My name is Megan Towle, and I recently traveled to Greece with the Refugee Relief Project to film a documentary on the refugee crisis. My primary role on the team was videographer, as well as feta connoisseur, electric fire putter outer, and speed talker (much to our English language learning friend’s delight.)
It has been almost a week since I returned to Minnesota, and in between the run around of getting back to my normal life, I wanted to write down a few things that I learned during my time in Greece.
Chapter 1: The Moral Debacle
Since its beginning, I have followed the refugee crisis closely. I watched films, shared angry articles on Facebook, marched in protests, and instigated heated discussions with anyone who gave me an opening in conversation to discuss how messed up it all is. When the opportunity to help make a film on the crisis presented itself, I didn’t have to think twice before jumping in. I was angry, I was passionate, and felt that through making a film, I could ignite some positive change. I touched down in Athens with an empty memory card and a desire to document history.
After our first few interviews, trips into camps, and genuine interactions with refugees, my passion for sharing their story started to feel a lot like shame. Who was I to show up fresh, fully fed and naïve to the reality on the ground and claim that I really cared. As one refugee, Sarah, so gently reminded me – I was going to get on a plane in 10 days, and return to my family, my job, and my freedom.
As the days went on, we filmed the good, the bad and the ugly. While attempting to capture the most honest, unbiased, and accurate story possible, there were moments that I felt truly icky standing behind my camera. One morning, we drove to the beach that boats land on after leaving turkey. I was so excited to finally be able to capture images of the journey. Adrenaline immediately kicked in as we filmed washed up chunks of rubber boats, lifejackets caught on the beach, life jackets sunken lying underwater. “Now people at home will finally get it,” I thought – as I jumped from rock to rock trying to get the perfect shot. It only took a minute of reflection to see the irony in my actions. The waves of accomplishment started mixing with the waves of grief. Someone wore that lifejacket. That boat carried real people. My moment of success was made possible by someone risking it all, and likely losing a lot on the way.
I still haven’t quite found the answer to these internal conundrums, but I do know that this is a first step. I am grateful that this experience exposed me to the gray area in my own capacity to change and inflict change, and humbled me more than I could have anticipated.
Chapter 2: I Hate Gray Area
As a self-proclaimed social justice advocate, I have a tendency to see the world in black and white. A situation is either right or wrong, someone is good or bad, the answer is yes or no. As soon as we hit the ground, the injustices were clear. All refugees have fled violence and fear, in search of a peaceful existence. They are met with bureaucratic systems, overwhelmed aid organizations and exhausted resources. In 2017, human beings should not be eating food infested with worms. They should not be sleeping in snow covered tents. They should not have to convince a foreign government that the violence they fled was severe enough to warrant asylum. This is wrong. This is bad. The answer is no. But, as soon as we dove deeper, the mental lines I drew began to blur. We learned more about how aid organizations have to work within their means to provide the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people. We learned how the Greek government had to accommodate refugees with little to no preparation time or model to follow. We learned how refugees have to bend rules to be reunited with family or to receive medical care. Glimmers of good ideas and right intentions started to shine through, and pointing fingers became much harder.
At the end of the day, I have come to the conclusion that the great majority of people don’t want to see refugees suffer. If the answer was simple, it would have been done already. Each system has its flaws, but it also has its success stories. Seeing the world in black and white doesn’t do much to move the needle in the direction of progress. In my humble opinion, we as concerned fellow inhibitors of the planet need to listen as much as we can, learn as much as we can, and embrace the gray area with an open heart.
Chapter 3: Feeling Helpless is Dumb.
So far – we have established that an affluent, white, 23 year old with a camera has no business trying to change one of the most complex, multifaceted, human rights crisis’s of our time. BUT here’s where the hope takes root.
As I was mourning my own selfish ambitions, my perspective started to change. I started asking myself, so now what. If I accept that I don’t know the right answer and I don’t have the skills and expertise to change international law, do I go back to spending my weekends watching new girl re-runs, and posting angry articles to Facebook?
I turned this “what now” question into fuel for my soul flame. WHO AM I TO NOT DO SOMETHING? I was gifted with these stories, a rare glimpse into the human condition and the weight of the world. It is my duty to share these gifts. It would be more selfish to admit defeat, than it would be to admit my flaws but show up anyway. So here I am - one week out, and making a promise to show up for refugees. It starts with the film, but this is only the beginning. The refugees don’t have the privilege of giving up and neither do we.
So we embrace the gray area. We use our talents, skills, resources, connections and brute force to affect what we can. A refugee needs food, water, a bed, a safe place to be, an education, a job, an emotional outlet, to feel heard, to feel cared about, to have a place, to have an identity, to have dignity, to have hope for the future, to feel like a human being. We need the best and brightest minds from every walk of life to meet these requirements. If you are a teacher, nurse, beautician, engineer, artist, listener, leader, gardener, therapist, comedian, trainer, writer, lawyer, problem solver, connecter, giver, lover – your skills are needed. If you have any desire to get involved, please reach out and we will connect you to the right people and organizations.
Thank you to everyone who laughed with me, cried with me, educated me, and talked me through every element of this experience. But most of all, thank you to my Refugee Relief Project team for reminding me that passion, perseverance, and 7 girls in a four-seater car can go a long way.
All my lovin’,