Wise men say you learn something new every day if you pay attention. I’m sure everyone would agree, but then it’s hard to actually acknowledge the new things you absorb each and every day that makes you richer.
Last Wednesday, though, I met a group of very special people that made me pay attention. They were enthusiastic, involved me in their activities, made me feel appreciated and gave me gifts with the promise of seeing me again next week. Who are they? You might ask. Well, their age ranges from 3 to 7, they come from different countries and they are staying in a centre for asylum seekers. Regardless of their status, they are children before being anything else. But let’s take a step backward and start from the beginning.
I and my fellow interns signed up for volunteering with Le Petit Chateau, a centre for asylum seekers that gives food and shelter to families in need. Moreover, education and leisure activities are provided for the children as well. On Wednesdays afternoons they finish school earlier and that is why we’ve chosen that day to go and help out. Because we thought that we would have been the one to help and to make these children have fun and spend a good time. Truth is, the opposite happened and I paid attention.
We were met by the coordinator of the kids and I was waiting for him to show us into the activities room when a bunch of children came out of a class. This was my first experience with kids in a refugee centre and I wasn’t sure how to act, whether to wait to be introduced and so on. But two little girls among the group came to my rescue and gave me a big hug, smiling at me like we had known each other forever. My heart melted and, still surprised, I learned that love is in the hug of a kid you didn’t know before. I paid attention.
They brought us to a room where we arranged a table for the kids to draw and paint and we sat with them doing the same. We drew together and exchanged our drawings and we share with them their enthusiasm in showing us what they had created. We then danced together, and let me tell you, some of them truly knew how to move. Two kids were actually very talented and taught us some steps. Now, the majority of them speak French, but I was amazed by how many could speak English and a little of other languages such as Spanish. And I’m talking about 3 or 4 years old children as well. Also, their capacity and their patience to explain and make us understand what they wanted to say if we couldn’t speak their language was just incredible. I learned that solidarity doesn’t need words sometimes. I paid attention.
The afternoon ended with hugs and goodbyes. One of them asked, “You’re coming again next week, right?”. Of course, I am going to go. Because I want to learn more from them, because I want to share their enthusiasm for small but beautiful things, and because I want to give them as much as I can, even if in the end it’s them that teach us the most.
With WYA, we are currently working on our Emerging Leaders Conference on Migration and Development. Therefore, I am very much informed on the matter and I thought I knew a lot about it. That wasn’t true, though. You don’t entirely know, until you see and experience with your own eyes. You go to conferences, you read the news and academic papers, but spending time with those children was the greatest lesson I gained.
I am aghast at the thought that kids like them are now being detained or separated from their parents only on the ground of their refugee status, deprived of their dignity and rights because they are considered as migrants, before being seen as children. They have potential, they are creative, smart, quick in learning new languages. Developed countries have the moral duty to invest in healthcare, protection and education for these children, in order for them to contribute to their communities’ development in the future.
A little kid from the centre drew an airplane and gave it the colours of the Belgian flag his welcoming country, calling it “Le Belge”. He believes in Europe. Let’s not fail him. Let’s not ruin his innocence by turning his hopes down. Let’s provide him with wings to fly and create a decent life for himself, because he, as well as all children, has the potential to do so.
Written by Barbara Pernice, a Batch 3 2017 intern at the WYA Europe office.