This was the first time Hristijan had spent time with refugees and he found visiting the refugee camp an overwhelming experience. “I had no idea there were so many children,” he said. One in every three refugees and migrants who passes through Macedonia is a child.
Hope among chaos
Hristijan spent some time at the joint SOS-UNICEF child friendly space at the camp. The camp is used daily by children, young people and their parents as a place of refuge from the chaos that surrounds them.
On the day Hristijan visits, two of its young visitors are Shams and Mostafa, a sister and brother from Iraq. They have been travelling for over two weeks after violence in their hometown forced them to flee the country. Their big hope is to reach Germany; “There I will be able to go to school and have a normal childhood!” says Shams.
Shams is just 12-years-old and her brother is 10, yet they have already experienced hardships many of us can’t even imagine. Yet they and their dad are still smiling, offering clothes that no longer fit them to the staff at the child friendly space. “Someone else will need these,” says their dad softly.
Delivering the giftsHristijan decided to give two of the gifts from Aleksander, Jovanka and Irina to Shams and Mostafa. Handing a beautifully wrapped present to Shams, he asked the father to translate the message in the accompanying card; “Hello, I am Jovanka. I am nine years old. I hope this hat keeps you warm. I hope we can meet when we grow up. I live in Macedonia. I love you, I love you, I love you!”
Immediately, Shams’ face broke into a huge smile and she blushed. “I love you too Jovanka, thank you” she said. Pulling the hat on over her headscarf she ran to show her brother.
Her father watched her happily before turning to Hristijan and saying, “Sun. Her name means sun – and look how brightly she shines!”
Next, it was Mostafa’s turn to open a present. It was the blue hat that Aleksander had picked out. Again, his father helped him translate the message: “I wish you happiness and for this hat to keep you warm during the winter days while you travel. Lots of love, from Aleksander.” Like Shams, Mostafa blushed and then whispered “Thank you!”.
Back in SOS Children’s Village Skopje, the children couldn’t wait to hear who had received their gifts and if they liked them! “They were so grateful and happy, even with just a winter hat,” said Hristijan. “They know about smartphones and other electronics, but they were so happy with winter hats. What they really needed were gifts from the heart, just like the ones you gave.”
“I have to do more”Like Shams and Mostafa, Hristijan knows what it feels like to need to be shown love – to need to be shown that you matter to people and that they care about you. He grew up in a violent home, where domestic abuse was a regular occurrence. He did not know love, safety or security.
Things got so bad that when he was 16, he reported the abuse and demanded that his rights be protected. The local authority found him a new home at our Children’s Village in Skopje. Today he has successfully finished secondary school and is a student at Skopje State University studying psychology.
“When I found out that some of the younger children from Village were wanting to give presents to refugee children, I knew I had to get involved,” explains Hristijan. “Aside from giving the gifts to Shams and Mostafa, talking with Mimi, an member of the SOS staff who works at the child friendly space, was one of the highlights of my visit to the refugee camp. She is a strong person and she approaches every child, every person, with so much love. She hugs them, and kisses them, and encourages them. They all love her. I am going back there – I will apply to volunteer. I have to do more.”
Interested in what we're doing to help refugees this winter? Find out more about our refugee crisis appeal.