Ottawa teens spend break helping Syrian refugees in Greece
Published Friday, March 25, 2016 8:51PM EDT
The artwork on the table looks like it could come from any elementary school classroom.
There are carefully sketched flowers, trees on a summery hillside, groups of smiling people -- it seems like everything a normal six-year-old might see in their daily lives.
Until you see what appears to be two people drowning after having fallen overboard from a crowded boat.
These are the drawings of the children living in a refugee camp, where 17-year-old Tara Bertrim recently spent two weeks volunteering.
“Having people fall out and drown in front of them -- what effect does that have on a kid?” said Bertrim. “It's insane.”
Bertrim travelled to the Greek island of Lesbos, which has become a landing site for thousands of Syrians escaping conflict by boat. Her trip, she said, was eye-opening.
“This is one thing I can never get out of my head,” Bertrim said. “We were sitting there with this baby, trying to get it to feed, squishing its face. I’ve never seen a baby that out of it before. It was honestly terrifying to think about.”
Bertim travelled with her friend Sydney Pothakos and Pothakos’s mother, who in total raised $7,000 in donations for their humanitarian trip. Pothakos, also 17, said the trip put things into perspective for her.
“Half of them, you see them walking around and they don't even have shoes on,” Pothakos said. “And I sit and I think to myself, why do we complain about so many things when these people don't even have shoes?”
The girls were able to use the money they raised to provide tents for the families and toys for the children.
“It's the most rewarding experience in the entire world,” Pothakos said. “There’s no better feeling than putting a smile on someone's face and making someone feel safe.”
She said her journey made it clear to her how important charity is.
“We need to give our all, that’s all we need to do,” she said. “You need to be there for the people who need it the most. Because these are the people who need it the most right now.”
Bertrim called the experience surreal, saying it almost felt “like a dream.”
“To think about what we saw and what we experienced there,” she said. “These people have absolutely nothing and I feel so lucky to be here in Canada.”