Viewing entries tagged
Syrian Refugees

Guest Blog: What Does Hope Look Like?

Guest Blog: What Does Hope Look Like?

Enjoy this guest blog from one of my best friends and co-workers, Frannie Kieschnick, about what hope looked like, rising in the midst of the refugee camp where she helped launch one of our newest projects Love Welcomes.

Love,

Becca

Guest Blog: "A Mother's Story" from the Ritsona Refugee Camp

Guest Blog: "A Mother's Story" from the Ritsona Refugee Camp

Abi, the Director of Thistle Farms Global, just returned from the Syrian Refugee Camp in Ritsona, Greece, where the women of The Welcome Project are still leading with strength, grace, and hope in the midst of seemingly impossible circumstances. Abi returned with stories of hardships, both new and old, and more importantly, women overcoming them.

In that spirit, the following is guest blog that was written by Thaura that was originally posted on I AM YOU’s Instagram. She is a survivor of war, the violence of poverty, and vulnerability of homelessness. What a gift to be able to share her story here.

As Thaura writes about wanting things that so many of us take for granted—warm running water, the means to cook nourishing food for her family, and the longing to be reunited with the country and people that she loves—may her words inspire all of us to continue our work to love the whole world, one person at a time…

Love, Becca

ThauraMustafa1.png

 

A Mother's Story

When we first came to Ritsona, there was only cold water. We lived in tents, and all the people in the refugee camp shared a few showers, where we also had to wash all our clothes. It was hard times.

My husband was already in Germany. He left Turkey before us while the borders where still open, so I was alone with my three children. They all had their own problems, and having to keep their spirits up in camp was heavy. It was hard for my husband also, not to be able to help me. But at least we were able to talk over the phone to support each other.

We had already left Damascus and my husband’s tobacco shop already in 2015 to go to Salamia (city in Western Syria) where my family lived. My son had to leave his psychology studies after only a year of being in the program. But we had to leave also Salamia when Daesh (ISIS) came. We fled to Turkey and stayed for a year. When we got to Chios in Greece, the borders where closed, but we could still leave the island to reach Ritsona.

Things have gotten much better in Ritsona. We live in ISO boxes (converted shipping containers) and have communal kitchens. I am able to cook a lot on my little stove outside my house as well. When we first came here, we only had the bad army food that we tried to make more tasty by adding spices and other ingredients. Now we can make the food ourselves, and since we get the same vegetables and spices as in Syria, we can make the food we are used to…

In October of 2017, I joined the Welcome Project. We are weaving mats from blankets and life vests. It's a very good project. We do something during the days that is worthwhile, and we earn money. I hope I could continue with the same kind of work when I get to Germany, but if not, then I could take Merkel’s place!

It's been almost two years now since we came to Greece. We are still waiting for the family reunification tickets to go to Hannover (Germany) to my husband and my eldest son. But if the war ends, I want to go back to Syria—to my parents and the beautiful landscapes of Salamia.

--Thaura Mustafa, Refugee & Survivor Leader, 43

Thaura & her children in the camp 

Thaura & her children in the camp 

Pray Globally, Love Specifically: My Christmas Message for 2017

Pray Globally, Love Specifically: My Christmas Message for 2017

A mother and child in Ristona during Thistle Farms' visit in Spring 2017

A mother and child in Ristona during Thistle Farms' visit in Spring 2017

'Tis the season to pray for love and peace all over the world.  Such a prayer is inspiring, but it's hard to imagine loving the whole world. Maybe it is easier at Christmas to Pray Globally, but Love Specifically. I believe the only way to love the whole world is a person at a time. Once we love specifically, then we can extrapolate that, so it is wildly comprehensive.

The work of loving the world has taken the community of Thistle Farms--a movement for survivors of trafficking and addiction--all over the globe for the past twenty years to specific women and communities. In each setting, we sit in a small circle with women survivors and listen and hold on to one another. Our first partnership was with 30 women farmers that survived the genocide in Rwanda. Then we began working with groups in more than 30 states, and 20 countries.

Over and over, we fall in love with the individual women we meet as we engage their story and live into their hope. From those individual women and specific communities, we have learned about the universal issues of sexual assault, the violence and vulnerability of poverty and the common way women carry trauma. From loving women and communities we begin to see the exponential growth of love, and that made it feel possible to contemplate that we can truly love the whole world in way I'd never imagined before.

Thistle Farms’ latest partnership took us to the Ritsona refugee camp in Greece this past summer. There we met a small group of women willing to venture into a new justice enterprise that weaves the life vests and blankets they escaped from Syria with into welcome mats. It was a humbling and hopeful week of watching new weavers bind hope into a pretty desolate place. The Ritsona refugee camp is home to more than 1,000 refugees and while we were there the data indicated that 23 babies had been born in the camp the past year.

The camp itself is an abandoned and dilapidated military compound with crumbling and peeling green walls over dusty dirt giant sunken area that serves as the center of the camp. There is dust everywhere inside the chain link camp surrounded by olive groves and grape vines. While the women in the new partnership began weaving, I spent hours wandering through the camp and trying to take in the massive trauma and weight of the collective story I was witnessing.

The heaviness of the air felt thick with evaporated tears. You could witness deep relationships, funny moments and all kinds of creativity, as well. But, it was too much to try and understand the power of the wake of war in people wandering through the camp and lining up for every possible need they might encounter. They stood in lines for water, showers, a simple hammer or nail to fashion a bench out of discarded pallets, or diapers, and while they walked and stood with stoic patience there were glimpses of deep anger and grief.

As we began our work on the second day, I noticed a young mother with an infant stroller walking along the perimeter. Her hair was covered by a blue scarf which resembles icons of Mary I remembered from youth. As I walked near her, I couldn’t see the tiny infant born in this camp as a refugee in the world, because his mother "Mary" had covered him in a thin, swaddling cloth, shielding him from all the dust and heartbreak. And, from an ancient place that women have been singing about since the song of Hannah in the book of Samuel, the words to "The Magnificat" rose in me. 

This ancient song was offered by Mary to Elizabeth when they greeted one another and the voice crying in the wilderness leapt in Elizabeth’s womb in the presence of the Prince of Peace in Mary’s womb: 

My soul magnifies the Lord

And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;

Because He has regarded the lowliness of His handmaid…

He who is mighty has done great things for me…

He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.

He has put down the mighty from their thrones,

and has exalted the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things,

and the rich He has sent away empty…

Watching the young mom and her infant, I marveled at her brave naiveté and wondered if she thought this swaddling cloth could shield her baby from the brokenness of this world, the violence of war, the horrors of politics, or the longing for home. But as the scene made its way from my eyes and into my heart where sight transforms into vision, I could see that this tiny veiled, innocent child is so wise and holy that he can teach us again about what it means to love the world. All of the sudden the enormity of the task of taking in the whole world of refugees, which can leave us overwhelmed, numb, confused, and scared, vanished as I just stood there like the shepherds hovering near Jesus’ manger and fell in love with the baby.  

I loved the wonder and mystery of him and loved everything about this gift wrapped like hope for the whole world. This baby, born in an occupied nation is a refugee-like Jesus fleeing to Egypt. This wonderful and life-giving child knows nothing yet but love from his mother, who like Mary was poor and powerless. Both of these women draped their child in bands of cloth and saw themselves as blessed by the child.

This Christmas I want the image of that one baby in that one camp for that one moment to offer us the whole promise of peace and love at Christmas.  

Let yourself for a moment love that baby and by loving that baby, love his mom.  

And maybe for that moment, as we love the baby and his mom, we can love the people who love them.  

We can love the people who pulled the mom, great with child, off a boat, whose voyage was as treacherous as a donkey making its way to Bethlehem.  

We can love the doctor who like the innkeeper let them find shelter safe enough to deliver the child.  

Then maybe we can love all the people who cared for the doctors and rescuers and keep widening the love circle to the not-for-profits and people, who will love this mom and baby and care for them daily. 

Then we can keep following those concentric ripples until the world is within the circle.  

This baby shows us a way to love the whole world, which is Christ’s greatest longing for us.

In the beginning was love, love as tender and vulnerable as a baby, and was enough for the whole world.  

 

 

 

 

#LoveWelcomes: A Guest Blog

#LoveWelcomes: A Guest Blog

A Syrian Refugee preparing materials to be woven into a welcome mat 

A Syrian Refugee preparing materials to be woven into a welcome mat 

This blog was written by Regina, a Survivor-Leader, Magdalene Graduate, and founding member of the Thistle Farms community. In April of 2017, Regina went to Greece with Becca and the Welcome Project Team to help start a new social enterprise for Syrian Refugees. The following is Regina's reflection on her experiences in the camp. 

I am very grateful for the opportunity to continue the work that started in this community long ago. I am amazed that Survivor-Leaders in the community of Thistle Farms continue to light the candle, not just for the addicted and abused women still walking the streets in our own backyard, but also for the Broken Hearted All Over This World. As a witness to this, our community--that God birthed through Becca--took the Spirit of hope, faith and love across the ocean to a refugee camp in Ritsona, Greece.

Wooden looms, strips of fabric ripped a world away in preparation, life jackets cast aside on the ocean by refugees from Syria after surviving the treacherous journey from their homeland to the camp became the seeds that helped a group of eight displaced and impoverished women turn into a social enterprise right before my eyes.

People that felt hopeless found healing love from our community. Light, laughter and love was palatable in their weaving. It's an awesome feeling to know that this grace we've been given can be passed on, even when circumstances seem insurmountable.

I'll never forget the faces of those women or the hope that began to show in their eyes when they realized that we were there to help them produce a livelihood for themselves through something that up until then had brought death to them all in one way or another. They now have a positive outlook on something tragic and designed to destroy.

After coming back home, I find myself tired, emotional, and full of the joy that comes from having witnessed that The Welcome Project's confession #lovewelcomes made good on its promise. As of this post, there are nine women weaving and healing their community, and I am humbled by the chance I was blessed with to give back once more in gratitude for all I have received. 

I have been a Survivor-Leader for twenty years now, and I believe in this justice work more than I ever have because I know the community of Thistle Farms welcomes anyone who is lost, broken, and searching for a way to the Circle. And, in the end, we believe that through community we all can find our way home.  

Now you can join the #lovewelcomes movement too by preordering your own welcome mat here.