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Supporting Refugee Aid Without Getting off the Sofa

For the past few weeks, we’ve been featuring volunteers who have spent weeks in the field. This week, we turn to people who are supporting the crisis from afar.

To be honest, when I first started thinking about how I could join the ranks of volunteers emerging to support refugees, I didn’t expect to be working directly with Syrian families. I live in a rural area and had no idea that just about twenty kilometers away there was a growing number of Syrian refugees. Meeting these families personally is, of course, a constant affirmation of my commitment and reminder of the issue. But I have a job and young kids and limited free time. In some ways I find that the way I can be most effective is the help I provide from home.

So what does it mean to “volunteer” in the refugee crisis without leaving the house? Last weekend I received a message via Facebook from an Afghani refugee in Thessaloniki, Greece. He wrote that he was desperate to find a place to sleep, but had no idea where the closest camp was. I know a volunteer in the area and messaged her. Within a few hours she had met him at the train station, called UNHCR to find out which camps had availability, and fed him and his friend a decent meal. All I did was send a message to get the ball rolling.

alt In the next few weeks we are going to focus on how people can be support aid efforts remotely. We’ll hear from members of our team at Prosper and beyond. Some with digital skills, some with language skills, some with fundraising or organising skills. We’ll hear from people like Julie. Julie is multilingual and currently living in Spain. She couldn’t find a local solidarity group, but explains that she was still motivated to be involved.

“Recently, I moved to Spain with my husband and two boys. We had to say good-bye to close friends, a job I loved, and get rid of material things including a beautiful old piano. This was difficult and emotional even in the best conditions possible. So I think about the refugees everyday and it is painful for me to think of the great upheaval they are going through. I feel that I have to do something…I have found out that luckily social media provides a way for me to do my very very small part. I have done some translation work of the personal and moving stories about refugees and subtitled a film. I am grateful that there are opportunities out there to get involved in many ways”

Volunteer groups in the U.S. have been especially creative about how to help, especially given the distances involved, and the language and logistical barriers that accompany them. Carry Me Home is one such example of an initiative which started as one person's need to help the dire situation of refugees traversing the Balkan route. In the summer and fall of 2015, Vedrana Greatorex spearheaded the effort by collecting baby carriers. Since then, Carry Me Home has grown into a grassroots nonprofit organization that has shipped over three metric tons of presorted items for refugee children requested by the volunteers and organizations on the ground.

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Of course, you don’t need to start a charity contribute in a useful way. Everybody has needed skills of some sort. Pierre is one of thousands of designers and developers that have applied their tech skills to support aid efforts. He joined a German team building open source software to support refugee integration and has also provided his startup expertise to our team at Prosper. He observes, "We all want to help, however we don't know how to efficiently do so. Helping with what I know, through my skill-set, allows me to easily and repeatedly make a small difference."

We can’t all pick up and spend three weeks in Lesvos. But what if we had a platform that allowed all of us to do what we can? To contribute in some minute fashion? Not just financially, but with whatever resources we have. We’re thinking of this as “micro-volunteering” from anywhere for anywhere. No commitment needed, just a spare hour or two. What do you think? Is there something you can do without getting off the sofa?

This is the platform that Prosper is working to create in the coming months. We’re glad to have you with us on this journey.

Photos by Tanjila Ahmed and SIV Athens.

Natasha Freidus

Natasha Freidus is a consultant and trainer leveraging new media tools for social change. She currently lives in France where she volunteers with a local refugee solidarity effort.

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