The holiday season can be such a rejuvenating time of year or the complete opposite, a very difficult one, especially for those who find themselves without a place to call home. This reality has had all of our eyes focused on Afghanistan and the fate of thousands of individuals this holiday season.
Since Mid-August, Switzerland has opened its doors to only 387 Afghan people. As for the future, the Swiss Federal Council has approved a quota of up to 1600 resettlement refugees for 2022/23. Under this program, Egypt, Lebanon and Turkey are designated as priority countries, specifically refugees from Afghanistan in these regions.
Having this information, knowing so few people will be allowed to resettle here in Switzerland, has been complicated for Afghan families and Swiss nationals who are living safely in these borders.
Fortunately, in my role working with the incredible volunteers of the TSOS International Community Program Group, I am constantly reminded of the realities of this paradigm, the stark needs of refugees being relocated to new communities around the world and the rejuvenating experience to interact with, learn from and be inspired by their resilience and courage. It is through them that I have found a way to connect Switzerland with personal advocacy efforts abroad.
Finding a way to give
Georgette Lalaus, Community Program Coordinator in France, is a force for good and is constantly sharing with me the epic plans she has for her personal mission to support refugees in her community. It was during one of our conversations that she mentioned a Christmas party she was planning for the children and families she teaches in her French and Clown classes. Upon hearing about her party, my children, who have spent many Zoom calls getting to know Georgette, wanted to buy Christmas gifts for the children in her class.
You can imagine my shock when I found out from Georgette that my children had committed to buying gifts for 173 individuals, who were planning to attend the party. Although that number wasn’t in our budget, we knew there were others who were feeling the same way we felt, “How can we help? What can we do?” so my husband launched an international collection, composed mostly of his team of European Googlers who are seeing the need first hand.
In a matter of days, Georgette, in only the way Georgette can, had transformed her classroom and community into a place of celebration and love. And a team of co-workers and friends sent their donations to the woman behind the magic.
On December 25th the photos of the celebration started flooding my WhatsApp messages, along with her words of gratitude that fill your heart more than anything else can this time of year.
"Oh Santa Claus arrived! It was a success! There were so many pictures to take, and I wish I could take more. All day I was with tears on my face, so much charity and deep love. Please thank your husband and all of his friends and colleagues for the love that they gave to our world. We all appreciate their donation so much. You all are the true spirit of Christmas.
With your donations, I was able to provide a Christmas Eve party for hundreds of refugees, housed in a hostel in Paris. I worked closely with the owner of the hostel, volunteers in the community and refugee leaders in the hostel to prepare the party and purchase gifts for the children. The Christmas Eve party was such a success and brought so much cheer to so many, that the volunteers and dressed up Santa decided to go back the next day to help them continue the celebration on Christmas day.
The donations stretched so far that we were also able to take dinner to 20 Tibetan refugees who are living in the forest outside of Paris on New Year's Eve. Thank you for your generous contributions to help a large community of refugees enjoy the holidays in Paris."
The gift of gratitude
With only a few words and a few pictures Georgette had closed the circle for these individuals who were looking to take action, instead of sitting in their feelings of helplessness. There was an immediate sense of personal connection, which in turn has the power to immediately change perception.
Several of my husband’s colleagues responded to these messages and pictures with their own gratitude, feeling “moved to tears”, “humbled”, “connected to people in a time of need.” Isn’t that what this work is about? Connecting individuals and recognizing at the end of the day our stories align, our stories are united and we all are seeking for love and connection when times are the hardest?
As for me, that is the power behind this work, that a courageous woman like Georgette can be a story-teller and ignite a community across a border to connect, act and learn. So when the work seems impossible, the needs seem too great, remember that there is always a way to support our refugee friends, and it usually starts with a simple connection.
Georgette is like the Pied Piper and wherever she goes, wonderful people follow. New volunteers also recorded their feelings from this wonderful event and I wanted to share them here.
From Vicenta: It was an experience I will remember all my life. All the emotions were there: it was a thrilling, exciting, exhausting, noisy, joyful and light-filled evening. For a first edition, it was a good start. The organization will need to be improved, but in any case, having been in contact with the children (in the role of Mrs. Claus/elf), I saw and felt joy for myself and for them. I also saw stars in the eyes of the children and gratitude in those of the parents. I keep great memories of this beautiful evening. Either way, the best Christmas Eve I've had in years.
From Amaya: "Light the world". Sharing a meal with them, dancing, playing with our new friends was rewarding. It was so relaxing, friendly, simple and beautiful. I will remember for the rest of my life the few hours spent there. A great way to start the year off right!
For a small corner of the world, in Switzerland, what has happened in Ukraine has opened a door I didn’t think I would ever see.
After seven months of visiting and delivering food, sharing meals with these wonderful people, I began to notice all of the children playing outside, late into the evening. I knew that I wanted to do something special for them, give them something fun to do. I was inspired to start a clown class!
"By December 2019 the need in Paris was so overwhelming and had been for a long time. I couldn’t look away. In fact, deep down I felt a call to help." A story of ingenuity, boldness, and partnership helped meet the needs of hungry displaced people in France.