a volunteer or a mentor or even a teacher. What they have in common is a deep desire to extend themselves to do good in their community or to the world at large. Although no one in our story admitted it, I’m sure that through their act of giving to refugees, they all somehow feel transformed; buoyant and proud.

If you want to get involved with refugees, either in Cyprus or internationally, you can contact us and/or visit our blog, or (main website).

* Names changed further to anonymity request on the part of the benefactors and for protection reasons (in the case of the refugee).

Emilia Strovolidou for UNHCR Representation in Cyprus

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