What they do …

9. Maartje

Today’s story pays attention to a subject that’s been in the news on a daily basis in Europe: refugees and dealing with all these people coming into Europe. Living in Canada makes it easy to ‘forget’ about these people: we don’t notice a lot of the problems far away, but Maartje went to Greece and stood in the centre of the storm. This is a true experience story!

Maartje has spirit and I always appreciated that. 🙂 She is a woman who loves beer (awesome!) and ‘gezelligheid’; married to the best friend of the Husband (that’s how I got to know her) and it wouldn’t surprise me if they would leave to an African country (or another adventurous country that sounds far away 😉 ) soon. I got to know her as somebody with a big heart and a positive mindset, and the story below shows us a little bit of that.

Maartje wrote her story in Dutch, so I highly recommend you read the Dutch version if you’re able to. 🙂

“Working at ‘Stichting Bootvluchteling’
Wow. I just wrote my story for this blog post, but that wasn’t easy (kudos to Renske who writes a nice blog post every week!). Part of the reason why it was so difficult to write this post, is because it’s about a group of people subject to many opinions … Refugees.

April 2015, the media started to pay attention to refugees trying to reach Greece by small boats. The picture of a little boy (dead), floating in the sea, shocked me the most. How was this possible in Europe?

Around that time Stichting Bootvluchteling [Translation would be something like ‘Foundation Boat Refugee’] started collecting money and emergency funds for Malta, Lesbos and Kos. I tried to keep up to date with their campaign and sent them a message to offer my help. That message was the beginning of my work for the foundation. They assigned me the position of coordinator for Athens, where they just started their emergency relief. This meant a two week trip to Greece, together with another volunteer, to put the first things into motion.


Refugees only stay in Athens for a short period of time, most of them want to travel further up north, after they cross the Aegean sea. They usually arrive on big ships, that departed from small islands around Greece (where they stranded after a horrifying journey on tiny boats and rafts). The wealthy people then take the train to Macedonia; so they don’t stay in Athens. Unfortunately, the majority has to stay in the city for a couple of days to collect enough money (mostly through money transfers from family) for the next stage of their journey.

When we arrived, the refugee camp was small and pretty crowded. A large number of people had to sleep on the square nearby. Some of them in a tent, most of them without any protection. I clearly remember one night waking up by thunder. It poured and I felt powerless … The next morning, it was so good to hear the stories of residents opening their homes to the refugees!

They just want what’s best for their family, same as you and I.

The square where the refugees stayed, was very dirty. There were no toilets, no showers, not enough trash cans … The first thing we wanted to do, was clean the place. We just started cleaning and a couple of refugees decided to join us. Within moments, a group of twenty people was cleaning! No creeps, but really nice people who just wanted to help. Also, when we handed out clothing and some tents, people were very polite and saying ‘no’ to stuff they didn’t need, so more people could benefit from our help. Sometimes a person who didn’t need an item himself, would look for a family who did need it and make sure it would get there. These are just two small examples that made me aware of all those good and honest people who just want what’s best for their family, same as you and I.

We’re talking about people here, not numbers!

For me, the most important thing I learnt on my trip to Athens is that it is good to keep the conversation going. Most of the time, the media (and some politicians) don’t give the full picture, but just a small part of it. We’re talking about people here, not numbers! When you actually talk to the people, you will hear (and see) a different side of the same story.
So now, back in The Netherlands, I try to keep this in mind. Not only when I see refugees, but also with the homeless person in my street, the guy who begs for money to be able to buy some food, or even just my neighbours. I don’t always succeed, because it’s easier to stay in my own world, do my thing and go straight back home. But, when I open my eyes and start a conversation, I remember we’re all the same. We all want a good life.”