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Spotlight on Service

Community Service is an integral part of the TASIS England experience. We expect members of our community to be engaged in the world, continually learning the value of giving of themselves as active and inspired young people. The new Community Service Spotlight offers Upper School students the opportunity to share their stories on internships, projects, and service work in and outside our community. Articles are written by Mackenzie '17, a TASIS Leadership Academy Ambassador, Upper School Day Prefect, TASIS England Global Issues Network Founder and President, and 12-year Girl Scout (California, Nigeria, Indonesia, England). A U.S. expat, Mackenzie has lived in Australia, Nigeria, Indonesia, and England.

The Refugee Crisis – Vienna

Our Fall/Winter Community Service Spotlight is on Mika, a tenth grade, 7­-year TASIS England student, originally from Vienna, Austria.

Over the 2016 summer break, Mika had the unique opportunity to work at the Caritas Karwan House in Vienna for part of his time at home, answering questions, booking appointments, finding directions, entertaining children, and taking care of refugee families.

According to their website, the main goal of the Caritas Karwan House is to assist people during their asylum procedure, to help them acclimate to their new environment, and to work jointly with them to develop future perspectives and prepare for an independent life. The house can accommodate up to 175 refugees.

What inspired you to go to work with refugees at the Caritas Karwan House in Vienna?

Mika: There were multiple reasons that led to me decide to work at the Caritas Karwan House. I was born in Vienna and go back every summer to visit friends and family. Vienna is easily my favorite place to be, and I feel connected to the city. Although I haven’t lived there since 2003, I still call Vienna my home. Recently there have been countless stories in the news about the refugee crisis. Vienna was hit extremely hard because it’s in the middle of Europe, so refugees came to Austria from all over the world. During the winter of last year the situation was at its worst, and there was suddenly a significant increase in people in the city who had not been there before. I am very proud to say that the citizens, and the city of Vienna as a whole, worked together to help out wherever they could. The craziest thing about the refugees is that many of them came all the way from places like Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan on foot. Once I sat down and thought about what that meant, and when I really put into perspective how dire their situation was, I could instantly see why it is so necessary to help these people. I think what really made we want to go and help out was hearing all of the stories on the news, and seeing pictures of thousands of people who had just finished walking thousands of kilometers to get to safety. I felt so helpless watching the situation unfold, so I felt that going to Vienna and helping would be the least I could do. There are some charity organizations in Austria which provide refugees with shelter, food, and support until they can start a new life in Vienna. Caritas is one of these organizations, and it is the organization that I chose to sign up for.

What did you love most about working at the Caritas Karwan House?

Mika: There were a few things that really made my time there absolutely wonderful. Some families with children were living in the Karwan House. There were some children as young as five who had made the trip all the way from their home countries. They attend a primary school in Vienna, but I was there during the summer holiday season, so the children were all incredibly bored. I always looked forward to playing with them and entertaining them. They would become so happy when I spent time with them, and that really just gave me one of those unbeatable good feelings.

What was the most challenging aspect of your trip?

Mika: There were two parts of the trip that were the hardest. Caritas is a charity organization, so they have no time or work force to spare to give new recruits a full tour or advanced introductions. It was all about learning by doing, and by connecting and communicating with the people living at the Karwan House. Communicating was challenging as most of the residents only spoke broken German, but many spoke English, which was very helpful to me. The other part—that was probably the hardest of all—was when I had to leave at the end. I had really bonded with so many of the people. They had become more like friends than people I was providing a service to.

What resonated with you the most? What new perspective, if any, did you glean?

Mika: There are definitely some memories that will stay in my mind forever. One of the children I played with is someone I will never forget. Her name is Banafsha. She is 5 years old, and her family fled to Vienna to escape the war in Afghanistan. We were playing pretend, and she was the mother and I was the son. At one point she told me we were leaving home to go on holiday, but we would stay there forever. It made me understand that the children are traumatized by having to leave their homes, and they still remember it. That really shocked me, and made me realize how lucky and privileged I am.

How do you believe we could better support refugees?

Mika: Most importantly, we just need to acknowledge that refugees are here, and that they need support. Ignoring the problem is really the worst thing we can do. Anyone who has a sustainable source of clean water, fresh food, and good shelter is already hugely privileged compared to these people. It is hard to imagine what they have gone through. They were forced out of their homes, away from family, friends, and a normal life, because they were fighting for survival. So many people with the capability to help are here, but they simply haven’t realized how much the refugees need help. Charity organizations can use all the resources they can get, so donations of money as well as clothes, books, toys, stationery, etc. are always helpful. Volunteering for a position at a refugee center is always a good way to help, as places like Caritas need all the workers they can get. It is time that we come together—not as nations or organizations, but as humans—and help each other out because, in the end, helping others in need is what makes us human.

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