“Start Where You Are, Use What You Have, Do What You Can”- Arthur Ashe

I have spent hours glued to the screen reading about life changing experiences written by volunteers helping all over the world. I follow their day to day events and enjoy reading what they take away from these experiences. I have so much respect for the people who are out there making a difference, and would recommend to anyone who is interested in volunteering to read these stories and trust me you will be even more inspired to make a positive change.

One particular blog which I want to bring to your attention is  A Sandwich a day  . This is written by Amber, who is from the USA and never thought she would end up living in Istanbul permanently, after only moving to do a CELTA course  (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) . After making friends with her two Syrian housemates Fateh and Yahia , she was heartbroken to hear about their stories of having to leave their country, as well as hearing first-hand what was happening in Syria. So last November she decided to travel to Lesvos in Greece and help with the refugee crisis, and in her blog she gives a detailed description of her volunteer experience.

Amber carries peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in her bag every day to give to anyone she encounters living on the street in Istanbul (did you know Turkey has over 2 million refugees ?!) She says “What giving out sandwiches has done for me has welcomed conversation (even if only in body language), allowed for natural human connection, brings a sense of fulfillment & purpose, and supersedes all language barriers. You see for me in this situation sandwiches are synonymous with love, and I think we can all agree that the world could use more love. It costs me the equivalent of $5 per week to make 21 sandwiches and sometimes I eat one if I don’t run into anyone on the street (added bonus for me!). It takes me under 20 seconds to make each sandwich, in fact; it has become a part of my routine like filling my water bottle on my break between work and class. I just always have a sandwich on me.”

“A sandwich a day represents the idea of paying it forward for me. I am a firm believer that we receive what we put out and my incredible life full of joy, love, and human connection is valid proof of that. So you are busy. So you are worried. So you are stressed out. So you have problems. There is always someone out there struggling more than YOU. But the attitude I hope to exude with my “a sandwich a day” mentality is that no matter OUR circumstances, we can always help someone else, always. A sandwich a day may not end world hunger or bring about world peace, but the idea is that we all play a part in this world and I hope that my efforts will encourage even one more person to do more to help ease the suffering of anyone who is in unfortunate circumstances for whatever their reason. I am not part of any particular organization, just humanity. I want us all to “win”, and I think that only happens if we “win” together. Remember, pain and suffering are temporary. Can you think of one reason NOT to give a sandwich to someone who needs it?”

The first night Amber arrived in Lesvos, she was told to all volunteers had been called urgently to the harbor. There had been a double decker boat that had capsized leaving 300 migrants in the sea to be rescued in the dark! She tells of her intense first day and how chaotic it can be,  especially with the language barrier. She describes the tasks, which included helping the people from the boat find warm clothes, as well as cleaning up the beach, as physically tasking but also fulfilling.

In one account, Amber describes cleaning up a make-shift camp where many refugees were sleeping in the middle of the night, only to have a man from Iraq start helping her. He was the captain of one of the boats. The next day she had a younger guy trying to help the volunteers by translating in Arabic, she says “One of the most beautiful things about my experience on Lesvos, and I have seen other volunteers and journalists write about it, is the self-appointed volunteers. The refugees who are jumping in and helping whenever and however they can. I felt so proud to be part of such an amazing community today doing the smallest of tasks.”

Since volunteering for those 5 life changing days last year, Amber has been busy with a variety of projects in Istanbul. She says these projects are ” aimed at getting children enrolled back in school, providing social support, integrating displaced persons into life in Turkey, attending to immediate needs, directing volunteers where needed, creating and renovating schools/homes/spaces to build and bring together communities, literacy classes to bridge language gaps, skills trainings, and well, just trying to empower and give strength and protection to people who need help.”

Amber says “The most important thing I have learned in this process, is that everyone is in a position to help someone else. We can do more. Wherever you are, whatever your situation, make a decision each day to be better than you were the day before. Look for similarities rather than differences. Recognize that everyone is human. If you aren’t already, get involved in your community. Think about the information you share through spoken word or social media, is it true? positive? negative? necessary? thought provoking? how would you respond to yourself?. Never stop asking questions. Advocate for and make a point to protect people that are more vulnerable than you. Work toward including those people in your community. Learn about other cultures. Be good to yourself so you can be good to others.”

Please take a few minutes to read her blog  A Sandwich a day,  to get an idea of what’s happening right now in these countries, and how we can all help. It has opened my eyes and I have learnt so much in just a matter of minutes, about the war, what is happening in Syria, about just how bad conditions are and how much help they still need in countries like Greece and Turkey who are taking in the thousands of refugees each day.  Her blog has reminded me that whenever you think your life is hard, there is always someone else out there having a tougher time, so be grateful for what you have and go give back to others who are less fortunate – you just might get a new perspective on life .

In Amber’s blog she gives information about the various projects she’s involved in, how you can help by donating, as well as information on volunteering in Lesvos. Click here to read more.

Thanks so much x

Taryn

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