Rasha al Raisi – While many of us are still mulling over where to spend our Eid holiday, Rasha al Riyami has one destination in mind: A refugee shelter in Athens. It all started almost a year back while reading an article in the newspaper that described the Syrian refugees’ status in Europe. One of the refugees mentioned that he’d rather be dead in his country than a refugee outside of it. The phrase touched Rasha deeply. At that time, her Syrian friend was collecting money for a refugee shelter in Athens. Rasha decided to travel there to offer her help. She contacted her friend Riham, who agreed to join her at once.
Upon arrival and with no plan in mind, a friend of Rasha — who was there at the time — introduced her to Castro, a Syrian artist who’s been living in Athens for the past thirty years. He runs six refugee shelters that he calls the Squats. The Squats are abandoned buildings (old hotels, bankrupted companies, schools… etc.) that he had turned into refugee shelters. They’re within a two miles radius of the city and depends heavily on volunteer work and personal donations in the form of basic needs (food and clothes) and money to maintain the buildings.
Rasha and Riham started working in the school, where each classroom was divided into three spaces — separated by hanging blankets — to accommodate three families. There were almost 380 people living in the school, mainly Syrians with few Afghanis and Iraqis. Volunteers came from around the world and moved between the Squats, including eleven Omanis who worked on different times.
Rasha volunteered to teach the children Arabic and English, while her friend Riham — an artist by profession — taught art. Rasha stayed for a month and was joined by her twin Rana in the second visit. Rana helped in teaching Arabic and English, and having a music talent, she also taught the children simple rhymes. Furthermore, the twins worked with the parents, counselling them about their future options: whether to join the reunification or relocation programmes, or to stay in Greece and become asylum seekers.
But the real achievement for the sisters was teaching the kids discipline. When arriving to the shelter, Rasha noticed that the children were up till early hours in the morning and weren’t following any rules. Rasha and Rana decided to change this. They gathered the children and put a set of rules for them to follow; including sleeping hours and keeping the classrooms clean. Anyone who’d follow the rules would be generously rewarded.
A hundred and five children took up the challenge and were asked to write down the reward they’d like to receive. The children mainly asked for toys and worked hard to sticking to the rules. Before leaving Athens, the girls went to the toy store and bought the promised toys and threw a party for the children. The children were ecstatic yet sad to see the sisters leaving. This Eid holiday will mark Rasha’s fifth visit to the shelter. The children made her promise to come and spend Eid with them. They still remember last Eid when Rasha brought a cotton candy machine to the shelter, in order to celebrate the blessed occasion.
The whole experience was a life changing one for Rasha. Now she believes that happiness comes from giving and not receiving. Her sole wish is to see voluntary work taught in schools across Oman, so that it becomes a second nature to growing up children. What’s more noble than making others happy?
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Rasha al Raisi is a certified skills trainer and the author of: The World According to Bahja. firstname.lastname@example.org