Searching for happiness in camp Moria

This post is written by Martijn R Hofman, a psychologist in the humanitarian field.

DW-camp-Moria

The ‘exit-gate’ in the fence surrounding Camp Moria on the Greek Island of Lesbos. Source: DW/Dimitri Tosidis

Preface

Last year, Janneke Woudstra and I, both mental health professionals, friends and colleagues at the Dutch mental health organisation the Parnassia Group, worked for several weeks for the Boat Refugee Foundation as volunteers to provide psychological aid to the refugees that are living in camp Moria (Lesbos, Greece). Based on our experiences I wrote a personal essay called “Searching for happiness in camp Moria.”

At the time I wrote this essay, the world still seemed a “normal place.” Now, almost a year after our visit to refugee camp Moria, the world has changed. No one had heard of the Coronavirus or COVID-19 a year ago. Now, the virus has put our lives on this planet “on hold”, with disastrous health and economic consequences for many. At the same time, hopefully it is making many of us more aware of our lifestyles’ deleterious effects on our planet, and the importance of solidarity and good health for all. As is often the case with natural- or man-made disasters, vulnerable groups—such as people who have been uprooted and are living as “migrants” or “refugees”—are most heavily impacted both directly and indirectly by this global pandemic.

A personal essay on searching for happiness in a refugee camp seems, from the new context in which we are all living nowadays, somehow irrelevant as everyone focuses on survival—in its most basic sense, on staying alive. Honestly speaking, I don’t think surviving is the only important thing now. Especially in times of hardship such as this, our human search for happiness still comes to the fore. Suddenly, it becomes even more apparent that happiness is not to be found in individual goals, rather we find it in joining with others toward common goals. In knowing that we share our lives on this planet with each other, and that we are all in a way responsible for each other. Happiness is grounded on the principle of solidarity.

For this reason, I am convinced that the essay I wrote last year is perhaps even more valuable nowadays. I hope it will inspire you.

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As a colleague and I are walking up the road, we pass two young women  walking arm in arm. They are dressed fashionably and laughing as they look at their mobile phones, completely fitting into the bustling, international street life of the Netherlands, where my colleague and I are from. Yet we are not in Amsterdam; we are in Moria, a refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece, where these young women live as refugees alongside many other people from Syria, Afghanistan and other countries. They have just passed through an “exit-gate”— essentially a hole in the large fence that encircles the camp.

I am a psychologist from the Netherlands. A couple of months ago, I provided psychosocial support as part of the Dutch Boat Refugee Foundation’s community team in camp Moria. Originally a military base, with the accompanying excess of fencing and barbwire, it has been used to house people arriving in Greece as refugees since 2015. The camp population is currently estimated to fluctuate around 20,000, well over its capacity of 3,000.

As a psychologist, I was interested in observing how happiness is experienced by those living in the camp. I had come to camp Moria with my own Continue reading

A Series of Facts about Edith Wharton, for Aid Workers. Postscript.

This post is written by Rachel Unkovic, an aid worker, artist and oral historian. This is the final post in a serial, to follow along read:

…the first post here

…the second post here

…and the third post here.

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A Series of Facts about Edith Wharton, for Aid Workers.

Postscript.

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35.) Edith Wharton was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for literature for The Age of Innocence. She was the first woman in the history of the prize to win one. Continue reading

A Series of Facts about Edith Wharton, for Aid Workers. Part III.

This post is written by Rachel Unkovic, an aid worker, artist and oral historian. This is the third post in a serial, you can read the first post here and the second one here.

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Edith Wharton with WWI soldiers. Source: The US WWI Centennial Commission website

A Series of Facts about Edith Wharton, for Aid Workers.

Part III

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27.)  I read The Age of Innocence in the summer of 2013, while working at the AkçakaleTal Abyad border crossing.

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28.) The Age of Innocence is not about war, yet Edith wrote it after experiencing a war.

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29.) The Age of Innocence is not violent or cruel, like its predecessor, The House of Mirth, yet Edith wrote it after witnessing violence. She wrote it after seeing the impact of human cruelty on the bodies of women, men and children. From the war, Edith—an expat, always more privileged, always safer—didn’t shrink into cynicism but grew her own capacity for generosity.

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30.) One day in late August 2013, I was curled up with the book in a dusty plastic chair in no-man’s-land between Turkey and Syria, waiting for a drug shipment to clear the crossing, bound for three health centers. Gunshots shattered the air. They were close as fuck. Surrounding me, security men whipped out their Nokias, texting furiously to Continue reading

A Series of Facts about Edith Wharton, for Aid Workers. Part II.

This post is written by Rachel Unkovic, an aid worker, artist and oral historian. This is the second post in a serial, you can read the first post here.

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Photograph of Edith Wharton, taken by E. F. Cooper, at Newport, Rhode Island. Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University. Source: Wikimedia Commons

A Series of Facts about Edith Wharton, for Aid Workers.

Part II

16.) Edith published The House of Mirth in 1905. Picture it: 1890s New York City. Lily Bart, 29 years old and beautiful, becomes embroiled in romantic scandal. She spirals into a tailspin, descending from New York City elite to the margins of society, where she dies, impoverished, in a delirium of drugs, suicidal, clutching an imaginary child to her breast—drowned by beauty and cruelty.

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17.) The House of Mirth has been called “a vicious indictment of a morally corrupt upper class”. It was the world that Edith had been born into. Her rage flashed and scorched.

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18.) The House of Mirth was very successful.

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19.) Edith divorced her husband in 1913. She left for Europe to wash him off her skin.

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20.) June 1914. World War I erupted. As other Americans fled, Edith stayed in Paris. She joined up, first as a funder, later as an organizer, with a group of aid workers. In August, they opened up a house where war-affected women could access food, work and cash.

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21.) Towards Christmas, as refugees poured into the Paris, Edith and her friends Continue reading

A Series of Facts about Edith Wharton, for Aid Workers. Part I.

This post is written by Rachel Unkovic, an aid worker, artist and oral historian. This is the first post in a serial–stay tuned for more.

The Age of Innocence ?1788 by Sir Joshua Reynolds 1723-1792

“The Age of Innocence” from which Edith Wharton derived the title of one of her books. Painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds, it was commissioned as a character study or ‘fancy picture’. Source: Tate (check out their website for more interesting stories about the painting itself)

A Series of Facts about Edith Wharton, for Aid Workers.

Part I

1.) Edith Newbold Jones was born on 24 January 1862 in New York City to a mother, a father, and two much older brothers.

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2.) The Civil War was raging. It depreciated American currency. Her mother and father whisked their three children off to Europe where their money meant more.

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3.) Edith was privileged as fuck. If you have heard the phrase “Keeping up with the Joneses” and wondered to whom it refers, allow me to introduce to you Edith’s father, George Fredric Jones, and her mother, Lucretia.

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4.) Toddler Edith would hold a book in her hands and pretend to read it out loud, making up stories, flipping pages periodically as if the stories were there on the ink and not just in her mind.

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5.) She was admonished that reading was fine, but writing was certainly not the occupation of a proper young lady.

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6.) In Europe, Edith learned to read English, French, German and Italian fluently.

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7.) Age 11, finally back in Continue reading

Policy, practice, and poetry

This post is written by Jennifer Lentfer. Jennifer is the creator of the blog how-matters.org and Director of Communications at Thousand Currents. This week, she joins 21 other diverse speakers at Healing Solidarity, a free online conference posing critical questions about healing, inequity, exhaustion, and challenging power structures in international aid and development. Join the conversation at healingsolidarity.org and follow #HealingSolidarity.

Practice-Solidarity

People are waking up to big issues in international aid. Now what?  Image from the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) #PracticeSolidarity campaign 

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A journalist recently asked me, “Do you know anyone who would be willing to go on the record as resistant to change?”

“Good luck,” I thought. Institutional bodies are adept at portraying its leaders as on trend and non-controversial, and no self-respecting do-gooder is going to oppose more racial and gender diversity outright at this time in our history. However I constantly encounter “good people” who may or may not be aware of the white privilege and supremacy that runs through aid institutions, or who haven’t developed the personal resiliency to talk openly about the historical origins of our sector and the political and identity-driven realities that affect every aspect of our day-to-day work.

Policies that support diversity and inclusion are in place. What we now have to shift is the practice. For people with positional power and for those with privilege, this may  Continue reading

The Extended Gratitude section

Afraid_of_nobody

“Afraid of nobody”. Source: McLean’s optical illusions. T. McLean. 1833. 11 lithographs on discs that, when spun & observed in a mirror, create the illusion of movement.

This post is the second in a two-part series written by Trayle Kulshan (read the first post here). Trayle recently finished her memoir, “Revolutions”: 99 lyrical, 99-word stories from her travels as an aid worker. You can find it on Amazon and read samples on her website

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A single page at the end of my book spells out “Gratitude,” but the generosity of strangers, of women, of friends cannot be contained on a page. I asked for a lot of help. And I got it. And it made me a better writer and a better person.

Asking for and getting feedback on my book was a way of making connections with people and building a community around myself when I was feeling lonely and isolated. I’d moved to a new city, I was a new mommy, I was not working, and I missed “my people.” Connecting with like-minded artsy-fartsy folks kept me sane. So while feedback served an important role for my book, it also played a bigger role in my life. The feedback mechanisms I talk about here don’t have to be used for a project. They can just be used.

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My previous post may not have made it explicit, but as someone who was very insecure and has trouble making decisions, feedback was priceless to me. It helped me figure out exactly what it was I was trying to create. I wanted to publish and I wanted magic. I needed help.

Feedback wasn’t about making me more confident, it was about Continue reading