This is the story of 10 year old Ali Hassan whom one of our team met in Piraeus, Greece and demonstrates just how small things can make big difference.
Ali was living in a tiny tent, with his widowed mother and two younger siblings, surrounded by thousands of other tents all squashed into an area between Gates E1 and E2 of the port of Athens.
The family had travelled from Idlib in Syria, on foot, mostly to save their money, to Turkey where they found people smugglers who parted them from most of their cash. They reluctantly joined other Syrian refugees on a Turkish beach and boarded an overcrowded rubber dinghy, at the dead of night, and with only the clothes they were wearing they set out across the Aegean Sea to Europe. They spent over four hours on the water, fearing they might drown, and finally landed on the Greek Island of Kos. They moved on to Athens and began a long journey, with other refugees to the Northern border of Greece. There the family stayed in a tent, in very cold wet weather waiting to cross the border. That never happened. The border was closed and their journey had been in vain. They were sent back, the way they had come, to wait for a place in a refugee camp near Athens, and ended up on the edge of the largest port in Europe where huge floating cities, luxury cruise liners, came and went before their eyes. Worlds apart.
I was one of four people from Share who went to work in Piraeus, in April last year. We took about £3,000 - money we had fund raised, and donations - knowing that some Dutch people had opened an abandoned shipping container, and wanted to turn it into a school of sorts. The children loved having something to do all day, and we soon got to know them. One of our group, Sam, speaks Arabic, and he was thrilled to be able to help out at the school. As soon as we arrived the weather suddenly changed to hot and sunny, and our first purchases were 100 pink and 100 blue sun hats for the children. Starting with the youngest we gave out the hats but ran out just before Ali's turn! He was the only one without a hat! We told him he would have one the next day, but he was sad and got very cross, not realising that Sam understood EVERY word he'd said! "I didn't want a hat, a stupid BLUE hat, anyway!! I am Manchester United supporter, I won't wear a blue hat!!"
The next day we got him a red cap...
The look on his face was so joyful! He hugged us all! After that, he was always first to arrive at school and last to leave. He was very helpful tidying up after the other children, who just ran off to play after lesson. I enjoyed giving Ali maths workbooks which we bought, and sitting with him while he worked hard and brilliantly at the sums. One day I was so pleased - he had done some very difficult sums - and said to him "You like school work, don't you, I think one day you could be a teacher " He shook his head and said "No School" I called Sam, to interpret our conversation and this is what Ali said....
"One day, in school in Idlib they dropped bombs on us.. our classroom fell in and there was dust everywhere, we scrambled out, but our teacher couldn't follow us....I searched for my little brother, calling his name, and somebody called me - they had found him under a table in one of the rooms! Praise Allah! So we ran out of the school to go home to Mama, ran as fast as we could, but another bomb exploded and we hid. When we looked back there was NO SCHOOL.....IT HAD GONE!"
Sam gave Ali his special SHARE high vis waistcoat, and I gave him my cheap wristwatch, on the day we left. We told him " Abdul Hassan has the special red hat, Sam's jacket, and Anne's watch. He is in charge of the school, now! He can help the teachers and make sure everyone is on time!" I'm sure he did.