ISB Students Volunteer with Youth Red Cross

World Refugee Day was celebrated over our summer holidays this year. It is a day where all around the world we acknowledge and honor the millions of people who have had to flee their homes because of violence, conflict, or other difficult environments in the pursuit for better life conditions. It is a day when the world has the opportunity to raise special awareness to these groups of people who are vulnerable and need the help and solidarity of the international society. 

This year, more than ever, we have to do what we are able to assist refugees who are suffering from the coronavirus health crisis. It is time for us to get together as a community and help the people who need it the most. We must be confident that our actions as individuals can be summed, and together we can create a positive impact for the ones around us. 

Did you know that ISB students volunteer with refugee children as part of a Red Cross program? We are six students, volunteers at the Youth Red Cross Basel, and to highlight World Refugee Day, we want to share our experiences throughout our activities at the local refugee center. We think it is a good moment to appreciate our lessons learned in our time as volunteers, and to encourage other people to get involved in helping the refugees in their community. 

Daniela: Volunteering with refugees has been an enriching experience because it has been me the one that has learnt so many valuable lessons from them. Every week we do our “Spieleabend”, where we get to go to organise activities for the children at the refugee center. Regardless of what we prepare for them, they always receive us with a big smile on their faces and they have this energy and excitement that is sometimes difficult to contain. They appreciate so much the little things we do for them that it’s difficult not to leave with a smile on our faces. Personally, it has been inspiring and admirable to spend time with them because no matter the background that they come from, the uncertainty that they are experiencing while staying at the center, or the difficulties their families may be facing, these children always come with such a positive spirit and enjoy every moment as if there was nothing else that mattered. All of this has been my motivation to try and do as much as I can to help the refugees in our community. For instance, currently I am working on a project that arose from the Versus Virus Hackathon to aid the refugees and refugee centers during the COVID-19 crisis. This has also been an incredible experience because even though I didn’t know the people I work with before the Hackathon, we have all been united by this common feeling of eagerness to help those in need. 

Alexandra: My way of contributing in aiding refugees is by volunteering with the children in the play evening at the refugee center. One can easily recognize the joy on their faces when we arrive, knowing they are gonna have fun for the following two hours. I was admired and really touched by the fact that most of them have gone through many strenuous and grueling experiences and obstacles to be able to arrive at their final destination. Many of them even came without their parents (or with only one of them). The fact that many of them come from Arabic speaking countries exhilarated me, as I knew I could communicate with them in their native language. Speaking Arabic to them, I think, made them feel more comfortable and welcome in  their “host county”. 

Image 2. Drawing of a map of the world that a kid coloured 

Raul: As I am also part of the project “Spielabend”. My role is to play with the children in the “play evening” with other volunteers at the refugee center. They always welcome us with an immense amount of energy and are genuinely happy to play. Since the first evening, they showed lots of signs of appreciation towards us that made me smile a lot. Even in the situation they are in, which may not be the most convenient, the children always have a contagious happiness. They play and are not afraid of speaking for themselves. Although I may not be able to express myself in their language and speak to some of the children, we are still able to play with no kind of issues and we are able to make each other understand through gestures and our tone of voice.

Pol: I found the BAZ activities at the refugee center to be eye-opening. During the course of the three months which I helped there, I had the opportunity to hear horrifying yet interesting real-life stories some refugees went through in order to arrive in Switzerland. My most unforgettable moments at the BAZ center were when I first walked into the building with all the refugees and played games with the children. The first time I walked into the building I felt extremely intimidated and overwhelmed as there were certain security procedures I had to follow in order to enter. However, I immediately felt welcomed in the playroom with the children. I will never forget the first play evening when my colleagues and I took the children outside when it was freezing cold and raining. We got told off because it was our responsibility if the children got sick. It was worth it in order to see the joy in their smiles and faces. After knowing how happy my time made other children, I kept looking forward to the play evening each week. I think I got more out of the experience than the children did. Furthermore, planning activities for the refugees required leadership and teambuilding skills which will help me in my future endeavors. 

Image 3. A Switzerland flag drawing that one of the children drew 

Anthony: My experience at the refugee center was definitely one that made an impact. It was amazing to see all the different people with different stories from different places all in one place each with a story to tell of how they got here. The kids were adorable, from trying to figure out how to communicate with each other, to them not wanting us to leave, it was always joyful to see them anticipating our arrival. Overall, I’d say it’s an experience that I would want all of my friends to go through because it truly shows how people are suffering and going through a lot of trouble hoping one day to have what we have. 

Nicole: “You remind me of my mother in my homeland” was what a boy, 13 years old, told me once. We were playing board games together and he told me about his dreams; dreams which included seeing his family again in Iran, having a home, and going to university to study medicine. He was originally from Afghanistan, but was forced to flee with his family to Iran, and then to four other countries without them, ending up in Switzerland. Yet, he only is allowed to stay approximately two months legally here without a sponsor. So I asked him “where to next?” and he replied “I don’t know”. Every Monday evening I volunteer at the villa, which is a home for teenagers aged 8-17 who come to Switzerland alone. Many are the only members from their family who were able flee their country, and this is usually due to unsafe conditions, war, or discrimination. I try to meet them with a smile and give them the opportunity, for a couple of hours, to forget a little about their hardships and have some fun. I have been fortunate to meet so many people from different walks of life and hear their stories. Volunteering, for me, has often been rewarding but heart-breaking as well. Although I know there is not much I can do to better their situation, I just hope that those Monday evenings bring them some happiness and motivation to keep pushing forward and not let their dreams go. 

Image 4. Versus Virus Hackathon invitation to the Incubation Program, where one of the volunteers is working on 

Volunteering with refugees at Youth Red Cross Basel has led to many unforgettable experiences that have left a deep impression on ISB students. We have learned empathy, the importance of community service and collaboration. We will offer an information session for ISB gr 10-11 students early in the school year. You should come find out what you are missing!