A Holy Trinity Cathedral team volunteered to live on the rations given to Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon for five days. Here are some of their reflections on the experience.
The fifth day was the 20th of June, which was also the United Nation's World Refugee Day.
Rev’d Ivica Gregurec
The refugees were almost an invisible problem to me over the years and, apart from general compassion, I did not give too much practical attention to them until 16 September 2015, when I, overwhelmed by flu, from Dunedin observed the arrival of first 1,200 refugees, mainly from Syria and Iraq across illegal border crossing into small Croatian village of Tovarnik.
Local people, themselves refugees from their own homes in period 1991-1998 welcomed people whose goals were further west and north in Europe with food, fruit and drinks, from their gardens barns and wells with a simple comment: “We were refugees. We know how it is!” Time spent as a volunteer of an NGO in a Transit Centre in December of the same year showed me first-hand the immense tragedy of refugees.
I feel privileged in what I have, knowing that majority of humanity doesn’t share the conditions I have and in which I live. My participation in 2017 Operation Refugee is therefore only a symbolic action of solidarity. I am grateful to Caitlyn, Joel and Susanna for immediately accepting my invitation to join the challenge and participate. This is THE Church – living in solidarity and recognising Christ in those who suffer. May we all grow in that understanding, and be an inspiration to others to take the same challenge next year!
Finally… yes, it was hard not to eat what I usually eat. The problem was not the quantity, but the blandness and lack of variety of food. I wouldn’t be able to do the same next week. But, soon after… why not!
“Every minute, 20 people leave everything behind to escape war, persecution or terror.”
Taking part in Operation Refugee was a choice, but it’s not a choice for the 20 people who leave their lives behind every minute. This was a choice I went into pretty blindly; I had never thought about what refugees might eat or drink, or how their circumstances could change so quickly.
Frankly speaking, eating the equivalent rations to what a refugee would eat over 5 days is nowhere near the experiences they would have to deal with. My endurance has been tested, but I am more grateful for everything I have in my life.
In all honestly, living on the rations was pretty miserable. The food is enough to keep you alive and healthy, but it’s far from fulfilling. Bland food in small portions leaves you feeling like you haven’t eaten at all, and makes studying and working an enormous challenge. You miss little things the most, like the taste of fresh fruit and vegetables, or a daily coffee.
The thing is, I chose to give up all my usual foods, for a specific period of time. Refugees don’t get that choice, it’s made for them by their circumstances. They have had everything taken from them, and unlike us they don’t get a set end date when their lives will return to normal. And while I was enjoying all the commodities and privileges in my life, like a warm, dry home and unlimited fresh water, refugees were in many cases existing on the bare minimum needed to sustain life.
More than anything, it is important to remember that refugees are people, not a ‘problem’.