The True Meaning of Kindness and Friendship – A Memory of Volunteering With Syrian Refugees

Kindness is love manifested in its simplest form.

It is the smallest of acts that can sometimes create the biggest ripples in our very being. Humanity as a whole depends on these acts to survive, it is what gets us through our darkest days when we can’t see a way out.

I once knew a little Syrian girl who had lost everything in the world. She was living in an overcrowded refugee camp in Greece, with no hope of being relocated to a home any time soon. The atmosphere of the camp was dark and dreary that day – on a cold Mid-February day what else can you expect. I hadn’t seen her for months and I wasn’t even sure if she would fully remember me at all. Yet that moment when she saw my sister and I coming towards her, she couldn’t contain the happiness in her 8-year-old body, and gave us the biggest of hugs.

She later took a little white beaded bracelet off of her wrist and said: here, I want you to have it. It is from Syria, I hope you like it.

I really didn’t know what to say back. How could she possibly want me to have something that was from her home country which she might never see again? I was moved that day and realized how much that small act of pure love and kindness resonated with me and still resonates with me to this day. How could somebody who had lost everything give so much?

Another memory  was working at a different camp in Greece for 4 months straight, where we made so many close and deep connections with the people we were helping. We worked with the kids, playing games over and over again, teaching English classes, and drawing with chalk on the ground for hours straight. It was sometimes hard and exhausting, but it was the most rewarding experience of my life.

We had gotten to know a group of families very well, who in turn became a little family of their own, all setting up their UNHCR tents in a circle to make a common “outdoor living room” in the middle. It was Ramadan at that time – which meant fasting in the daylight and feasting after sundown and before sunrise. While most Muslims have the ability to fast in a normal and comfortable environment, these refugees were not so lucky.

Sitting in a small tent under the beating Greek sun of August was no ideal place to spend a holy month of prayer and fasting. After sundown, they all got together and cooked food they had bought from the market on little make-shift burners or ate the food distributed to them by the Greek government. Greeks are also struggling in their own ways, and feeding the thousands of refugees in this camp good quality food was sometimes hard to do. The food they would receive would be spoiled or moldy sometimes, and so many families started cooking how they could, and the food distribution slowly stopped.

As we walked past their tents to leave the camp for the night, they would all invite us into their tents or spaces and want us to join their meals as a part of their family. Now here we were, an American family who had everything in the world, to take food from Syrian refugees, who barely had any of their own. Yet their hearts were so full of kindness and hospitality that they wanted us at all costs to join them. Night after night it became a habit, and almost as comfortable as walking into the dining room for dinner, we joined our new big adopted family in their tents. And each night became more festive and fun, for Ramadan is a time of thanks and family. And each night with every delicious Arabic meal and sweet, I got to see more and more of that unconditional kindness poured onto us.

How big their hearts were to share with people they knew had all the things in the world! How open-hearted these families were to love us and share what they had with us, even though they barely had enough for themselves. These were moments of true kindness to be remembered forever. And when times get dark and I loose my way, I sometimes think back to them and those pure moments of bliss in such challenging circumstance – that always brightens up my day.

The goodness of humanity was shining in those moments – it was as clear as the light of the sun that this was the real essence of kindness. The full giving of one’s self for another even when you can barely provide for yourself.

I wish that this story could have been the headline when you googled ‘refugee’. I wish this could have been the story to read on every newspaper and website. These were the real Syrian Muslim refugees that I knew – people who had lost everything in the world and still had such  big hearts willing to love.

After those experiences, I started to question everything I knew. I started to look into the depths of my own soul and ask myself where had I gone wrong? What was I missing in my being? The questions and memories still pop into my head to this day. I believe that in our daily lives, we forget to take the time to show or even appreciate kindness.

We are so busy in our jobs or tasks that we miss so many beautiful opportunities for connections that await us if we could only see them. Let somebody enter the lane in busy traffic even if you are late, help to open the door for a person with their hands full, take your time to talk to someone that you meet in your busy day – anything you can.

Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible. – Dalai Lama

And on a deeper level, the most precious things that we could ever treasure are the things we consider so basic and normal. Take that extra time to call a family member or go visit that friend that is going through a hard time, our souls are meant to be ones of generosity – we are beings meant to love one another. And when you do give whole-heartedly to someone else or you do something to brighten up their day just remember, they are now that amazed and overwhelmed “volunteer” just like me. They are now feeling how I was in my story, full of joy and gratitude and ready to help someone else – and so the wildfire spreads.


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