Like every other student attending a United World College around the globe, I went on a very interesting trip for “Project Week”, a period of time we spent outside of school and sometimes outside the town or the country in which our college is located. Here at UWC Mostar, we had 22 project week options to choose from this October. They differed in purpose; some of them were educational, others were entertaining, and lots of them aimed to help the community. Due to the mass number of refugees in Europe, our volunteers were there to offer help for those who needed it the most.
It was a great honor for me to be one of these volunteers in the small town of Vukovar, Croatia. This town, which also suffered from the war 20 years ago, was completely destroyed. We arrived in the town around 2:30 a.m, on the 12nd of October. We stayed in a hostel, not far from a refugee camp, where waves of refugees walked in from Serbia on daily basis. The camp is divided into three sections with a capacity of 1500 refugees each. Once the refugees arrive in the camp, they are checked and registered. Many of them have no passports or lost them on the way from Greece, which makes it hard from the Croatian authority to be sure of their identity. Nonetheless, many of them were women and children. During the registration, the refugees are offered some clothes and food. After that, the refugees are sent to the sections in which they are asked to wait. An important note is that some families are separated in the camp itself because different members of the family are sent to different sections. The refugees cannot stay in the camp more than two days. Most of them, however, stay for no more than a couple of hours. During that, the real work takes place. Once the refugees finish their registration, they can have proper clothes, if their clothes were ruined on the way from Greece. They are also offered food and potable water. In addition, refugees are offered medical help, if needed.
Since all of us were from the Middle East, our main job was to translate. The language of communication between the refugees and the policemen, the Red Cross volunteers, and other volunteers was English. However, the problem was that not all the refugees could speak English nor could all the policemen and the volunteers do so. That is why everybody celebrated once they found out that we could speak Arabic, Farsi and Urdu in addition to English. Our supervisor, who accompanied us on our journey, was from Bosnia and Herzegovina so he was able to speak Croatian/Bosnian. This is how we built a bridge of communication between the refugees and everybody else, making everything much easier. Many of us, including me, stayed from a long time in the doctor’s tent in order to translate for him what the patients were saying. I cannot imagine how the medical help could have functioned before our arrival without any kind of translation except for what the refugees were able to describe with the movement of their hands and with their shallow knowledge of English. Lucky were those who could speak English very well.
We were not the only volunteers there. The organization we joined had many other volunteers from Croatia and all over the European continent. We met a student from Switzerland who came to help the refugees. I believe he said that helping the refugees and observing the current situation in the refugee camps would help with his geopolitical studies. We also met a young lady from France, a team from Germany, and many other volunteers from the Middle East. It was really amazing to see all these international efforts gathered and directed to help these bereaved refugees. We were all there to give the refugees the clothes they needed in order to continue their journey.
On a more personal note, watching tens of refugees waiting for you to give them socks and jackets while you have a sharp shortage of supplies and clothes hurt my heart very deeply. I was also heart-broken because as I looked at the desperate faces of the refugees, I felt their pain and I sensed how broken they were. Once you have that feeling, all your tiny miniscule problems fade away.
Lastly, I want to thank everybody who helped us and made our journey easier, including the headmistress of UWC Mostar, our supervisor, the organization that helped us and the Croatian consulate in Mostar.