I’ll Never Forget Him: How a Syrian Man Changed My View of Refugees

While on Greece on a short term trip, Adventures Fellow and Race Alum Hannah Midgett met a man she will never forget.

It was my last day working in Lesvos, and my first day working at the International Rescue Committee (IRC) transit point. After 2 weeks, I had become very accustomed to receiving refugees and making them feel welcome.

Most refugees were timid, yet very thankful. While some kids would open up and play, others would attach themselves to their parents, and start to tear up the moment their parents weren’t in their line of vision. Most would huddle into circles, talking quietly amongst themselves. Some would curl up under a blanket and fall fast asleep.

The International Rescue Committee transit point was particularly busy that day. The workers for the ferries that took refugees to Athens were on strike, so no one was getting off the island. That didn’t stop the influx of refugees fleeing from Turkey. All of the transit points on the island were quickly filling up.  

My teammate Alice and I worked in the tent labeled “distribution.” It was the second tent located at IRC, and was where groups would get registered into IRC’s system and receive food, blankets, and a portable phone charger.

“I need 2 blankets, 2 ponchos, and 1 waka-waka!” one of the volunteers would yell. Alice would pile up the blankets, ponchos, and portable cell phone charger. I would grab food bags and take the gathered supplies to groups of refugees, who would always receive them with a smile.

We had been doing this all morning, receiving families, handing them supplies, smiling, and welcoming cold, wet, and worn-out refugees. That’s when he came through.

“I AM HERE TO HELP MY PEOPLE!” a young man announced as he was ushered in alongside a mother and her 2 children.

He had to be in his 20’s. He was tall and lanky, and had on jeans, a black leather jacket, and a beanie. The volunteer who was trying to get the mother’s name, nationality, family size, and signature was having some difficulty, so he sat down and started translating for her.

He was the exact opposite of every other refugee I had encountered. He was positive, upbeat, and excited to help whomever he could. He bounced around a bit from group to group inside the tent, helping others as needed, and apologizing that his English wasn’t very good. That wasn’t true. He was very easy to understand.

The volunteer who was taking down each refugee’s information finally asked him for his. He was from Syria and came by himself. He said he originally had a backpack full of things, but that he lost it along the way.

I tried putting myself in that situation. If I had left my entire family in a war-ridden country, taken what I could on my back just to lose it along the way, and finally made it to a foreign country cold and wet, I would be sleeping under one of those thick, grey blankets, not eagerly helping those around me.

This man literally lost everything.

He was alone.

And all he wanted to do was help others.

“I lost everything, but I can help my people,” he said.

The mother and her 2 kids were ushered out of the tent and he tried to follow them, as he deemed himself their personal translator and protector. He was held back by the volunteers and was told he couldn’t follow them.

They were going to a different tent than he was — theirs was specifically for women and children who didn’t travel with a man. After being assured they would be taken care of, relief washed over his face.

After a few more minutes, he was given his supplies and food, and was ushered into the main waiting tent that was quickly filling up. After he left, I went back to gathering food bags and handing supplies to the groups of people coming through.

An hour passed, and I couldn’t get him out of my head. I talked to a couple other long-term volunteers about him and one said, “Yea, Syrian people are by far the nicest, most grateful ones we meet. They are so happy … much more than the rest.”

I turned to Alice and said, “I need to go find him,” and walked out of the distribution tent. I didn’t know what I was going to say, but I felt the need to thank him, to say something to the man who went against the grain of every refugee I had encountered.

Into the big waiting tent I went, searching for the man. I circled the tent 3 times. In the process I received a few weird glances from people whose faces I was looking into intently, trying to find that one man. I couldn’t find him.

The chances that I’ll see him again are slim to none. I don’t know his name, and I don’t even know where he was going.

After 2 weeks of welcoming refugees, smiling, and loving people in small ways, I was able to make lasting impacts through small actions. That Syrian man was among the groups of people I wanted to positively impact, and instead, he encouraged and changed me.

What he did wasn’t anything huge; he just had a willing attitude. What I witnessed was a small segment of his life, an event in which his small decision to help a stranger carried great significance in the lives of those around him.

I was around him for a few short minutes, yet his impact has lasted much longer, and I hope he continues to make a positive impact on the people he encounters throughout his journey.

For the latest stories from the front lines of the Greece Refugee Crisis, click HERE

The first summer 2016 mission trips to Thailand, Cambodia, Haiti, Cuba, Appalachia, and Washington DC are next month. Click HERE for all upcoming trips!