Why I volunteer to help refugees

Mohamed Moamen Chevening Scholar

I heard about the MEENA Centre for refugees through a conversation with my flatmate. Since then I have found new purpose during my time in the UK. From the first day I visited the centre I felt drawn in.

I recalled a few years ago all the refugees and internally displaced people who I saw when I crossed the border between Sudan and South Sudan. I have seen nothing in my life like the suffering I witnessed there.

Many of these refugees have watched family members being raped, tortured, or murdered, or indeed have been abused themselves. I stood speechless and helpless confronted with the atrocities that those innocent people have seen during their tragic journeys to find a relatively safe place to live.

'Unspeakable brutality'

I can never forget the nine-year-old Eritrean child who fled to Egypt overland through Sudan with his mother. She died on the way and the child had to see her being buried in the middle of the desert as he was forced to continue his way to Cairo. After this journey, I decided to dedicate my life to help those who have been forced to leave their homes and have witnessed unspeakable brutality.

I started volunteering at the MEENA Centre from the beginning of my time in the UK. I started my volunteering in painting, cleaning, and decorating the centre. After the inauguration of the centre, I became responsible for making the centre a child-friendly space where the children have the chance to express their feelings of fear and loss through creative play, stories, and group interactions, and enjoying fun activities, such as games, sports, singing, and drama.

During this year I have had hard times, and experienced ups and downs. I found volunteering with the refugees to be healing and it gave me motivation to continue.

For me being in MEENA was a little effort to ensure that children who have already lost years of their lives to war don’t have to lose their whole future as well. Dr Marcia Brophy, Senior Regional Mental Health & Psychosocial Support Advisor at Save the Children said: ‘We risk condemning a generation of children to a lifetime of mental and physical health problems.’

'Refugees have changed the world'

Such deep psychological issues will disrupt the development of a child’s brain and leave them at heightened risk of physical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, or immune system problems.

I believe that we should always remember that the great people who changed the face of the earth were refugees, such as Moses, Jesus, and Muhammed, peace and blessings be upon all of them. From the modern world, the phenomenal scientist Albert Einstein was a refugee.

If those very influential people hadn’t found support from their host communities at that time, they may not have made the significant impact on the world. I do believe that among the child refugees that I have encountered we may find those who change the face of the world again, provided that they find support that goes beyond words of solidarity.

'You can do something'

Lastly, I have not found better words to finish this essay than those of the great photographer Giles Duley. From a bed in Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, where he was recovering after losing three limbs in an explosion in Afghanistan, he said:

‘The one thing I would say is, even if it is something small: you can do something, and you can help, and we all need to do that.’