Milk of human kindness; a Greek village shows the way
Mindless violence in one part of the world only enhances the value of compassion in another
For every Omran Daqneesh episode that occasionally moves us to tears, there are hundreds of refugee children around the world who carry stories of horror and survival. These fortunate ones have either been escorted by their parents to safety or, in some cases, rescued by people not even remotely known to them.
Several such stories have unfolded in Europe and elsewhere in the West. In the streets of Greece’s port town of Mytilene, Arabic is said to have surpassed Greek as the dominant language. Its not the same story everywhere though. Switzerland’s Oberwil-Lieli – one of Europe’s wealthiest villages – has refused to accept asylum seekers and has instead voted to pay a hefty fine.
However, New York Times reported a particularly striking story few days ago. The story unfolds in a tiny Greek village called Skala Sikaminias. Last year, a handful of fishermen belonging to this village encountered hapless families, small children in tow, turning up on its shores, desperately seeking asylum.
The village’s 100-odd residents not just welcomed these refugees with open arms they did everything they could to help them make a new beginning. Soon, a remote sleepy hamlet came alive and the struggle for existence was met with acts of kindness and empathy for fellow humans. Despite challenges, bonhomie prevailed.
The village of Skala Sikaminias has dispelled the notion that a place or an individual has to be rich and resourceful to help the poor and the needyEhtesham Shahid
But that’s just one part of the story. The local population’s natural instinct to help hapless survivors from troubled faraway land turned out to be a disaster. Tourists, who were so critical to the local economy, started deserting the place. Apparently, they were wary of spending their vacation in a place “now associated with human desperation.”
One can only imagine the dilemma the native inhabitants of the land would have faced under these circumstances. Caught between the instinct to help and the need for sustenance, this village chose to keep their arms open, an act that had defined them in the first place.
Despite understandable murmurs of discontent, and the hardships presented by the large number of refugees mutually draining the scarce natural resource, the villagers seem determined to stay the course. After all that has happened in Skala Sikaminias, its inhabitants still maintain that “if it happens again, everyone will do the exact same thing.”
Mirror on the wall
Besides serving as an example of the essential goodness of mankind, Skala Sikaminias should inspire us at various levels. To begin with, this was not an affluent community that was prepared to pitch tents, open townhouses and arrange food packets for thousands of families pouring in.
For all its virtues, Greece is not Germany when it comes to organized response system to public challenge and deep pockets. It has only slightly recovered from its own economic predicament.
Yet, in many ways, what this village has managed to extend to the refugees goes far beyond its means. It demonstrated the attitude of accommodativeness that seems to have gone missing from global affairs today. The village of Skala Sikaminias has dispelled the notion that a place or an individual has to be rich and resourceful to help the poor and the needy.
The more pertinent questions though are the following – if these men and women had reached the shores of a bustling city with a vibrant economy, would they be welcomed as compassionately? Even if the urban folk find resources, would they have the time to bring thousands of lives back on track?
If we go back to where it all began, one cannot help but emphasize the futility of conflict. There is a lesson for the host communities too – peace and tranquility is the ultimate guarantor of prosperity, whether it is a town or a village.
Ehtesham Shahid is Managing Editor at Al Arabiya English. For close to two decades he has worked as editor, correspondent, and business writer for leading publications, news wires and research organizations in India and the Gulf region. He loves to occasionally dabble with teaching and is collecting material for a book on unique tales of rural conflict and transformation from around the world. His twitter handle is @e2sham.