Give us a call on +44 (0)20 3326 6289
Home Blog Building resilience Diaries from the European refugee crisis: Be kind, for everyone you know is fighting a hard battle

Diaries from the European refugee crisis: Be kind, for everyone you know is fighting a hard battle


Be Kind, Always.

A member of the Practically Positive team, Jess Titchener, was privileged to serve refugees with local activists on the Greek island of Samos during November 2015, after working on the island earlier in the year. Here, Jess shares a story from the front line and a Positive Psychology lesson that we can all apply.

You’re a middle-aged primary school teacher. You’ve fled your home with one of your teenage sons. You’ve lost touch with the other son because of the war. You’ve been beaten by the police, the very peo-ple who should protect you, and you have a large and menacing scar on your shoulder to show for it.

You’ve just about made your way from Iran to Turkey, dodging many actual and potential dangers on the way. You’re relieved that you made it six hours across a freezing and choppy night sea towards lights of what you hoped would be Europe. You’re rescued from the boat on the shores of Samos by a friendly Medicine San Frontiers Nurse, and warmed up as the shock sets in.

But you’re not Syrian, so you don’t get fast-tracked through the immigration checks, and taken to a UN-run base at the main port, where there are copious charities and volunteers working to make your brief stay comfortable. There are children’s workers, enough meals and warm blankets for the cold nights.

You are, instead, taken to a festering pit of a detention centre, in the hills hidden from the local people and tourists. A centre made akin to Guantanamo Bay; made for 285 people, but housing anywhere up to 1400 in recent weeks. You’re in company with people from all over North Africa, the Middle and the Far East. This is your new home, for who knows how long.

Desperation sets in, and as you queue for the daily provided meal by Medicine San Frontiers, you are robbed of the only small crumpled Euro notes you desperately needed to buy your boat ticket to Athens in order to keep moving.

What do you do now? You don’t speak the local languages and you have no money or way out now.

Alongside some hard-working local activists, I frantically prepared to serve breakfast to you and over 700 refugees on a cold and sunny Thursday morning. We had just been given permission to serve, just outside the open camp gates, and before we had really even begun it was incredibly hectic and confusing. In the midst of being pushed and shoved by desperate men and women, and having the milk split over me several times, I looked straight at you.

You had already been served at least twice in the queue, and I was getting frustrated with the chaos of the situation and why you were back again when so many needed fed. I shouted ‘you’ve already had breakfast, go to the back of the queue now’. I was frustrated. How could you frown at me for serving you breakfast multiple times? It’s people like you that made this hard work.

But you didn’t understand me, as I wasn’t speaking in your language. The frown on your face appeared as you were reminded of the terror of the last time you queued for food.

I didn’t understand. You’ve been fighting a battle to stay alive.

A couple of hours later, I am helping to lead a new cleaning effort with several of your fellow refugees to remove rubbish and mouldy blankets. There is hard work and laughter, but at least the sun is shining.

My activist friend approaches you alone, as you sit staring into nothing, in a solitary chair outside the crowded block you sleep in. He speaks your language, and suddenly your face is looking at him. You tell him everything, and he actually hears it. You’ve recently been given your papers, but now you are stuck. And what now?

In no time at all, he has found me. Knowing I have some donated money from friends in the UK, he asks me if I can help you get to Athens.

In brief the moment that I kneel in between you and my friend, to listen and discuss how we get you out of here, it occurs to me that I have seen you before. That sinking feels hit me - my first impressions of you were, to be quite honest, not good. I was trying to serve food in an organised manner and you broke my system.

And you frowned at me. You didn’t smile. Your face looked harsh. You were not open. You were not thankful.

I started to understand. You’ve been fighting a battle to stay alive.

In the hour after we met, we share many moments of broken English, and I begin to understand your journey from Iran, and how you teach small children, and you have lost everything. You show me your scar. As I hand you two tickets to Athens the next evening, you can’t help but break down all your defences. We share a coffee, and shed some tears, and for a split moment in life, we are the same. Tired, thirsty, smiling and safe.

Your face has changed, as you wave goodbye when I drive away, and my heart has changed.

What does this all mean?

I’ve been asking myself this question since returning to the UK.

The refugee crisis is complex and ever-changing. Just as if we had to all flee the UK, there are people from every walk of life and every type of character (or those severely lacking in it - robbing Farah in the queue) that are landing on the shores.

And our emotions are complex, and ever-changing.

What Farah taught me was this;

Even in a chaotic moment, it’s not helpful judge a frowning and closed person. There is always more to the story. And a bit of kindness and time shows you this.

This is as true of the person who gives you a frown at the bus stop on the way to work on a cold winter morning as a refugee arriving from Iran.

And I think if we choose to remember that everyone is facing their own hard battles (I know I am), it opens up our mind to look for moments to show kindness and listen in the midst of our own chaos.

Tattoo it on your skin, write it on your mirror, set an alarm with it;

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

Add comment

Security code

Building resilience


5 Ways you can Achieve Flow 18 April 2018, 00.00 Sharon
5 Ways you can Achieve Flow
Often described as a state of mind in which you can experience total immersion and involvement in what you’re doing, where things happen effortlessly and time disappears, flow is what athletes often call “being in the



Protect. Enable. Strengthen. Flourish. Your business is in their heads.