Over the past several months, I have become a regular at Fugee Fridays, a grassroots organization that brings donated food from the vegetable market in Tel Aviv to three different shelters for African refugees every Friday afternoon. I have grown to feel a part of a community of volunteers and enjoy playing with the children who live in one of the shelters as they playfully call me hashamen, which means fatty in English.
Last week I delivered a box of food to the home of a woman who is nine months pregnant. When I arrived at her home, her husband invited me in for tea. I had the privilege of sitting down and having a cup of tea with him while he told me about his story. He escaped Chad in 1991, and he described to me the difficult journey that he experienced as he traveled through Libya and Egypt until finally reaching Israel. He told me that the United Nations had not granted him refugee status, and he said, “You see your parents get killed in front of your own eyes and you run away, and this is still not good enough for the UN to give you refugee status.”
He spoke to me about how happy he is to be able to have a job working at the pool at a Tel Aviv hotel, which allows him to support his family. He also discussed the feelings of uncertainty he feels living in Israel, since he has not officially been granted the status of a refugee, and how difficult it is for his child and the rest of the neighborhood children to receive an education.
I have developed a close relationship with the neighborhood children, but this was the first time I was able to speak with one of the adults in the community about their own personal narrative. It was a truly enlightening experience hearing first-hand about this man’s experience, his hardships along the way and how he was happy to have food to eat, a roof over his head and order in the streets.
Fugee Fridays has given me the ultimate reward of knowing that I am doing some good in this world. Steven Fox, one of the founders of Fugee Fridays, told me yesterday that our friendships with these children constitute a positive influence for a group of kids who have been through a lot and face an uncertain future. Perhaps the most important part of Fugee Fridays is the fact that we are sending a message to these people that we care about them and that we want to help.
The work that we are doing with the refugees is basic and direct. But, as my conversation on Friday made me understand, if we are able to continue to send a message of human solidarity and caring to this community, then our impact will last much longer than a basket of food.