KT for Good: This woman makes refugees feel they are not alone
Aisha Al Sharbati, from Bahrain, decided to do more than watch the news and share pictures.
Watching the number of displaced people on the rise across the world has been hard enough. Ordinary people leading lives filled with aspirations are suddenly forced to leave their homes to save themselves and their families.
Aisha Al Sharbati, from Bahrain, decided to do more than watch the news and share pictures and videos to express empathy and solidarity.
Late September 2015, she invited her family and friends to travel to Austria and offer help to refugees stuck at train stations when Germany closed its borders.
"Refugees needed someone to communicate with them in Arabic and translate their needs to authorities. In a way, it calmed their fears and gave them a sense of safety," said Al Sharbati.
"I felt I need to be on the ground and provide one-on-one assistance," she said.
Upon her return, she launched her official initiative 'With Refugees', opening doors for social media users to join her in helping people fleeing Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan to seek a new life across Europe.
Besides Austria, she organised visits to Slovenia to assist refugees coming from Croatia, and in Greece's Lesbos and North Macedonia Border to support refugees coming from Turkey.
She also held relief campaigns at Lebanon's refugee camps and, recently, at camps of Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh to aid Rohingya refugees escaping persecution in Myanmar.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the number of people fleeing violence reached 70.8 million in 2018, the highest recorded since World War II.
The aid that Al Sharbati's initiative offers varies based on the need.
"During our visit to Slovenia, we prepared more than 2,000 meals, first aid kits and clothes every two hours for refugees arriving by train in the cold winter."
Other types of assistance include providing shelter supplies, medical aid, food, clothes, blankets and other core relief items to refugees arriving in Greece.
On the Macedonian border, the group set up a kitchen to empower refugees to prepare their own food instead of waiting for hours to receive a meal, if lucky.
'Baby thrown in the ocean; man walked for 12 days'
The numerous stories Al Sharbati sees on the ground are powerful enough to shake everyone who encounters them.
"Once I met a mother who travelled from Turkey to Greece with a group of other refugees in a boat. The smuggler threw her baby in the ocean when he started crying out of fear that coast guards will hear them and force him to return," narrated Al Sharbati.
Another story that left an everlasting impact on her was that of an old man who crossed to Austria through the borders drenched in rainwater at 5°C. He had walked for 12 days. "When he arrived, he was shivering from the cold and his skin was blue," she described.
"I approached him with a blanket and he said he only needed someone to listen to his story, and since I spoke Arabic, he requested I give him an ear in case he dies without anyone knowing the suffering and pain he had to go through."
Despite the warnings the group often receives from governments, Al Sharbati has seen nothing from people in displacement except gratitude and warmth. "More than aid, they look for someone to express their suffering to. They are grateful when they find people who speak the same language and make them feel they are not alone." She said the communication with refugees does not stop, even when the group returns home.
"We don't just provide the aid and leave. Sometimes being heard is all they need and we sustain this communication even when we return to our homes."
Al Sharbati carefully selects volunteers after interviewing each of the applicants to ensure they have the necessary qualifications.
"At times where help is needed, you need to make sure volunteers are responsible, open, compassionate and committed," she said.
The initiative receives applications from paramedics, lawyers, journalists, photographers, doctors and university students.
The group, she said, solely depends on private fundraising, without formal support from agencies.
How the initiative works
1-'With Refugees' allows social media users to help people fleeing violence
2-It organises visits to areas where displaced people are expected
3-Relief and assistance range from meals to medical aid, clothes, and blankets
4-Volunteers communicate with refugees in Arabic and translate their needs to authorities
5-They hear out refugees' stories, allowing them to share and express their suffering
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