The first thing you learn in working with people is the huge exchange of energy, the energy you give and the energy you receive. And if you work with children, multiply it by two.
Working with unaccompanied children, we are used to frequent meetings and partings. Partings are very difficult at first, and then you think how you got used to them all the moment you don’t meet again. Unaccompanied children often decide to seek a “better place” for their lives. The question that I often asked my colleagues when parting was whether our paths would ever cross again. I guessed the answer in advance, probably not.
The beneficiary of the Integration House, A. S., was accommodated in the summer of 2018. He had a big heart and positivity, and soon became an “older brother” to all the younger children. He taught the younger ones that everything on the plate must be eaten, that it is a great sin to throw away food, but also that in the most difficult moments one should find faith in God, so he was the first to give instructions together with the employees on how to celebrate the biggest Muslim holidays, and how to behave during Ramadan.
He was a great support to everyone in the house, both children and employees, he was a bridge that brought us together to become closer and better, to make our life in the House better and easier.
After a record number of unsuccessful attempts to cross the border, he leaves the Integration House, but only for a short time. He stays for some time in Bosnia, and shortly before the winter of 2019 he returns to the House. Shortly before the pandemic began, he left us forever and reported from Geneva in a few weeks. We kept contact, he calls us from time to time to let us know how he is progressing in his new life.
In May 2022, I received an invitation to a conference on the International Refugee Day in Geneva, and then I realize that we will see each other soon. I realize that life is unpredictable and that I will meet again. I inform A.S. that I am coming to Geneva on June 20, which makes him very happy, and he is already planning what we will visit that day. After a tiring journey, flight delays, I arrive in Geneva, where an unprecedented heat awaits me for that time of year. We make an agreement to meet at 7 pm at the famous Flower Clock at the entrance to the Jardin Anglais. I try to find the public transport route to get there and, in my haste to leave as soon as possible I forget my mobile phone in the room. The public transport people are helping me get there, and I’m already almost half an hour late. In me, anger is mixed with despair, as well as the question of how long you are ready to wait for someone at the agreed place. When I am finally separated from the meeting place by a pedestrian crossing over two streets, I concentrate on the tourists who are standing to take pictures by the famous clock and whether it is there. Maybe he left when I didn’t answer his phone countless times.
A red tartan shirt, like the one he often wore here, catches my eye right away, and I’m almost sure it’s him. I realize that he is standing still and looking in my direction, looking for me while holding the phone in his hand. As the steps move away, our eyes meet, and I see his wide smile.
After the euphoria of the meeting, we go for a walk by the lake where he takes on the role of the tourist guide, talks about the city, the people who live there and generally about his life in Geneva. Soon we sit down to drink lemonade by the lake and remember life in the Arrupe House. For the first time, he shares with me what it is that we don’t see, what our first meeting was like, when my colleague Darko and I went to the field to pick him up, but also his first cooked meal at home, which he ate after 3 days. He says that nothing smells like “Maya’s lunch” (Maya was our cook) that he ate that day. He tells me about his sisters and mother in Afghanistan and that now finally, when he passes French language exam, he will be able to provide them with everything they need. He asks how all of us from the Arrupe House are doings, and how is in Belgrade. We remember all the good and less good days in the House. He promises me that as soon as he gets his passport, he will come to visit us again. I can see in his eyes that he has finally found his place under heaven, and I see immense gratitude for everything we have done for him.
After parting, I thought about human misfortune, about life’s injustice and whether it is one big truth that happiness is made by small things like this meeting, or maybe big things like where you were born on the right side of the border. These few hours spent with him, and his sincere parting greeting, gave me an incentive to continue this wonderful but also difficult work. After two days of the conference, at the final panel, I get the opportunity to share what is beautiful about our work. When I finally shared with someone what happened in Geneva, and when I let my emotions speak for me, I realized that it doesn’t matter if they are small or big things. What matters is that they make you happy.
From the social worker’s diary,
Jelena Djurdjevic, JRS Serbia