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Sunday, November 15, 2015
My reasons for choosing the Refugee Youth Home of the Thomas Wiser House as recipient of donations (Holly)
Anyway, I went to visit the home with two other runners from the Armin Wolf running team (my charitable running team) along with our team founder and his wife. We brought with us food donations as well as some sporting goods, including two new soccer balls (all from private donors). We arrived in the late afternoon and the agenda consisted of “sport”, which would ideally be a game of soccer or running, and then dinner with the group.
Upon arrival we were greeted by the supervisor who was thrilled to have us there. She introduced us to a couple of the residents: a few of the boys milling around, a couple of them sat in the community room on the pair of computers available for use and one boy sat on a couch reading a book. A moment later another boy came out of the kitchen with a loaf of bread in his hand. A few brief words from the supervisor about not eating between meals and the bread was quickly returned to the kitchen. I was impressed. The supervisor was consequent yet understanding; the boy respectful. And this was to be a recurring theme of the evening. The boys were shy at first. They were hesitant about coming out and playing soccer with us, I mean, I don’t blame them…I am a 40-something year old woman and the other two on the team included another woman (23 years old) and a young man (also 23). But eventually six of them came out with us to the field. Some had to remain at the home to prepare dinner. Each of them are required to contribute to the work in the home and have a rotational chore schedule including cooking and cleaning.
Needless to say, although I’d played soccer for years as a kid, it had been an eternity since I’d kicked the ball around except with my kids. But, old habits die hard and I quickly got my head and ‘skills’ into the game. Some of the guys were good players and all showed great sportsmanship. It was muddy and slippery and the play took on a great spirit.
Then, more than 30 minutes into the game, the impossible happened, I scored a header.
It was a beautiful looping pass across the goal and I instinctively jumped up and headed it above the keeper and into the net! My teammates exuberantly ran up to me with high fives, hooting and hollering. I was thrilled (and pretty impressed with myself). And even as the play resumed, some of the guys were in hysterical jubilation…I asked one of them why he was laughing and he answered, “Your header…it was just like on TV!”
Needless to say, the ice was broken, the roots of friendship began to take form and my nervous anticipation of the evening was washed away.
After showering and convening at the dinner table, I sat next to one of the boys that I’d played ball with. He was originally from Afghanistan but had lived recent years with his family in Tehran, Iran. And although no one had introduced me as an American, and I had not volunteered the information, this one boy had heard my accent and knew it. I reluctantly asked him what he thought of America and Americans…and, thankfully, he was supportive of us, which is not exactly to be expected concerning our military involvement and history in the Middle East. He was 16 years old, had only been in Germany for 5 months and during that time, while living in the Youth Home, as required of all residents, he had daily German lessons which enabled us to communicate exclusively in German. He could speak English quite well, but didn’t want to use it. He wanted to practice the language of his new country, and we had absolutely no trouble in understanding one another.
After some laughs and general conversation, I eventually got around to asking him how he’d come to Germany…on a boat? In a truck? He looked at me with a blank stare, then answered: No, I walked.
I was briefly speechless. You walked? From Tehran to Germany? Yes, he answered. (I’ve since googled this and it is over 4,000 kilometers/2,500 miles). And how long did it take you? About one month, he replied. Then he explained that his father had saved up money and hired a group to guide him. There were ten in the group and they would walk for hours or days on end before being lucky enough to be given a ride in a truck for a couple of hours before they were set back out on their feet. What about sleep? I asked. No, he answered, not much.
But then the story really began to take impact as he told me that once he was in Germany and contacted his expectant family with news of his safe arrival, his parents gathered together the rest of their money and sent their 15-year-old son along the same route! After a month or more traveling and through a stack of paperwork and logistics through the government agencies in Germany, the brothers were reunited in the home and allowed to live there together.
The supervisor of the home told me that once the brother arrived the home took on an all new atmosphere. It had truly become a family, bonding not just the brothers, but all residents and supervisors.
That was just one story of many out of the group. All residents of that home want to learn German, learn a trade and get integrated into society with a purpose. They all have Hopes and Dreams like any one of us and they are willing to work hard to make those dreams come true.
I want to help them do just that, which is why I intend to Run4Refugees.