Images Etched In My Mind by Lynda Elliott |Inspiring Story #29 - Daily Inspired Life

Images Etched In My Mind by Lynda Elliott |Inspiring Story #29

refugee stories

Refugee Stories From Lynda Elliot,
Founder of the Refugee Buddy Network

If this whole experience has taught me one thing, it is this: The only thing that matters is love. The greatest gift we have as humans is our ability to empathize and connect with others. It is that part of us that knows we are all one. 

There are certain images etched in my mind.  The young Syrian mom lying in her tent in Jordan.  End-stage breast cancer.  Emaciated.  She had put on her most beautiful dress for the photograph, an embroidered kaftan, rich russets, and golds. The robes of a queen.

There is no free medical help in Jordan and Lebanon. The volunteer on the ground told me: "We will make sure her children are taken care of."

Photographs of a body that had washed up on the shores of Turkey, the face eaten by fish, sent to me on Whatsapp by a young Afghan man - riddled with survivor guilt - agonizing if this was his younger brother.

At first, I was torn open and raw, but I learned to contain my existential grief.  It's something all empaths have to do.  Erect emotional boundaries so that you can sleep.  It's that time, just before you drift into sleep, when one of these images jerks you awake, and you reach for a cigarette, knowing that sleep will be elusive tonight.

syrian refugees
syria refugee

It is the juxtaposition of sorrow and hope that you juggle as you listen to a story or get a message from someone who says in broken English, "Help me, I beg you, sister."

It's the unimaginable joy you feel when you discover that the young Syrian dentist and his family made it to Germany.  They first reached out in Macedonia where his greatest fear was that his first-born child would be delivered in the mud.

You send out a call in the group, the Refugee Buddy Network for support, and a middle-aged German man and a volunteer in Luxembourg arrange for a mountain of baby's goods to be delivered to the family in the camp.  They didn’t even have toothbrushes.  You are sent a photo of the German man holding the newborn baby girl in his arms, born just days after they made it to Germany.

It's the crushing pride you feel when the Afghan man you first met online in Serbia, who was photographing unaccompanied refugee children in the abandoned barracks they lived in, is now exhibiting his work in Paris.

refugee stories

Heartbreaking & Inspiring Refugee Stories

My being is now entwined with the story of the refuge, the people in it, and how the crisis has divided people into those who care and those who fear.

I have witnessed and been instrumental in absolute, life-changing miracles.  I have seen the goodness of humanity, and I’ve also seen the sheer evil in humanity. 

A few weeks ago, I spent hours on a Facebook Messenger call with one of our volunteer admins, inconsolable as she relayed to me the story of the death that day of a beautiful young African woman, sold as a slave in Libya as she tried to cross to Europe. 

When the young lady’s family and volunteers weren’t able to pay a ransom, she was savagely and brutally tortured and murdered.  She was just 23 years old.  We know this because a young man from her country (also trapped in Libya) had tried to save her by reaching out to volunteers online.  He has photos on his phone that no person should ever have to see.

It’s the lives of those we cannot save that haunt us the most.  It hurts to be doing this work at times, but it would pain me more to not do it.

And there are wonderous stories, too.  In 2016, I was approached by a Dutch volunteer about a 22 year old who had his eye shot out in the Syrian war, living in a field in Greece, a bloody bandage covering his lost eye. 

Through our Refugee Buddy Network group, we managed to get him a humanitarian visa from Greece to Switzerland within 6 weeks, and he now has a prosthetic eye.  He has blossomed into a handsome, happy young man, but is haunted by not being able to bring his family over from Syria or to visit them.

Today he posted this on his wall :

beautiful refugee story

I remember when he was at his lowest point in a tent in a field in Greece and tried to push me away. I made a promise to him through our interpreter on Whatsapp: “I will never leave you.” 

Those five words changed our friendship.  He slowly began to trust me and to nurture a fragile hope.  I had to hide my knowledge about the application for a humanitarian visa from him for about two weeks.  We didn’t want to get his hopes up until we knew it was in the bag.

When I was sent the photos of him holding up his visa for a selfie with the volunteer Swiss doctor who had gone back and forth from Greece to treat him, I wept with joy.  His face was priceless!

That evening, another volunteer met him at the airport with Swiss chocolates and a sign in Arabic saying, “Welcome Najeeb!”

Today, we share a bond that I have with many others who found themselves as refugees; forged in despair, tempered through solidarity, and cemented in hope.

refugee buddy network, refugee stories

If this whole experience has taught me one thing, it is this:  The only thing that matters is love.  The greatest gift we have as humans is our ability to empathize and connect with others.  It is that part of us that knows we are all one. 

Let us use this precious gift to make the world a better place for all.

About Lynda Elliot and The Refugee Buddy Network

Lynda’s empathy and compassion combined with her experience as a researcher led her to establish the Refugee Buddy Network.  The group is a volunteer-run group, connecting refugees with people around the world who can offer friendship, direct aid, and support.

A small team of “buddies” work with an individual or a family to identify their needs and network for support.  The network will fund-raise from time to time, but the essential currency of the group is about love and respect - to facilitate visibility and dignity for those finding themselves in the refugee experience.

Three years ago, Lynda set up the group.  She’d already been moved to work with many refugees personally but realized she needed support.  She put the call out for volunteers.  The response was astonishing.

“By the end of the day I had 200 members and 18 admins.  Within 2 weeks, we had grown to 1000 members.  I worked furiously for 18 hours a day to set up protocols, train volunteers, vet applicants, and manage the group.  This was taking place against the backdrop of my own personal traumas and stresses, and I burnt out within months.

Today, nearly three years later, the group is at 5,600 and growing daily.  I’m extremely fortunate to have a steadfast group of admins - including refugees - who manage the group on my behalf.  

We have been in Huff Post and Süddeutsche Zeitung magazine (the New York Times of Germany).”

Want to know how you can help a refugee?
Click here to discover more about the 
Refugee Buddy Network 

Share the Inspiration
  • Heather says:

    Wow what an amazing thing you are doing. It’s terrible to hear about these things that happen in the world. We need more people doing what you are doing!

  • Lissy says:

    “It’s the lives of those we cannot save that haunt us the most”, what a powerful and such a true statement. Great post!

  • Lisa says:

    This is such a touching post. It’s always easy to forget the struggles of refugees when it’s so far from you. That quote on Facebook is so beautiful.

  • CARMEN says:

    This – “It’s the lives of those we cannot save that haunt us the most. It hurts to be doing this work at times, but it would pain me more to not do it.” It really breaks my heart when I see them in the news and then reading this here. yeah, it hurts more if we won’t do something about it. Thank you for sharing your experience. I never even knew that such group exist. Kudos!

  • I am sure that the tales you hear take you through the full range of emotions. So great that you get to participate in life changing miracles. How rewarding it must have felt when you saw the photo of the visa.

  • Penny says:

    Wow, this is harrowing and inspiring in equal measure. I still firmly believe that the ones who care outnumber the ones who don’t. I’m going to check out the buddy group. Thanks for giving me pause for thought on my commute x

    • kdadmin says:

      Penny, your comment here … “I still firmly believe that the ones who care outnumber the ones who don’t.” I’m in that club too. Thank you for stating it out loud!

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