Browsing Category

Stories

Stories

Locked in

Dear readers,

I really hope you are still in good health.

I first planned to say “I hope you are fine,” but who is fine these days? It is a struggle for all of us, and above all, for the most vulnerable among us–the ones on their own, the elderly, the ones losing their jobs, losing their income, and of course the sick.

I also think about the ones being totally neglected in the news now, as if they disappeared from the globe. The many people stuck in camps in Greece. And also here in the refugee center people are living very close to one another. Difficult to keep social distance.

The job fair I talked to you about last time had to be cancelled the day before the event, so frustrating.

What do you find the most difficult these days?
I think, apart from being sick or without a job, it is hard to not be able to be with your friends or family in a specific situation. One friend just had a baby, another one lost her dad. I cannot go to them and share this joy or grief.

So no projects at the moment for me. And still, the days seem to pass by quickly. I chat a lot, to check on people, and I notice a lot of people check on me. That is such a comforting thought. We send photos and funny videos to each other. Very important: I rediscovered the good old mail. I sent cards and reading stuff to my bunch of newcomers who aren’t allowed to visit us anymore. Thank you postman for the deliveries!

I know I am lucky, being with my family, at home. I have been working outside, planting flowers, making the yard ready for summer. Some photos to make you enjoy spring:

Since I still had different fabrics, in joyful colors, I decided to make some mouth masks. I used old handkerchiefs for the inside since it is material that is soft and can be washed easily. For the outside I used different patterns, but also good quality fabric that can be washed easily. I washed everything before I started – to check whether it could stand high temperatures. When I finished them, I noticed they were still a little too big, so I need to adapt them at the sides ;-).







So let me know how you are feeling, in general? How is the epidemic dealt with, in your country?

Take care!
So long,

Sophie

PS: I wanted to bring Spring inside, my bouquet turned out to be huge

 

Stories

Building bridges, not walls

Hi there,

How are you?

I am enjoying the silence of an empty house. Hubbie is skiing, not in Northern Italy.

Last week he asked me why I hadn’t written anymore on the blog. I can’t tell. Days, weeks, seem to go fast. I realized I truly miss writing, the real writing, not the daily mails and texts that are just information, sometimes not even necessary.

What have you been up to?  Chatting is sometimes just entertainment, but it can be consoling too. I realized it is important to just ask how people are sometimes, to make – even if it is small – a connection.

It was International Women’s Day and quotes have been coming in through different media. I prefer those that say that women should be kinder to themselves. Less critical. That’s what I find hard to do.

In the work I do at the refugee center here, I have met so many strong, unique and positive people. Helping out makes me happy, but there are many things I cannot help with, and that is frustrating.

I am proud though, to be part of a project, a job fair, that is bringing people together:  connecting the newcomers (almost one thousand people are living in the center nowadays) in our hometown to local companies and organizations. It is a first step in finding a job, and having a job is a first step to integration. There are so many talents here at the center, and there are still many vacancies at the local factories and companies. The newcomers do not speak Dutch well yet, some speak French or English. It will not be easy, but I see it as a networking event, even if they don’t immediately find a job.  They might learn how to apply for a job, the possibilities of training and other educational info.

The event is tomorrow. A few weeks ago I had to give a speech to local companies to promote this. I have to admit I was nervous. This is not something within my comfort zone.

Lately I have been reading “Daring Greatly, How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent and lead” by Brené Brown. Vulnerability is defined as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.” Brené says that “vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy and creativity.”
This book helped me focus on what’s important. That you don’t need to do things perfectly. Fear of not reaching your goal, can just paralyze you and prevent you from just trying and doing great things, even if they aren’t perfect. The past year I have been doing a lot of things I hadn’t done before. And it is a challenge, a chance to learn. Just jump and do it. It gave me a lot of energy and satisfaction. Being vulnerable also means opening up to others, showing them your own fears and doubts (a total emotional exposure is not meant here ;-)). It both helped me reach out to others and I had the impression it enabled other people to feel more comfortable telling me their stories.

I am very grateful with the connection I made with so many interesting people. In the first place the newcomers who were so strong to open up and tell me what they had been through, but also all the volunteers that worked with me in the center. People in this project want to give newcomers a chance, see through the label of refugee, and believe in the talents, spirit, and motivation. It gives me hope.

I came across this short poem, and it is sad, but I want to share it anyway, just to create a better understanding of what it must feel like, for so many newcomers.

you broke the ocean
in half to be here.
only to meet nothing that wants you.

– immigrant

So we’ll try to not give our fellow human beings this feeling, ok?

And what have you been up to?
Have a good day, and count your blessings!

The photo on top is the lake next to the refugee center here in our hometown

Stories

Beyond Borders

Dutch version below

Hi There,

Beyond Borders  is the title of our new project. The opening was last week Tuesday in the Town Hall of my hometown.

So what does this new project is about?
Well, it won’t be a surprise. It combines two of my passions, photography and working with people. And these people are, of course, the inhabitants of the refugee center here. We – me and two very good photographers, Manu and Marie – made a portrait of seventeen people, focusing on their job, hobby or dream job.

Why?
Well, often people ask me if it is tough working at the center. And honestly, I usually feel happy when I am there. The people are all very kind, polite and grateful. I feel surrounded by warmth and appreciation. But when I am in the outside world, it becomes different.  I hear criticism, judgments, lies… It is easy to talk about a group of people, not knowing them. The criticism really shocks me by times, certainly because so many people from the center have shown their vulnerability by telling me what they had been through. Believe me, it is not something people here often encounter, not even in a lifetime. Most refugees who come here are still very young and have been through a lot.

Melany, Venezuela, Baker

Sanaz, Iran, mother

Our goal?
Taking off the label of  “refugee” and  showing these seventeen people as real people, with dreams, professions, children, hopes, diplomas, talents, ambitions.
A few people also wrote about having to flee from their own country.  Their words are heartbreaking.

I’m still stuck…

I’m still stuck between the past and the present… Between love and hate…

I’m still stuck between sadness and joy… Between my old and new country…

I’m still stuck in the hearts of dead and alive people… Am I dead or alive?

I’m still stuck… And I still have that idea that when I open my eyes every morning…

I’m starting to get used to this new country…

I tried hard to figure out the causes of these wars and revolutions and the wrong policies that have taken over the country. I’ve looked at the legends of history and between the geography papers. All I found were a few words about the greatness and authenticity of my country…

And now I have only found a wounded child screaming. And a mother looking for her children between destruction and blood. A daughter follows her, runs away from the enemy…

We didn’t know what homelessness meant until we became refugees. We go east, west, north, and south. We’re crossing seas and oceans with bags on our shoulders, but our eyes are looking behind us. We’re looking at a country where we’ve left all our dreams and memories.

Every day and with every sunshine, refugees pray to God in the language of hope. Wishing that he finishes wars worldwide. So that they can go back home.

By Mohamad, Syria, actor

How?
We tried to bring diversity in land of origin, profession, age and sex. Most of the people I asked to join the project I already knew from teaching. Everyone was very happy to work together. On one hot summer day in August, we built a photo studio in our house. It was a beautiful day, working and laughing and eating together. Our models behaved as professional models! And we are all very proud of the result.
Mourad, Palestine, Fisherman

Alexandra, Venezuela, make-up artist
Merhawit, Eritrea, baker

Where?
You can admire our photos on banners in Lommel, until the end of December. And please follow us on Instagram @portraits.beyondborders

Next?
This team of people is great, and we want to go on. In November the photo banners will be placed on the playground of the high schools. We would like to combine this with a talk with the students. We can talk about why certain countries are so dangerous and why people need to go away and how it feels to come to a new country, where you have to start all over.

Help?
For the photos we were supported by the local Rotary (Neerpelt) and the restaurant Nomad. But if we continue, we need more support. You can send me a personal message if you can help our team of wonderful people.

At the opening, these are the words I spoke:

Dear Alexander, Alexandra, Ana, Diego, Elvis, Gabriella, Ginger, Jakub, Luisa, Mahmoud, Mario, Mariam, Matta, Melany, Merhawit, Mohamad, Murad, Ninette, Patricia, Ricardo and Sanaz,

You are all amazing people and we feel very grateful for working together on this photo-project.

We have learned to know you
Little by little

You have showed us your openness
By telling us the stories
Of wars in your home countries
Of your struggle for human rights
Of your journey by plane, by boat, by foot,
during days, during months, during years
crossing many borders

All in your search for a better life,
far away from your home and your family

You showed us your strength,
By telling us the stories
Of your fight against hunger, cold and rejection
Of your desire to forget
Of your battle against dehumanization
Of your hope of being accepted for who you are

You taught us
To stay positive
To believe in the goodness of other human beings
To have faith
To fight for the future of your children
And to continue to live
No matter what

You were confronted with the limits
Of a new country, a new language and a new culture

You crossed borders
Between your past and your future
Between your homeland and our homeland

We only hope the best for you

May you know peace
May you find happiness
May you know love
May you find faith in a better future

We wish you well

All of you

Ninette, Burundi, model

 

Dag lieve lezers,

Nog even in mijn mooie moedertaal!

Ons nieuwe project ‘Beyond Borders’ staat nu aan het Huis van de Stad in Lommel. Wij – Manu, Marie en ik, hebben samengewerkt met zeventien modellen van het Parelstrand, het vluchtelingenopvangcentrum hier in Lommel.

Op het Hertog Janplein kan je vanaf 1 oktober de reizende foto-expo ‘Beyond Borders’ bewonderen. Initiatiefnemers zijn Sophie Tournier, Marie Bouly en Manu Bloemen. Zij kenden elkaar al langer en beslisten om een nieuw project op poten te zetten rond het tijdelijke opvangcentrum op het domein Parelstrand. Hun drijfveer? Een mengeling van engagement, naastenliefde en passie voor fotografie. Maar vooral de drang om mensen in beeld te brengen. Geen asielzoekers, geen vluchtelingen, geen transmigranten, geen labels, maar gewoon… mensen. Het resultaat is een boeiende fotoreeks van 17 portretten van bewoners met als thema ‘Beroepen’.

Al sinds de opening van het Parelstrand begin dit jaar, ben ik aan de slag gegaan als vrijwilliger: Nederlandse les, het project 945 in Beeld, wandelingen en bezoekjes organiseren. Ik kom er vaak.  Een aantal bewoners staat erg dicht bij me. Je kan niet met mensen werken, zonder betrokken te raken (ondanks de steeds goed bedoelde raad: waak over je grenzen!). Niemand vertelt zijn levensverhaal bij een eerste ontmoeting. Nadat het vertrouwen gewonnen is, gebeurt dat wel. Luisteren is meestal  voldoende, heb ik gemerkt. Soms kan je ook concreet helpen, maar vaak niet.
Patricia, El Salvador, Engineer

Mariam, Palestine-Ukraine, student-singer, 15

Hoe pijnlijk en hartverscheurend de verhalen van de bewoners ook zijn, het moeilijkste vind ik de commentaren van mensen van buitenaf. De kritiek, de oordelen zonder grond. Daarom ben ik heel blij met dit project, en om met fantastische mensen te kunnen werken, uit alle hoeken van de wereld.
Jakub, Ghana, carpenter

We hebben hier thuis de fotoshoot gedaan. Een hartverwarmende dag. Iedereen was blij en gemotiveerd, we hebben samen gegeten, gebabbeld, gelachen…

In november staan de fotobanners in de secundaire scholen. De mensen van ons team willen graag komen praten met de studenten, om zo rechtstreeks te kunnen praten over wat er in hun geboorteland en de wereld gebeurt. Directer en actueler kan je de jongeren niet aanspreken. Zo hopen we om bij de jeugd meer begrip en empathie te creëren.

Voor de foto’s zelf hebben we reeds sponsors, maar voor dit educatief project zijn we nog op zoek naar steun. Een persoonlijk berichtje graag indien jullie willen helpen.

Tolerance, inter-cultural dialogue and respect for diversity are more essential than ever in a world where peoples are becoming more and more closely interconnected.
Kofi Annan

Ik wens jullie allen een mooie dag, met weinig zorgen. Lieve groet, Sophie

From left: Merhawit & Abraham, Melany, me, Ninette et bébé Shanah, Mohamad, Matta, Ricardo

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stories

About War

Hi there,

How are you?
You are brave, wanting to read my story after you have read the title.

In my childhood I was stalked by my father with stories about the Wars, one and two equally. He needed to watch all movies, series, documentaries. Not being able to watch something else on my own screen back then – I am that old 😉 – I developed an aversion to everything that had a connection with the war. So I missed big chunks of interesting history too.

Wars never stand in isolation.
It is almost as if they have roots
that grow invisibly underground,
before springing up somewhere else
to create a new conflict. We must not be blind
to the forces that set the machinery of destiny in motion
one hundred years ago.
To do so would rob us of the chance to discover
the patterns of the past that can help to teach us
the lessons we need for the present and the future.

By Erwin Mortier

Last year Belgium remembered the end of World War II. There were exhibitions, and old museums were renovated, among them ‘Flanders Fields‘ in Ypres. And that is where hubbie and I went to, last Saturday.

It was a rainy day, and I had been to Ypres once, but I couldn’t remember much of it. Ypres is a beautiful little town. And known for its history. We first had a coffee in the large cafeteria and then headed to the museum.

In the museum, you receive a poppy-bracelet which represents 4 identities of people who lived during WWI.

This poppy-bracelet can be used throughout the museum on a wide variety of interactive displays. Each display will show one of the aspects of living during the war of 1914-1918.

There are also testimonies, on videos, played by actors. But they looked real and were very touching. The movie of the Christmas night was the most moving, I thought, though I had heard the well-known story several times. In this testimony it was played by four soldiers, English, French, German and Belgian. How they, only for a short moment, ceased the war and sang together:

On a crisp, clear morning 100 years ago, thousands of British, Belgian and French soldiers put down their rifles, stepped out of their trenches and spent Christmas mingling with their German enemies along the Western front. In the hundred years since, the event has been seen as a kind of miracle, a rare moment of peace just a few months into a war that would eventually claim over 15 million lives. But what actually happened on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day of 1914 — and did they really play soccer on the battlefield?
Most accounts suggest the truce began with carol singing from the trenches on Christmas Eve, “a beautiful moonlit night, frost on the ground, white almost everywhere”, as Pvt. Albert Moren of the Second Queens Regiment recalled.
The next morning, in some places, German soldiers emerged from their trenches, calling out “Merry Christmas” in English. Allied soldiers came out warily to greet them. In others, Germans held up signs reading “You no shoot, we no shoot.” Over the course of the day, troops exchanged gifts of cigarettes, food, buttons and hats. The Christmas truce also allowed both sides to finally bury their dead comrades, whose bodies had lain for weeks on “no man’s land,” the ground between opposing trenches.
By Time

Facts, as to how many Belgians fled to other countries during the Great War, have their value in being remembered. There were over 600,000 Belgians that found a home abroad, about 8% of the population.


The museum is located in the Cloth Hall (Dutch: Lakenhal), one of the largest commercial buildings of the Middle Ages. It served as the main market and warehouse for the Flemish city’s prosperous cloth industry. The original structure, erected mainly in the 13th century and completed 1304, lay in ruins after artillery fire devastated Ypres in World War I. Between 1933 and 1967, the hall was meticulously reconstructed to its prewar condition.

We also climbed up the 70 meters high (230 feet) bell tower. Even if it was windy and grey, it gave us a beautiful wide view over the city and the surrounding hills.

And around Ypres you can not go anywhere without seeing the numerous graveyards of so many people of so many different nations. In their silence and in their death, these soldiers are left with only one mission: reminding us of the horrors of war, then and now.

In a country where war was fought, it lingers, even if that war is already a century behind us. For each of the more than 600,000 dead who fell here, for each of the more than 425,000 graves and names on memorials and for the hundreds of traces and relics in the front region, for each of the millions affected (physically or psychologically wounded, refugees and displaced persons) there is a story of suffering, pain and ordeal somewhere in the world.

And let this memory shake us awake, make us realize there are still so many wars going on, and still so many people trying to find a safer place elsewhere.

Take care,

Sophie

 

Stories

Borders

Friday 

These weeks have been hectic. Not in an unpleasant way, but still, I had too little time to get everything done, to stand still, to write… And now I try to make time. If we only could – build more time – in our days, in our life? How much would you build? The bricks could be days, the windows would stand for rest, a stop in time. Would you build a big house, an open house with huge windows or a tower of mostly bricks?

Last week was my birthday, and I felt spoiled by so much attention, so many sweet words and original gifts. Hubbie surprised me with a positive vibes dinner. Daughter gave me a book : The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur (She is an Indian-born Canadian poet, writer, illustrator, and performer, who immigrated to Canada as a child).

Let me share a poem – We are not enemies:

Borders
are man-made
they only divide us physically
don’t let them make us
turn on each other

In my volunteer work at the refugee center, I am facing borders the whole time. This morning, when I was teaching Dutch, I felt so limited in what I could do. The three students I had from Ghana, Rwanda and Tanzania all spoke English and were learning easily. Then a student from Palestine joined us.  He only spoke Arabic, and I felt frustrated not being able to communicate. The woman from Tanzania told me she was here with her son of four years old: “You know, it can get very lonely, being here without your family.” Oh yes, I can only imagine. She said it with a smile and promised me she would study well the coming week so she would improve fast.

It is not necessary, but people praise me sometimes for my volunteer work. I also receive good advice. “Well, it will never be enough.  You need to set your limits. It is better not become too close to them.” I thought by myself: they have crossed so many borders, do we actually need to set another one?

On Wednesday I went to the center for our 945-in-beeld-project. I saw two girls crossing the site with their bikes. Maryama was almost fifteen, her friend Nasim a little younger. They wanted to fill in the postcard. On the card is a list of questions: Your favorite book, your favorite artist, what is your motto in life etc… Very diverse answers have been written so far. So we sat at the plastic table outside of the little house where we teach and I helped the girls fill in the cards. Suddenly Maryama looked back at me and asked, “Can we please sit on the other side of the house?”  We were sitting close to the huge gate of the center, and on the other side of the gate is a walking path.  Usually not many people pass there, but now there was a running contest. A lot of people from our hometown were passing, looking at us and the other inhabitants of the center, behind the gate.  Maryama said: “I don’t want the kids from my school see me here.”

More kids came – I brought cake, and word spread around – they all wrote the cards and told me where they came from, how many languages they spoke, where their parents came from, what they wanted to achieve here. Some families are split up, just one parent coming with one child, or a kid coming with an adult sibling.

Sunday

Today I joined Daughter and Oldest’s girlfriend at the center. Time for children’s entertainment. They were all very ready for some distraction. Yasmina brought her baby brother, Yussuf who just turned one today. He was brave, sitting in his stroller, looking at the kids running and dancing, moving his little legs to the rhythm of the music.


Snack time

While standing aside, two young Palestinians came to me to talk.  One was a fisherman in Gaza.  He first showed me a picture of the big fish he caught (the biggest weighed 70 kilos) then a picture of his boat that was damaged because of the war. The other one came from Lebanon.  He was a Palestinian but had lived in camps in Lebanon since he was born. They asked me whether I had heard what happened this weekend in their homeland.

In the meantime Daughter’s boyfriend and friends took a bunch of people with them, for a walk in the woods. People talked about the wars in their home countries, showed him pictures of damaged towns and about life in the center. A few teenagers were bored in the center; there are activities for small children and for adults, but not for teenagers. So here’s another mission 😉

Let me end with another poem – Immigrant

they have no idea what it is like
to lose home at the risk of
never finding home again
to have your entire life
split between two lands and
become the bridge between two countries

So long, Sophia