Greek expat, Omanis to aid of Syria refugees
December 3, 2016 | 10:16 PM
by Khadija Al Zadjali/[email protected]
Photo supplied

Muscat: Valia Charalampidou has been living in Oman for the last 10 years, but that does not mean she’s forgotten her roots. Originally from Greece, Charalampidou happened to be on a short trip to her native country when the Syrian refugee crisis began, which she then helped to record through the documentary Citizen Xenos.

“The war started many years ago. But when the crisis started, I texted my friend who was volunteering on the Island of Lesbos and asked, ‘Do you need help? I have ten days to spare.”

Photo supplied

The next day Charalampidou boarded a plane and experienced what she considers to be one of her most intense and life changing experiences. All without ever setting foot in Syria. “I felt that I, myself, was in a war zone, and so I couldn’t imagine what they were going through. We say, if you don’t live something you cannot fully understand it,” she added.

According to Charalampidou, there were around 2,000 to 6,000 people arriving on boats every day in October 2015.

“Both my grandparents migrated to Greece because of war. They were originally from Turkey, and fled to Damascus. They eventually made it to Port Pirears, Greece. Today’s refugees are landing on the same port as my grandparents did 90 years ago. How can I not help when this is my story?” Charalampidou asked.

Citizen Xenos is a documentary film, directed by Lucas Oldwine, detailing the European refugee crisis as told through the stories of fleeing Syrian families and the volunteers, local residents and authorities they meet during their journey. Producers of the documentary had planned on completing the film by this summer, but Charalampidou said that the crew had difficulties meeting the deadline. “As the documentary was going on, we realised that it was becoming a living organism in and of itself. We could only control it to a certain limit. These are stories of humans and people who are still alive. Their stories don’t finish just because you decided to stop shooting their lives,” she said.

Rasha Al Riyami, an Omani who worked for PDO as a Social Media Advisor, and her friend Riham Al Zadjali, an Omani artist working at Stal gallery, arrived back in Oman two weeks ago after volunteering in Greece for seven weeks. Having only each other, donated funds and courage, these Omani women landed in Greece in search of those in need.

Riyami was moved by the pictures and articles coming from the Syrian refugees. It took them ten days from the moment Rasha and her friend decided to go, until the moment they landed in Greece. Their visa was issued within just three working days, and they were off. “I felt like they needed help. Everything was needed there. We initially decided to stay for a month, but then we thought that a month wasn’t enough and added three more weeks,” Riyami said.

Riyami has previously volunteered in Arusha, Africa for about one month in 2013, and returned in 2014. Her attitude is that giving feels better than taking. Volunteer work brings her joy.

“After a few days in Greece, my friend and I took an oath. We said that we would never complain about anything in our lives. We were in a place, in the most difficult situation than a person, a human, can live in. After spending time there, complaining about anything else seems shallow,”

she said. They raised money and donated to the cause, but Riyami does not think that compares to actually being there in person.

“Of course, we are so thankful for all the donations, but it is not the same. People can come for two weeks, without prior volunteer experience, and they could make a difference in someone’s life.

“A lot of children needed pep talks; it was very obvious that they were disturbed. They were scared when they heard airplanes, because they naturally think its rockets,” Riyami explained, as she described to Times of Oman how children ran to her in fear.

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