Being a parent, being a refugee….

Imagine being a parent of a son of 2years, a daughter of 6years and a daughter of 13years in age. Now imagine your home being rained down with bombs and bullets, seeing fighting all around you, very little food to feed the family, scared to venture out, scared to sleep at night, knowing that many members of your family and many friends are dead as a result of a vicious war that seems to have been going on for ever, worrying it will never end.

What would you do? Stay or run for your life and that of your family’s? I know what I would do (and have done). Runnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn, to a safe place where my family would have a chance for a better life, a future!

So, you pick whatever you can carry which is obviously your children and some clothes if you can. In the darkness of the night you leave your beloved home where your children had been born…good memories of happy times.

And now you are on a road which you are hoping will lead you to the safe place. On the way you join hundreds of others who are also running to the safe place. You and the family walk, run, hide, cry quietly… you are all hungry and cold. You are worried about the children. Yesterday, your 6year old daughter was separated from the family. You felt guilty. Why did you not prevent that from happening? Thankfully she is found and you sit her down to explain the dangers of wondering away. But she is falling asleep…hungry again this evening. A few days pass and your 2year old son steps on something sharp and cuts his foot. You wash it with some water, but what if it gets infected. They tell you the refugee camp is almost three days away. You pray…and pray some more. Your 13year old daughter helps you to carry him and watches the wound for signs of redness, swelling, pus. She remembers what she learnt at school in a first aid class.

You have been on the road for two weeks. You and the family are feeling weak. When will this nightmare stop? When will my children enjoy what they had before. School, toys, playing with their friends away from dangers, the love of their grandparents, reading books….You are so weak and distressed you cannot even tell them a story at night or sing them a lullaby. You are so proud of your older daughter who tries to do some of the things you cannot do. You know it is your duty to be a good parent. But you tell yourself that you are now a bad parent. Your reasoning: ‘I cannot provide enough food for them, I cannot make them happy, I cannot keep them safe….’. But your love for them shouts: ‘Don’t give up your hope for a better life, help will come to you, being a parent is a challenge at the best of times and in these bad times the challenge is even bigger’.

The message of my blog is that refugee parents face enormous challenges both during their escape, and during their stay in refugee camps. There is plenty of evidence that children suffer physical and emotional trauma. Some are the victims of sexual abuse, and exploitation of many kinds. Some die. Undoubtedly the challenges continue even when they arrive in the host country of their choice.  But many survive and grow up to be healthy, resilient and model citizens. All they need from society is compassion, which means not only empathy and sympathy but also practical help and relevant action from us.

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Robots and Us….

I watched the first episode of ‘Six Robots and Us’ on BBC2 last night. The programme is a unique experiment exploring the latest innovations in robotics. With science fiction fast becoming a reality, how useful can these robots be in enhancing the lives of ordinary families?

We cannot stop progress and the desire of the human mind to push the boundaries of the possible. I have to admit to a large amount of excitement as I watched the programme. I have always been fascinated with technology since I watched the first man landing on the moon. But this was a sharp contrast of my early years.

I grew up in Cyprus, and as a child we did not even have a radio in my house and only very few -and rich- people had a telephone. In my teenage years a television arrived in our  house; what a triumph of technology, I must have thought! As a young person, I was struck by how intelligent our species is, and wondered how far the technological developments will take humans by the time I was old. I must note here that at the time my understanding of ‘old’ was reaching the grand age of 50, after which, one should wait for death to arrive.

Well, I have long passed the age of fifty, I am still alive, and to my amazement, I am now involved in a pioneering research project involving the development of robots that will be culturally competent and will – we hope – help to care of older people. You can now understand my excitement whilst watching the TV programme on robots.

At the same time, I reflected on the irony which exist in the world today. Here we are with amazing technology and the science which can have no bounds in all aspects of life as we go forwards, yet in other ways, our species are going backwards. I will not talk about the catastrophic backward actions and policies concerning the environment even though I strongly believe in the absolute connectivity of humans to the environment.  In this blog, I want to reflect on the plight of the 65.5 million (and growing)  refugees and displaced people in the world.

I ask myself many questions: If humans have the desire to challenge what seemed to be unchallengeable, if they have the intelligence to solve problems which seemed unsolvable, if they have the ability to reach what seemed unreachable, why do they cause so many atrocities, why do they tolerate so many atrocities and why are they so indifferent to so many atrocities?

I know that many of you will tell me that there are complex reasons why these atrocities happen, and I am not so naive as to think that they are not. But my answer to you is, that landing a man on the moon, creating intelligent autonomous robots that will be able to understand and undertake a myriad of tasks, is also complex. But they have happened because we wanted them to happen! And because we wanted them to happen, we made sure our education systems provided the encouragement, the opportunities and the nurturing of humans to make them happen. They happened because humans collaborated with each other, and governments provided the resources and the policies to make these collaborations happen. They happened because the powerful of this planet saw these developments as desirable for them and their allies.

And I dare to think of the unthinkable and abhorrent: Do the powerful people on our planet view these atrocities as beneficial to them and their allies? Because if they didn’t , why would they not work towards bringing a stop to them? Why are we not having an educational revolution? Why are we not revolting against inequalities, poverty, the destruction of our environment, and the suffering and deaths of so many babies and children from starvation and war?

So my wish for the New Year 2018 is that, to start with,  humans re-discover their humanity and work towards bringing an end to the suffering of the displaced and refugee people of the world.

What is your wish? Share it with us in the comments section.

WISHING YOU ALL A PEACEFUL, COMPASSIONATE AND POSITIVE NEW YEAR 2018!

DON’T GIVE UP HOPE!

It was around this time of the year, 43 years ago that my husband and I along with our 4 month old baby, arrived in England from Cyprus. We had no luggage (apart from some baby clothes), and no money. What we did have, was HOPE. We had left our country – Cyprus – which had been invaded by Turkey in 1974,  a consequence of which was to abandon our home and everything else we had and run to safety. Just like the refugees which we see on our TV screens today. 

before leaving Cyprus, we lived rough for a few months surviving on donations and UN/Red Cross support and when the first opportunity came our way we boarded a small, old, overcrowded ship sailing to Greece.  Just like the refugees which we see on our TV screens today. 

When we arrived in England we joined my brother’s and sisters’ families and lived with them for a while. We were denied refugee status, instead we were issued with a temporary visitors’ visa. England did not want us. Just like the refugees which we see on our TV screens today. 

But we were much luckier than the refugees we see on our TV screens today.  We did not have to stay in overcrowded detention centres or refugee camps for month or years. We could speak the language of the host country and we had family support. Our HOPE did not leave us. We tried and tried (just like the refugees which we see on our TV screens today) and eventually we were granted leave to remain which allowed us to work, study, and so on.

Just like the refugees which we see on our TV screens today, all we wanted was to be treated like human beings, to have our human rights recognised, to be given a chance! Once we have the chance, we worked hard, paid our taxes, became good citizens of the country which eventually accepted us as its own.

As we approach Christmas, the time of year which celebrates the birth of Jesus, the embodiment of compassion for all Christians, my message to the citizens of Europe, is to open their hearts and give compassion to those people, who, for no fault of their own find themselves in situations that most of us would not wish to ever find ourselves in. The world is big enough for all of us! The world belongs to all of us! Donating money to refugee appeals is not enough. We need to give a bit of our heart and advocate for justice. Nobody should be suffering they way they are.

My message to any refugees who may be reading this is: Never give up HOPE! I know this is easier said than done but don’t let the problems you face now determine your destiny; let your dreams and HOPE drive you to your destiny.  AND THIS IS THE REASON WHY I SHARED MY STORY IN THIS BLOG. I, and almost a quarter of a million of other people in my country, are still waiting to return home. I HOPE that one day this will happen. But I have not stopped living my life and striving towards achieving my dreams!

Sending you all my love and best wishes,

Professor Irena Papadopoulos… yes little refugee me, made it to ‘professor’!!

My shock!

September 13, 2017- I remember this day as a picture I saw in the newspaper (Phileleftheros) moved and shocked me.

A father kneeling down, kissing his children’s hands between the wire fences of the refugee camp. One of the countless stories of refugees that describe pain, violence, uncertainty…. and at the same time hope for reunification, surviving….

Mr A. is from Syria and was separated from his wife and four children a year ago. One of his children (five) died during a fight. His family arrived in Cyprus by boat.

I felt sadness… and at the same time I WAS embarrassed… but then I thought…we need to find ways to be more compassionate, less bureaucratic, more humanitarian, supportive, sensitive and effective in advocating human rights…and saving human lives.

As a health professional and volunteer my heart burstS.  I ask myself:

How can we, as health professionals, help? I suggest:

  • Using the tools provided in the IENE 6 Khub to assess family’s priorities
  • Watch the videos in the Khub platform
  • Volunteer to work in refugee camps
  • Provide psychological first aid
  • Help to reunite families
  • Advocate for human rights
  • Being culturally sensitive

The materials in the IENE 6 Knowledge Hub provides information, knowledge, real stories of volunteers, refugees, AND HEALTH professionals.

Share your experience with us in this blog!

Download the ‘STORY APP’ and Share your story!

Visit the IENE Knowledge Hub for more information, access to all related material and for downloading the ‘STORY APP’ click this link http://ienerefugeehub.eu

by Christiana Kouta

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IENE Projects featured at the “Intercultural Medical Care as a Challenge for Interdisciplinary Teams” conference in Poland

The IENE projects were presented by Mr. Victor Dudau in the first International Scientific Conference “Intercultural Medical Care as a Challenge for Interdisciplinary Teams” , http://interculture-medical-care.pl/. The conference was  organised by Poznan’s University of Medical Sciences, on the 4th and 5th of December 2017 at the Teaching Centre, in Poznan with the participation of Physicians, Nurses, Midwives, Physiotherapists, Paramedics, Pharmacists, Dieticians, Speech and Language Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Healthcare Assistants, Social Workers, Government Department Workers, Lawyers, Counsellors, Bioethicists, Psychologists, Psychotherapists, Sociologists and all of the other professions and people, whose work is connected with the subject.
The programme of Intercultural Education of nurses and healthcare professionals in Europe was very appreciated by the participants.
written by Mr. Victor Dudau

Where is home?

Home is where the heart is.

There’s no place like home.

Home sweet home.

There are lots of phrases that we use every day which contain the word home. Everybody seems to know what home means, yet it is something that is difficult to put into words. According to the dictionary, home is ‘the place where you live’. This may refer to the four walls that you live within( e.g. a room, a flat, or a house); or it may refer to a broader concept, such as a town, a city, or a country.

While flat-sharing in London, I’ve come to realise that a place to call home is never really guaranteed, or at least not long-term(I have moved 6 times in 5 years). The idea that home does not have to be a room in a flat or a house, but can just as easily be a state of mind, was unbelievably freeing. I realised that a sense of home can also be an abstract concept, it does not have to be a physical place. It means that even if I have to move from the place I am staying at any given time, I can always recreate a sense of home somewhere else. But it made me think, what about the 65.3 million people in the world who are displaced, how do they cope?

They may have to leave behind literally everything that means ‘home’ to them, and be left with an uncertain future.

For these people, what they call home may have been lost forever.

If home is the house or flat they grew up in, this may have been obliterated in a war or conflict. They may live in a tent or in a refugee camp with cold, unsafe, and unsanitary conditions without running water.

If home is where one has family or friends, they may have had to leave them behind, got separated from them on the journey, or lost them in the war. They may have no idea if their loved ones are safe or if they will ever see them again.

If home is signified by a language or culture, they may have arrived in the midst of a new language and culture that is entirely alien to them and have to learn it from scratch.

If home is a country, thinking about it may bring back traumatic memories. It may not be safe to return there. The country where they are currently seeking asylum may be unwelcoming or have impenetrable immigration systems and legislation, making it difficult or impossible to settle down and make a new home. They may find themselves in limbo waiting for papers, so they cannot yet begin the process of making a home in a new country and rebuilding their lives.

If home is a sense of stability, warmth, familiarity, routine, comfort and safety, it may be replaced by a feeling of loss, uncertainty, instability, and a state of constant anxiety and fear.

Many of the displaced people in the videos on our IENE6 Knowledge Hub describe this sense of loss and of having to leave one’s home, and also what they have done to try to regain the sense of home. For example, in this very moving video, British children ask refugee children questions about their life. One child asks, “What is it like to have no home?” I find this video particularly poignant because of the heart-rending honesty of all of the children but also because the displaced children wish for things like a warm comfortable home and running water. These are things that many of us probably take for granted on a daily basis.

What can be done to combat this sense of loss, and of leaving one’s home behind?

  • Providing a source of independence: Some people have the opportunity to make a new home in the country they try to settle in. In this video [which contains some upsetting scenes] a group of women talk about their experiences fleeing from Syria to Turkey and moving into a home for Syrian refugee women. The women cook meals for people working for charities and aid organisations in the city. This provides them with a source of income to support their children, and social support from other Syrian families. This is a chance for them to re-create a sense of home.
  • Connecting with others: In a blog post by the refugee center online, a young Kurdish refugee who has settled in America gives some very useful advice for people who may be feeling homesick, including visiting family and friends, preparing traditional food from home, and sharing one’s culture with people.
  • Providing psychosocial support and education: In another video, we learn about the services provided in a psychological support centre in Jordan run by the Jordanian Red Crescent Society and the Danish Red Cross. This is a place that Syrian refugee children can play with and meet other children, receive an education, and access psychological support if they need it.

What does home mean to you?

Do you have any experiences or advice that would help displaced people who have lost their homes, or people who are supporting them?

We would love to hear from you in the comments section below.

Visit the IENE Knowledge Hub for more information and access to all of the videos mentioned in this blog post and more: http://ienerefugeehub.eu/video

Visit the IENE6 Knowledge Hub

The IENE6 project is just over 1 year old. 

The IENE6 project is an ERASMUS+ funded project. It aims to develope a knowledge hub (khub) for nurses and other health professionals and volunteers who are dealing with or will be dealing with migrants and refugees from the current massive waves of displaced people which are reaching Europe and who are experiencing massive traumas and tragedies in their endeavours to flee to a safe and ‘better’ place for themselves and their families.
A knowledge hub (khub), is a centre or focal point for the exchange of knowledge, support, development and ideas. It is a trusted learning and sharing environment, where everyone can benefit from a shared understanding of what works and what does not in a culture of collaborative practice development, sharing and problem solving (Steve Dale, 2011). Knowledge hubs can also be used to generate knowledge (Hans-Dieter Evers, 2008); and to transmit knowledge to other people, through education and training (Botkin and Seeley 2001 ). http://www.slideshare.net/stephendale/introducing-the-knowledge-hub-v1?related=2

This knowledge hub will focus on the following objectives:
a) developing the health workers’ competencies in providing emotional/psychological support in culturally competent and compassionate ways, to individuals who are part of the new wave of migration primarily from Syria, Irag and Afganistan who arrive in Greece through Turkey, and from there make their way to different European countries.
b) helping health workers and volunteers to develop personal/peer strategies to cope with the high levels of their own personal traumas as a result of what they encounter whilst doing their job.
c) developing a khub which will be a vehicle that health workers, undergraduate and post graduate students can use t for research projects, and other learning related to the emotional/psychological needs of migrants, refugees, health workers in the front line of service provision.
d) creating a network, a place where members of various communities can come together to discuss, comment, brainstorm, share views and good practices, share experiences, innovate, create, connect and collaborate.

The IENE6 team has been working hard over the last year to achieve its aims. The KHub has been set up and it is gradually populated with very useful information, stories from health professionals, volunteers and refugees, videos, and soon tools for providing psychological support will be uploaded.

Please visit our KHub to download our app for writing your own story, at  http://www.ienerefugeehub.eu/

What do these numbers make you feel?

The war in Syria has been going for over 6.5 years

2 million people have been killed or injured

24,000 of those who died are children

half of the hospitals in Syria have been destroyed

More than half of the Syrian people have been forced to abandoned their homes

There are currently (2017) 5.5 million Syrian refugees.

These figures make me angry. Angry about all the suffering that is going on, angry about the loss of precious lives, angry about humanity that causes this to happen and then allows it to go on for so long, angry that everything that is going on in the world gives no hope for change! We go from one humanitarian disaster to the next…and now Myanmar and the Rohingya ….

Is the refugee crisis getting any better?

Information found on http://www.unhcr.org/globaltrends2016/   indicates clearly that the refugee situation is getting worse.

According to the UNHCR, “over the past two decades, the global population of forcibly displaced people has grown substantially from 33.9 million in 1997 to 65.6 million in 2016, and it remains at a record high. The growth was concentrated between 2012 and 2015, driven mainly by the Syrian conflict along with other conflicts in the region such as in Iraq and Yemen, as well as in sub-Saharan Africa including Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, and Sudan”.

Taken from the http://www.unhcr.org/uk/new-york-declaration-for-refugees-and-migrants.html  the following information is very important:

On September 2016, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a set of commitments to enhance the protection of refugees and migrants. These commitments are known as the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants. The New York Declaration reaffirms the importance of the international refugee regime and represents a commitment by Member States to strengthen and enhance mechanisms to protect people on the move. It paves the way for the adoption of two new global compacts in 2018: a global compact on refugees and a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration.

In adopting the New York Declaration, Member States:

  • expressed profound solidarity with those who are forced to flee;
  • reaffirmed their obligations to fully respect the human rights of refugees and migrants;
  • agreed that protecting refugees and the countries that shelter them are shared international responsibilities and must be borne more equitably and predictably;
  • pledged robust support to those countries affected by large movements of refugees and migrants;
  • agreed upon the core elements of a Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework; and
  • agreed to work towards the adoption of a global compact on refugees and a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi stated that:

“The New York Declaration marks a political commitment of unprecedented force and resonance. It fills what has been a perennial gap in the international protection system – that of truly sharing responsibility for refugees.”