Written by Christophe Mortier
My grandfather was a French officer during World War II.
After intense fighting on the mainland, boats were targeted by the German Stuka planes and submarines. As the German army was pushing the English and French army on Dunkirk beach, my grandfather went on a boat to go to England.
On the deck of the boat, he saw a private soldier who was in shock and crying. He went to him and asked him why he was crying, since he was going to England and he'd face no more fighting on the beach. The private told him that he didn’t know how to swim. My grandfather was a great swimmer and, as an officer, he wore a life jacket. He decided to give him his life jacket.
Two weeks ago, in a conversation with a former customer, she told me that the past year she had wondered what to do for refugees. With her husband, they accepted to be a host family for a refugee. They became friends with that man until the day he was sent back to his country, without any consideration from the administration for all his efforts to learn the French language and try his best to be integrated.
To this day, they haven’t had any news from him and they’re wondering how he is doing in his mother country. When I asked her why they got involved to help a refugee, they answered after a pause: "How will we answer our kids if one day they ask us, what have we done to help refugees?"
As she is expecting a baby soon, she doesn’t know if she will be involved again as they were in the past, because she says it's heartbreaking.
As my grandfather, who gave his useful life jacket, we might all be confronted with the situation where we will have to choose between leaving what we are given as a birthright, or maybe our work or our heritage or simply the law of the soil to give to somebody who perhaps we make a hasty judgement of because he hasn’t had the time to learn how to swim.
The question keeps coming to my mind: "Who will I give my life jacket to?"
Over the last year we have developed close relationships built on mutual trust with many of the families we help. We know their names, their personal stories, and individual needs. We are fully aware that our donations are only a temporary band aid for a larger problem. A bag of groceries only goes so far, and they will be back the following Saturday for more. Sometimes, though, we can make a bigger impact in someone’s life.
Selfies with friends. Shurooq and Sasha enjoy shopping together.
Suzanne Kaufman’s colorful illustrations are a delightful pair to Alaxandra Penfold’s narrative stating “all are welcome here,” no matter one's appearance or background.