From Mariënkroon, Holland, a beautiful and concrete experience of dialogue with the refugees

20130919-a1.jpgIt’s wednesday morning, they just had their first Dutch class. I enter the dining hall of the Focolare Retreat Center and one of the boys, Zakaria, comes to me and asks: ‘’Laura, how do you say ‘Ikhou van jou’ (Dutch) in English?” I answer: ‘I love you’. He smiles and says: “I love you more!” I laugh at his joke and enter the kitchen. As I pass the row for lunch I receive several ‘Goedemiddag’ (good afternoon) and ‘Dankjewel’ (thank you). My heart bursts with pride and joy. Right in front of me I see a united world and it’s filled with hope.

86 underaged teenagers from Syria, Eritrea, Senegal and Uganda, all on the run for a situation they can’t control. Most of them had to leave their families, friends and their beloved culture behind. Some of them lost their parents during the flee, others left them behind in their country. And now they are here, after a long journey by all kinds of transport, hoping for a place to stay in safety. After we received a call from the municipality that these boys and girls would arrive in our little focolare town, people from all over the country arrived in the next two days to help empty rooms for bunk beds, decorate the dining hall, purchase and cook food and prepare the beds. With beating hearts we waited for the double-decker to arrive on Sunday night on the 27th of September. Operation #DialogueToUnlock was about to start and the only thing that we could do was to live the Golden Rule.

In the beginning there was only distrust among them. Each of them held his small or large luggage jealously watched. We noticed that it would take a while before the ice would break and the atmosphere would be more relaxed. A lot of them have had traumatic experiences and we feel a lot of tension between ethnic groups or roommates, resulting sometimes in quarrels about small things. Luckily the collaboration between the municipality, the volunteers and professionals is very good, and without realizing it we are living reciprocal love in all of the daily challenges./p>

After a week some confidence in each other has grown. Fall from Senegal competes against Nourans from Syria on a dance night, Teklu teaches me some words in the Tigray language and Kareem is always the first one to help cleaning the tables after diner. The priest of the local parish offers to wash the dishes and a Turkish bakery offers 150 Turkish breads. Translators from every language help us to overcome the language barrier and every other day a bus comes to bring the youth to the nearest mosque.

Of course all of this is just a drop in the ocean. These young people have yet a long way to go. However, I feel that a start has been made and that for every helper, including me, ‘the refugees’ got a face: that one of Zakaria, Fall, Nourans, Teklu, Kareem and all of my other 81 new siblings here in Mariënkroon.

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