The humility of not being indispensable
We were a support, an anchor, for some a big brother. To have taken them out of the monotony of their daily life, to have made them laugh, to have made them dream, this is the thing I am most happy about.
"What are you saying? ... It's useless? ... I know it! But one does not fight in the hope of success! No! No, it is much more beautiful when it is useless!”
These words, which Edmond Rostand had Cyrano de Bergerac say, ran through my mind throughout our service.
In fact, in the mind of a young man of 23, going on a humanitarian mission means wanting to be part of that chivalrous figure from the children's stories, or even a hero like Mother Theresa. It means telling yourself that you are going to be able to change the world, that you are giving of yourself, of your time. "Without expecting any other reward than the knowledge that we are doing your holy will", of course, but when we have to acknowledge with humility that we are not indispensable, then everything is reversed and we have to accept this will.
But let's get back to the facts.
After getting in touch with Polish Scouts of Europe (who welcomed us superbly, I thank them again), we left in the middle of June for Warsaw for a fortnight. In the capital, there were two refugee camps at that time, one in the heart of the city, the other in the northwest.
When we arrived, we had to be patient because we had no information on how to help. How to contact the centres? Did they need help? What kind of help? Were there any formalities required?
Providence was with us, however, in the person of A., a guide from Europe, whom we met by chance on the train. She gave us all the necessary information, and the next morning we were at the centre.
A 19-year-old girl was supervising the arrival of the volunteers and explained to us how it worked: three main activities, a cafeteria where cold and hot drinks and biscuits are distributed; a clothes depot to dress the refugees; and also a playroom to look after the children.
We soon realised that sometimes the pace was very fast, sometimes it was very quiet. It is in these moments that the sense of service is the most beautiful: to be available even if there is nothing to do, to be patient, to smile, to try to be useful beyond the material things.
We were not useless if I believe the feedback we got when we left, and I think we had an even more moral than technical impact. Indeed, once we had overcome the language barriers (by finding ways to make ourselves understood with a few words in Ukrainian, Polish, Russian and English, with a few signs), we were able to talk to the volunteers and the refugees.
Two things struck me:
- the refugees' disarray, locked up in a theatre for months, not knowing if they will be able to return to their country, if they will be able to have a normal life again, or if their family back in Ukraine is safe. And yet, you could feel the gratitude in some people's eyes, for a simple glance exchanged, or when you made the simple effort to learn a few words in Ukrainian.
- the generosity of the volunteers. We could see Polish mothers arriving after work and staying for 3 hours to serve sodas, or young people taking on huge responsibilities within the centre, and thanking us from the bottom of their hearts by telling us that what we were doing was great, whereas the inspiring people are them, not us.
Personally, I was very happy to be able to help people in need in a small way. But I learned a lesson: if I am able to go to the other side of Europe for a fortnight to be of service, why am I not often able to help my fellow man who may live in the same town or house as me?
To conclude, if I had only one moment to remember, it would be the last day. As I was leaving, a child named Vlad, with whom I spent a lot of time, insisted on accompanying me to the exit. And he broke down in tears. I could hardly hold back my tears and still do today as I write these words. It was at that moment that I realised our usefulness. We were a support, an anchor, for some a big brother. To have taken them out of the monotony of their daily life, to have made them laugh, to have made them dream, this is the thing I am most happy about.
I didn't save anyone, I'm not a doctor or a soldier, but an exchange of smiles is the most beautiful thing I could offer.
And it's much more beautiful when it's useless, it's much more beautiful when it's free.
Testimony of Guillaume Maillot, French rover and volunteer