Samantha is not your average relief worker. She is not part of some major relief organization like the United Nations or someone with a masters degree in international development. She is a 20-something year old Canadian with a heart for helping others and the spontaneity that has allowed her to travel across the world to places in the deepest need of international support. From Haiti to the Philippines, and now to Macedonia, Samantha’s mission has always been to follow the need and help in the ways that people need it most, while also sharing the immense struggles of others with her family and friends back home. This month we honor Samantha as our Philanthropist of the Month by sharing an interview with her about her mission to help the people of Syria.
This is not your first time traveling to a region that is experiencing a disaster, whether natural or man-made. Why did you decide to travel to Macedonia?
When I was researching options, I came across an Al Jazeera news piece about a woman named Gabriella Andreevska, a volunteer coordinator at the southern Macedonian refugee camp. After watching the piece, I reached out to her to ask how I might help. Her response was unique and encouraging. She did not want me to send funds alone, she thought it was more important for me, a Canadian very removed from the crisis, to actually be there; to feel, see, and experience the height and heart of this crisis. I had wanted to find a place where I could do just this, be present and actually helpful.
The particular refugee camp I will be volunteering at is absolutely overwhelmed. It is nothing but a dusty patch of land. The few organizations with access to this camp are likewise, overwhelmed and short on resources. From my research and communicating with individuals working in camps across Europe, I identified Macedonia as the locale that I could make the most impact.
What is the current situation like for refugees in Macedonia?
The southern Macedonian refugee camp, that I am travelling to, is a dusty patch of ground surrounded by farm fields. There is a solitary tap for running water. There are no nearby places to purchase food or goods. There is little shelter from sun or other natural elements and by mid-October temperatures will drop significantly, posing a new problem for the temporary residents of the space. Refugees are sleeping on scraps of cardboard and cloth. There are many people working to try and make the refugees more comfortable with strained resources.
Unfortunately, recent reports of violence toward refugees by Macedonian police are surfacing. As tension, fear, and stress rise, it often turns to anger and outbursts. Recent uprisings amongst refugees at the camp have been responded to drastically by police and military with tear gas and force.
How do you hope to use your time in Macedonia for the good of the Syrian people?
I hope to be put to work. I am registering with a small organization named Legis. I will assist them with everything from manual labour involved with putting up makeshift shelters and distributing food and water to building their website and helping them gain traction and donations for improved resources. I plan on gathering photos, video interviews, and information that I can bring home and disseminate.
I also plan to spend my time speaking with and building relationships with refugees, to build relationships that will hopefully lead to long term communication and information sharing. I would really like to help people crowdfund on their own, if there are the means to do this I would like to be able to set this up for as many people as I can.
How do you think the refugee stories you collect will help impact the road to change for Syria?
When I return from Macedonia, I plan to speak at a number of locations, from churches, to schools to libraries. I will share individual stories about the people I have met and the conditions they are facing as they migrate in hopes of a better future.
What is something you feel everyone should know about the crisis in Syria?
We are all equal and deserving of security and the opportunity to thrive. Religion, politics, economics, and any other differentiator aside, people are suffering and children are suffering; this is all we need to know.
More concretely, I think it might be transformative for people to understand the scale of this crisis. The United Nations estimates that 23 million people are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, whether they remain in the country or have escaped across borders.
What is the biggest misconception people have of the issues Syrian people are facing?
I have heard whispers of many misconceptions and I think many of them come from fear and a lack of information. The most alarming of which are:
- When Hungary, Germany, and Austria opened their doors to refugees, only adult male refugees were getting in.
- ISIS is seeding itself within the throngs of refugees entering the EU and the migration is a ploy to take over “the west”.
- This is “nothing more” than an economic migration, people are fleeing countries other than Syria for economic reasons.
I think that there may be small truths in all misconceptions, but the problem with them is that they distract from the real problem and real need. Each of these misconceptions are broadcast without context and cause fear, hatred, and confusion. It is the responsibility of the media and individuals to gain context and not to jump to conclusions.
Many people around the world feel compelled to help the people of Syria, but feel limited by their geographical location, political influence, or financial situation. Do you have any suggestions on how people can help aid the Syrian people from afar?
I will just say that I struggle with each of these items. I risk damaging relationships both personally and professionally for my involvement because of the socio-political nature of this crisis. Moreover, I live in Canada (geographically removed) and do not have loads of money to fly around the world on a whim.
I think to get past these obstacles we as individuals need to expose ourselves to the opportunity for transformative knowledge. A moment when the news ceases to be noise in the background and starts to meaningfully move and affect us. So, simply, stay informed.
There are more opportunities to get involved than you might think. Local community groups, schools, and churches are beginning to get involved all over Canada and the United States. If you live in a country that is welcoming in refugees, why not do what you can to educate your peers on how to graciously and sensitively welcome in the new additions to your community? Start a soccer league or host an event that welcomes and demonstrates genuine kindness and real acceptance of refugees.
Where donations are concerned, every penny counts. For example, donating to my campaign will mean you are providing a meal to a hungry family, a coat that will keep an old man safe and warm through cold nights, tylenol to a child with a fever. There are so many organizations in need of donations. I encourage people to find the one that speaks to them.
If you wish to volunteer, do your research. Many countries need help in and outside of their camps. You will need to apply and register with an organization and in some cases need a volunteer visa (If you are interested in volunteering in Macedonia, get in touch with Samantha).
We invite all of our supporters to visit Samantha’s campaign page: To Macaedonia with Love, which was selected as our Fundraiser of the Month, to learn more about Samantha’s trip and make a donation to help Syrian refugees in Macedonia.