Looking into the eyes of a broken man

Written by Gilly Spence, Humanitas volunteer

Ok I’m going to admit it, I’m emotionally ruined. Like totally and utterly done, which is hard to admit given the circumstances I find myself in and the people I have met during this week. I should be currently sat at home drinking a nice cup of tea or down at the pub with friends with a nice cold beer, catching up on the week and looking forward to a friends Birthday party tomorrow. Instead I made the hard decision yesterday to stay until the very last opportunity I had, so I fly home Monday now and have the weekend to really and truly break myself emotionally.

The last few days have had highs and lows but on reflection I know in my heart that Dr Ramiz and I have done an amazing job, just 2 of us in a camper van and with basic equipment. I’m not one to applaud myself at all, however on this occasion I know that had we not been at Hara camp over the last few days there would now be sicker kids, injuries left untreated and words gone unspoken. In the van this week we’ve heard the heartbeats of unborn babies and looked into the very souls of broken men. Today I sat and listened to Lava’s story.

Lava is 23 and from Allepo, Syria. She is with her mother and brother in Hara camp, her father and another brother are in Germany. She did have another brother but he was killed by a bomb in Syria whilst coming home from university. Her mother has extensive burns to her face and chest from cooking oil that burnt her when a bomb hit their house. Lava helped us with interpreting earlier in the week and returned today. In between seeing people in the van Lava sat chatting with Ramiz and I. She told us that she wanted to go back to Syria. We asked why and her answer literally broke my heart in two. She said she wanted to go back as that was her country, that she would rather die quickly there than feel the pain of the slow death she felt she had been sentenced to in Hara. She held her hand to her heart and told us that each day she felt she died a little more inside, that in Syria she constantly smiled and that her smile is slowly fading here. Lava asked me to tell you her story, to tell everyone of what is happening to her, I told her I would and I meant it.


I have just two days left here, then I have to end this chapter and return home. I know that emotionally I will feel better in time, but the faces and stories of the people I have met here will never ever leave me. I’m going home to tell those that will listen about the people I have met this week, about the amazing volunteers working endless hours despite only scratching the surface of the needs of those out here and about those broken people who have even lost their hope. All they have left is their faith and I hope this will bring them comfort in the long nights ahead. But I’ll also tell the stories of the compassion, warmth and kindness of those refugees here, about Madja who despite living in a refugee camp applies makeup each day because it makes her feel that little bit human again. I’ll tell you about the man making falafels in Idomeni camp with a smile on his face and about Tom the wonderful German guy working tirelessly in Eko Kitchen. I’ll talk about Yassin, a 13 year old from Syria who works in Eko kitchen and greets me like an old friend after one week with a high five and a hug and about Shadest and his family who invite me into their home and give me coffee despite having nothing. I can chat all night about Lava, about Jiwan, Mara and Mohammed, Ash and his amazing flying seagulls and the guys who hang out in the chai tent at Eko. Not forgetting Ramiz who I’ve spent 24/7 with and he’s not wanted to kill me despite diagnosing me with verbal diarrhoea after discovering coffee! Each one with their own story to tell, each one an individual. Who cares where they come from, every single person I’ve met this week is a human being, a real person with a story to tell and they’ve touched my heart in ways they’ll never know. I’ll come home a richer person for the things I’ve shared, the love and kindness I have felt and the stories I have been told, despite how hard it is to hear some of them.

Who knows what the next 48 hours will hold for me.