Schönefeld, December 30th, 2015

Penultimate train of the year. And today it’s all so quiet. Only 108 newcomers arrive. The hall seems almost empty, and thanks to the many helpers here we manage to take good care of each and everyone.

I’m tired to write about sandwiches, so instead I’ll focus today on two feelings.

Relief

When a new helper shows up. It happened many times before, but today I feel particularly touched by it, probably because there is enough time for feelings: no rush, everything taken care of by very early birds. A soft-spoken woman in her sixties comes by, looking around, a bit shy. I’m at the sandwiches, but thankfully three other helpers are much more efficient than I am, as I forgot all energy at home today. I talk to the woman and show her around. She’s intimidated, it’s the first time she’ll help refugees. I admire the fact that for a first she comes to the trains. For me as a volunteer, it was the hardest experience, after the initial contact with people at the LaGeSo, because those coming to us are still on their journey. They wear wellies and Red Cross bags, they need all sorts of clothing. They cough and more often than not didn’t have a chance to shower ever since they left their home. They’re very much the people who just disembarked inflatable boats on Lesvos. I’m sort of used to seeing it now, but one never gets used to misery. Still, I appreciate that it can come as a shock for a new volunteer, so I explain to the woman that sometimes people arrive in poor state as she asks me what to expect. We never know, really, as each day comes with its lot of good and bad surprises. She tells me she’s not sure how to react, but I know she’ll do just fine: people who come forward to help took the hardest step already, that of stepping into the unknown to do some good. All logistic mistakes can be overlooked, the main thing is that people still come forward. I’ve been “on the field” for five months now, and each time a “newbie” arrives, it’s a relief to see a pair of helping hands, eyes full of good will and energy, as most of us feel the strain.

I show the very friendly new recruit our clothes room. Through a mountain of boxes, I catch a glimpse of Martina, one of the core helpers. She works tirelessly. Here in Schönefeld, in other shelters, and has four day jobs as well. Whenever I look at her I feel boosted by her energy. For the moment, she’s just disappearing below boxes of donations, which we laugh about, and is sorting out some clothes. The new volunteer has seen all there was to see, we’re back in the hall and wait for the people to arrive.

When they do, there is time for everyone. Food distribution, clothes, little toys that make kid’s eyes shine. That’s the second feeling I wanted to talk about.

Joy

The joy in people’s eyes. It sounds cheesy, but it is true that it makes all the difference and, when in doubt, it just reminds you why you’re here. To bring some comfort, some well-being, even at the slightest scale, to people who have lost everything. There is nothing that’s more annoying than hearing “they haven’t thanked you”. Indeed sometimes they don’t, and who cares, they are exhausted to an extent we can’t even begin to imagine. What I care about, is that little light that shines again, even for one second, in their eyes. And today, I’m particularly aware of it as I’m giving away hats, scarves and gloves to kids. As I walk through the (small) crowd, I notice a four or five year old little boy, super active, looking really happy playing with a teddy bear, but with bare hands, neck and head. I happen to have a rare assorted hat, scarf and gloves and kneel towards him. I don’t need to say anything, I don’t even have time to smile at him, that he comes forward, all smiles, shiny eyes, and bends his head for me to put the hat on it. He is the cutest little boy, and I’m just so happy to oblige. I tie the scarf around his neck and it makes him laugh even more. He just made my day, everything could go wrong from that moment on, seeing the joy on this little boy’s face would erase it all. I could take a picture, to capture that moment forever, only I prefer keeping it in my mind, where it will also stay for a very, very long time.

It doesn’t get worse, as plenty other kids and adults also need gloves and scarves and also look very content when given some. I try to provide for the kids first, but sadly I notice that men are always the ones least taken care of. They might have more endurance under normal circumstances, but as far as I know freezing to death is not gender-related. We need more gloves, for them as well. Parents make a point that the children always say “thank you”, either in English, Arabic or Dari. I wish they had more reasons to be thankful than the bare minimum we provide.

Little hands need gloves, little feet shoes. And today we have an awesome volunteer, who up until the last moment, as people are boarding the buses, goes back and forth tirelessly to our clothes room to try and find little pair of shoes instead of the Lesvos blue wellies. My smiling little boy from before is now sitting on the ground, trying on a pair of warm boots. He still laughs. I wish I still found life so funny! His joy is contagious, everyone, from the refugees to the police and interpreters, smile as they look at him.

Today, shoes were provided to all the kids. A man had to leave wearing sandals with socks. It would be funny if it was a summer joke about Germans’ fashion sense, only it’s freezing out and I don’t know how much longer he will have to walk around with those before getting a decent pair of shoes. Yet, he’s all smiles: his children are warm.

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