A viewpoint from an Italian volunteer (27.02.2019)

Two different days in Sarajevo.

First day, I wake up and I have a coffee, as i did most of my life. I get through the day working on different activities to get the project running, helping as I can in chopping and storing some wood, organizing sleeping bags and blankets in the warehouse, editing some info documents for the other volunteers. In the evening, our team receive a message that 3 new refugees have arrived today in the city – they were pushed back by the police from the north border with Croatia. Since they are planning to take shelter in a building in town, we’re going to provide them with basic assistance to keep them worm – sleeping bags and blankets. So our team drives the car to the city and, as we arrive at the shelter, we are welcomed by the 3 new arrivals with big smiles, handshakes and thankful words. We deliver the goods and check if the guys are doing fine; they even invite us to share dinner with them, since they’re cooking some food on a stove, but we have to refuse because there’s more work to be done that night. When we finally get home, during a debriefing it’s easy to recognize that our work is going in the right direction: it’s clear that we helped some human beings to stay warm during a long cold night in Sarajevo.

Second day, I wake up and I have a coffee – as the other day – as I did most of my life. I spend my day almost the same way as the other day, chopping wood, organizing the warehouse, attending a meeting with the volunteers of other teams to coordinate our activities. In the evening, a similar message as the other day informs our team of some new arrivals in town in need of sleeping bags and blankets. After driving the car through the icy streets of the old town, our team arrives at the place to meet the refugees. But this time, we’re not welcomed with smiles and kind words, they don’t invite us to share dinner with them. Instead, we can feel tension and anger in the room; and after delivering the sleeping bags and blankets we’re overwhelmed with other requests about clothes, shoes and jackets. As we have to refuse these requests, since we do not deal with those goods, we can see the disappointment on their faces and eventually we have to leave overwhelmed by angry questions. We get home and during the debriefing we have to question ourselves if we had done enough for the people we’re providing help.

What has changed? The two days are pretty much similar, just the ending is not. Did we meet some bad people the second night? Are the people we helped the first day better that the ones of the second night? Opposite situations like these happen all the time during a volunteer’s experience in humanitarian aid. They make me question the human nature – how people behave and react when they are in distress and in a traumatic environment. I like to think that there are no good or bad people and the way they interact with each other is deeply affected by their past and the circumstances they are forced into. I want to believe the guys that were so unkind to our team the second night could have been the same people of the first distribution, it was just different the way they were dealing with their distress. In a certain way, these people are more in need of help, because unable to behave but aggressively. Their hostility is a clear sign of trauma and weakness.
It’s definitely easier to keep going when at the end of the day you get a kind reward, but, keeping in mind that anger is usually a symptom of fear and traumatic experiences, you can be inspired to do more also through difficult and unpleasant situations.