Ankara, 19 February 2013 — The Jesuit Refugee Service in Ankara owes a debt of gratitude to 20 expat volunteers who on a regular basis volunteer their time and donate items to the JRS project. In the last month alone, JRS received almost 200 brand new blankets, 30 brand new jackets and 50 used jackets. The response to a call for two wheelchairs was answered within two hours.
Currently two volunteers are preparing a special English language programme for the needs of refugees who will shortly be resettled. The programme is essential to meet the needs of the refugees in first their first days upon arrival to their new homes. We also see more and more the involvement of amazing Turkish people who help quietly but in very considerable ways.
Recently two volunteers shared their reflections with us.
Human side of waiting. It’s 10 am on Thursday. As I drive towards the gate it begins to slowly slide open along its rail. It’s been snowing and is still well below freezing, but to the left of the gate, sitting with their backs to the wall, are people hidden under blankets. They have been there for hours.
It’s distribution day. At 10:30 the office opens and in they come, poor, bedraggled, half starved, half frozen people waiting for the aid we have to offer. Some speak Arabic, some Persian, some other languages.
They can now wait inside, but the waiting continues.
Then one by one they are called in, first a couple; then a family of seven; then a family of six; and so on. First, an interview in their native language. What do they need? How can we help? Then they enter another room where the requested items are assembled: pasta and rice, towels and blankets, clothes and shoes, and maybe toys for the children.
As the day wears on we begin to run short. “A coat, a warm coat, I need a coat, it’s so cold!” says an elderly lady. One of our refugee volunteers translates — she has little formal education but moves effortlessly between Persian, Arabic, Turkish and English. “The previous family had the last one”, we tell her, “Come another week”. Outside the snow has turned to rain.
These services are provided inside a Catholic Church in Ankara, organised by the Jesuits but implemented by Anglicans, Catholics, and Mormons, from Britain, the US, Poland, France, Belgium, Lebanon, and Spain.
The refugees come from Iran, Iraq, Syria and beyond, and have left their homes with quite literally the clothes on their back. One young couple has a baby a few weeks old. The mother is a university educated civil engineer with perfect English. Another refugee, an Iraqi man with a young family, has no right hand. “The war”, he says with a shrug. What we can offer is small, but they all leave with something.
This is the human side of the immigration issue, of people who have been to hell and back – a hell created by others. But this is also the church in action, united in a common cause and helping others without distinction of nationality or religion. Against the vast tide of refugees flowing through this country we can do little, but we can do something; and what we can do, we do.
Fr John Higgins, an Anglican priest from United Kingdom
Service is love. Living in turkey is such a huge opportunity for me. It is a big adventure that I never expected at this point of my life, but it wasn’t until I began to volunteer at the Refugee Centre that I felt that there was a particular reason for me to be here. It is wonderful for me to have something so meaningful to do with my life. I believe this opportunity is a gift from God, to bless my life and make me a better person.
I believe that one of the reasons we have each been blessed with life is to learn to love. It is easy to love one’s family and close friends, but to have a chance to learn to love people from very different backgrounds is truly a blessing. To discover that someone who a few years ago, I might have regarded with suspicion or as an enemy has all of the same emotions, fears and loves as I do, has been transforming for me.
My students are funny, sweet, kind people who find themselves caught up in terrible difficulty. They are nearly powerless to determine their own destiny, victims of politics and power. It is very humbling to see them trying so hard to improve themselves with language and art training, and trying to help one another as well.
I am awed by their resilience and strength, even in the face of tremendous trials. I love being with them, and have developed strong friendships with my students.
Jesus said, “If ye do it unto one of the least of these, you do it unto me”. Service is love and I am learning a great deal about love at the Refugee Centre. Thank you for allowing me to be part of this great work.