Tuesday, December 29, 2015

"Look for the Helpers"

A recent opinion piece in The Guardian, portrayed a vivid picture of life for refugees in a migrant camp on the outskirts of Calais along the French coastline, a 22 mile swim to the UK. Conditions are nearly subhuman, described by one reporter as "where conditions appear worse than in the slums of Mumbai, a camp that is now home to more than 6,000 people, many of them vulnerable and unwell."

With little or no governmental support, volunteers of all sorts work to provide food and basic services  at the refugee camp. One small charity, L'Auberge des Migrants, works in a hastily constructed warehouse sorting donated clothes, teach, preparing meals and other necessary but minimal services.

The Guardian opinion piece found the shard of light that could easily be buried in this human tragedy.  Excerpted from the essay:

But it’s impossible not to admire the volunteers too. For no pay, they have given up comfortable lives to build or cook or teach, to provide for people they have never met because they know that, if they don’t, no one else will. Some are young or retired, with time on their hands. Others have put busy jobs or careers on hold. But none of them had to trade comfortable lives for working in the mud and squalor of the Jungle. No one forced them to rent a van, fill it with tarpaulins or bulk packs of rice and take it across the Channel. They did it simply because they were moved by the sight of their fellow human beings in distress.

And this is what sets them apart from the governments that claim to represent them. The volunteers saw in the faces of those refugees not a problem to be addressed – or, more accurately, avoided – but people just like them. The same is true of all those who have given, and are still giving, to the Guardian’s unprecedentedly successful Christmas appeal.

Within a few hours of the Paris attacks, someone tweeted the advice they’d learned from Fred Rogers, the long-serving face of American children’s television. Don’t look at the killers. Look for the helpers. In what has often been a harsh, dark year, this ragtag, impromptu army of volunteers has been a point of light. They are the very best of us.

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