Life is full of surprises, especially when you think you’ve got things “figured out”. November proved this much to be true. Since I left Colorado in September, I decided to travel and work online for a while. I planned on living in the U.S. Virgin Islands for a month then to Mexico for a month-long yoga retreat. Sounds like a dream, right? RIGHT. Except the Virgin Islands turned out to be more like a nightmare. Three days after arriving, I knew deep down to my core that I couldn’t last another week there. What to do when things don’t go as planned? Follow what feels right, that’s what! I found my way to Puerto Rico, and it was everything I hoped the Virgin Islands would be. I lived and worked at a laid back bohemian hostel in San Juan. With the beach two blocks away and the convenience of nearby restaurants and bars within walking distance (not to mention a 24/7 Walgreens RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET), I was in heaven. Life was good, piña coladas were flowing, and I learned the ins and outs of running a hostel. I found this opportunity through Workaway.info and worked 20 hours a week in exchange for free accommodation and a weekly food allowance. My tasks included working reception, updating photos for the website, and assisting in event planning for the hostel. Then, of course, just as things started feeling comfortable, I watched heartbreaking documentaries that changed ALL of my plans for the upcoming month. Next thing I knew, I had booked a flight from Miami to Barcelona for the next week. (for only $150, might I add! #Winning) Confused? Here’s the backstory: I watched a documentary about the Syrian war called City of Ghosts. I was so heartbroken that I cried the entire length of the documentary. Then I watched another documentary called Human Flow, which talks about the refugee crisis the world is currently facing. After these documentaries, I couldn’t sleep, so I researched more about the current refugee crisis and how the E.U and U.S. are handling it politically. I stayed up until 5 a.m. without moving from my desk. I was absolutely fixated. I heard about the conflicts in the news many times before, but hearing people’s individual stories impacted me more than I expected. How can I help? I thought. I finally forced myself to sleep, and the next day, I began researching nonprofit organizations that offer humanitarian aid to refugees in need. That day, I decided I’d go to Eastern Europe where there are many refugee camps and organizations helping refugees who haven’t yet gotten asylum in the E.U. So I took the flight to Barcelona, made a pit stop in Ibiza for a few days to celebrate Halloween with my best friends because WHY NOT? Then headed over to a country I’d absolutely never thought about visiting before: SERBIA. For the month of November, I’ve been living in an unappealing, rather depressing suburb of Belgrade, Serbia called Zeleznik. Locals stare at me. Stray dogs follow me around and bark incessantly. There’s enough trash on the streets that I’m not sure what the trash cans are even used for, and it’s consistently 20 degrees, gray, and rainy/snowy with serious communist vibes. LOVELY, RIGHT?
Why the hell are you even there?! you ask me through your screen with the apprehension of a favorite aunt. Well, because there are people over here who could use some help.
There are people who’ve fled danger and violence in their home countries, just to be met with more challenges each step along the way to safety. There are people who are victims of the Taliban or other terrorist groups who are reducing their country to a war zone. There are people who, despite being a victim, are being seen as criminals or problems and are beaten by border police. They are just like you and me with families, friends, hopes, dreams…the only difference is the country they were born. And this just so happens to have led them to a refugee camp in a depressing town in Serbia, so here I am, just trying to make even the smallest bit of difference for humanity.
I’m working as an Activities Leader together with the other volunteers in Collective Aid (formerly known as BelgrAid). I organize activities ranging from cinema night to English classes so that these people who have been through so much can start to feel like human beings again. We also do hygiene and winter clothing distributions as the winter is coming and temperatures are dropping to below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Donate if you feel called to do so! I know for a fact that this organization uses the donations with the refugees’ needs as the number one priority.
And to think, I thought I’d be doing yoga on a beach in Mexico this month. Life is funny, isn’t it?
Thanks for reading! Have questions? Comments? Contact me.