How two who were once refugees are trying to help others
I’m super pleased that I met you and personally I’m a huge fan. I’m a “fan” of anyone who goes out of their “me” centered worldview and reaches out to lift another.
I’ve just did an interview with Mr Mattias Klum, another amazing photographer whose work I admire (http://www.mattiasklum.com/) speaking about everything being hyper-connected – climate change, refugee crisis, increasing temperatures, etc. His driving force has been to raise awareness for over thirty years now with his photography and “connect the dots” for us. I’d like to involve Mr Klum and somewhat pick up the thread where I left it with him a few hours ago. He said that every day when he wakes up he wants to do something for society, for Mother Earth, and use his capabilities as “tools” to protect it. That’s where I’d like to continue this interview, as if he was part of it, even if only in thought and not digitally present on this document that will be shared between the two of us.
You are an artist like Mattias, yet you became somewhat a leader of a rescue movement, Mattias is for climate rescue, which is interconnected with the refugees, and you with the refugees. How did you get involved in the ‘refugee crisis’? Did it start out that you were going to sacrifice a large part of your life helping others? Or did that become the case after you witnessed a particular thing?
Damian: I personally went there to observe and learn more about the crisis but ended up jumping into the water and carrying babies, driving injured and stuff like that. I speak Farsi too, so I did lots of vital translation for doctors handling very difficult cases. It was crazy. I had expected “official” rescue workers, fire brigades, ambulances but nope… only volunteers.
Who are these people at our European borders and shores? Should we worry that the majority of them are young men?
Damian: My experience is not that most of them are young, single men, that’s factually incorrect. The majority as of now are children. My organization I AM YOU is co-managing the biggest refugee camp in Lesvos, where we’re particularly in charge of housing vulnerable cases, which consists mostly of families with children under five years old. It’s not uncommon that the compound gets full every night. We house thousands of small children every week. So far this year, 126 000 people have arrived in Greece by sea. 40% are children, 38% men and 22% women. So children are the largest single group.
I use the term crisis, but really I wonder where the crisis lies, is it in our response or in the misery of the desperate situation for the refugees?
Damian: Both. It’s not IS that is levelling entire residential areas to the ground. They don’t have airplanes or sophisticated weaponry like that. The “west” is divided in either supporting Al Assad or supporting the rebels. This is not a united “west” against IS. Making a long story short, in lots of places everybody’s fighting everybody and hospitals, schools, mosques and residential areas are being destroyed, forcing people to flee. The civilians in this crisis are caught in the middle. If their city hasn’t been invaded by IS already, they’re under a constant threat of IS invading their homes and taking their children as child soldiers or wives. Even if they’ve converted or have decided to stay after IS has taken over, they’re under the constant threat of getting air bombed, mistaken for terrorists and caught in the line of fire. The situation with air strikes led by Russia has levelled entire residential areas. In my opinion, the “west” has played a monumental role in creating this situation, and therefore the “west” in my opinion has a monumental responsibility towards these people.
What insight has this whole situation given you on the human condition?
Damian: This crisis has awakened the most beautiful and most ugly in people. On one hand we have all the NGO’s and movements dedicated to helping these people. A huge humanitarian society that blew up out of nowhere based on love, compassion and the belief that every person is worthy. On the other hand, we have the right-wing movements, a much larger, scarier group with people like Trump and his equivalents gaining ground in every European country right now. It’s really a battle between good and evil where evil consists of demagogues like Trump who takes advantage of people’s greatest fears and weaknesses.
Speaking of everything being hyper-connected – climate change, the refugee crisis, etc. Do you think there is an underlying theme to all of the world’s problems?
Damian: I’m really focused on this crisis and don’t necessarily feel that way. However, people are getting more and more self-orientated and numb to what is going on in the world, not realising how global warming, the refugee crisis etc. are connected directly to them, their children and how these things impact their lives. In that sense, everything is hyper-connected, because the world is taking major damage right now and people are simply looking the other way.
Is there a solution for this crisis? And if there were a solution, who would you approach to put it in place?
Damian: I’m not in politics but peace is essential. In the Syrian crisis most of them love their country and want to go back and rebuild it. I’d suggest massive aid systems being mobilised by our governments to make that happen once the war is over. But again, the war, IS, Al Assad… there are many evil forces that need to be dealt with before any long-term solution can take place. In the meantime, these people need shelter.
What is the most important goal you would like to achieve with your art, work in terms of raising awareness?
Damian: Making change. We want to reach out globally to awaken the empathy in people and get as many people as we can involved in the crisis. We want to shed light on the injustice we witness daily, as we’re sure that most people in the world wouldn’t allow it if they really knew what was going on. It’s all about awareness, that’s the first step!
Now that you are doing this, will you ever be able to step away? Do you want to, or do you want to take a step even closer?
Damian: There’s no turning back. Being this involved in humanitarian work has truly shown me a new positive meaning of life.
It has for me too Damian, from the bottom of my heart.