Safe Passages For Refugees-How My Experiences With Refugees In Greece Opened My Eyes And My Heart. JOHN NANKUNG
John Nankung, special education teacher and administrator presented the program of his involvement with Syrian refugees in Greece. The formal title of his program was Safe Passages For Refugees-How My Experiences With Refugees In Greece Opened My Eyes And My Heart.
John spoke of several journeys that he has taken in the past year. The first journey, leading to his involvement with the refugees in Greece, came about as a result of personal turmoil and subsequent involvement in a mindfulness meditation program. From there he developed skills in Metta Meditation, also known as Love and Kindness Meditation which led to a deep sense of compassion for the millions of suffering people in the world. It is out of this awareness and his belief that he could do something to relieve that suffering that he began the second and third journeys.
The second journey was actually traveling to Greece. When he left the states in early 2016 he knew that he was growing to Greece, but did not know for whom he would be working or what he would be doing. In the airport on his way to Greece, read a quotation inside a bottle top from Helen Keller that ended this way… “the world moves by the tiny pushes of each honest worker."
His third journey was the actual personal experiences and growth that he experienced as the result of his travels in Greece and with working with individuals in a refugee camp of 12,000 people near the border with Macedonia.
He gave a brief summary of the magnitude of the problem. Over 3 million people have left Syria because of the war and have migrated to other areas, mainly Greece. An additional 6 million people are displaced within Syria, being too poor to afford the smuggler fees to get them out of the country. This is the equivalent of displacing 135 million Americans because of war. Many of the refugees are now stranded in camps as borders have been closed throughout the European countries, making further migration extremely difficult and risky. 
Initially John was involved with practical matters within camp life. He helped with food preparation and delivery for the thousands of people that needed food assistance on a daily basis. Hours were long, the weather was unremittingly hot, and there was a great deal of travel back and forth from food preparation sites to actual delivery sites. During this period of time he got a overview of camp life. Most of the people in the camp are trying to lead normal lives, to keep their clothing clean, they attend to barbering and other personal care issues, the children play regularly and seem to enjoy life. Social contact is maintained, and there is very little strife or conflict within the camps.
The second part of his journey in the camp involved becoming more closely attached to individuals. He recited an incident where there was contact made about cell phone usage and obtaining a battery charger for a refugee's phone. Cell phones are essential for contact family that may or may not be in the camps but to have cell phones as well was within the camp itself. The second connection was when he helped another camper with the repair project and was invited into his home to sit in his lounge chair that had been obtained somehow within the camp. It was interesting that after John returned to this country, he saw photographs from other people who had been to the camp and immediately recognized chair in which he had sat.
The third and most telling connection he had was with a man with two small children and a beautiful wife. The infant stroller had developed a flat tire that needed repair and the father had spent money to purchase a pair of sandals for his son that were the wrong size. John spent the entire day before his departure from Greece helping this man to get his tire fixed and replaced as well as finding a proper-fitting pair of sandals for his son. The stroller tire repair was particularly telling in that when he went to pay for the repair at tire shop he was told by the proprietor that there was no charge "I do not do this for you. I do not do this for me. I do it for goodness." It is this humanitarian commitment of the people of Greece, the people in the camp, and the workers from around the world who are helping make life more bearable and tolerable for this enormous population of displaced people.
He closed his presentation reminding us that there is another world that we are not aware of in which people are struggling merely to survive on a daily basis. These are people just like us, middle-class citizens of countries that are being ravaged by war.
A second observation let third observation is that regardless is that the images that we see of Middle East people in the media are misleading. They show mainly angry men. Rarely do we see humaneness of Syrian men and the joy of life of all people in the refugee camps.
Also observed that regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, culture, etc. all people are the same at the core, wanting to love and to be loved, seeking safety and security, harboring hopes and dreams, and desiring to lead productive lives.
The fourth, and most important understanding that he came home with is that small acts of kindness are the most important personal interactions in this situation, and in all situations.