I have just returned from the island of Lesbos in Greece where thousands of refugee families are living amidst loss of homeland and massive uncertainty about the future. It felt a great privilege to be close to these men and women and children. They have made long and perilous journeys from many countries, Syria, Afghanistan, Palestine, Libya, Sudan. Many of them have horrific stories to tell of treacherous sea crossings and loss of family members en route. I have been asking myself again and again these days, what does it mean to belong to the human family, to be brother, sister, father, mother to one another, both as individuals and as nations?
Our little refugee support team from Edinburgh consisted of six of us. Ali and I were there as the ‘elders’, supporting this collaborative initiative from Heartbeat and the University Chaplaincy. Alex and Sam, students of Environmental Sciences at Edinburgh University, were there as the ‘inventors’, having designed a solar paneled unit that can recharge cell phones without electricity supply. They have launched Project Elpis (which in Greek means Project Hope) to implement this vision in the refugee camps of Greece. And Joseph and Sybilla, postgraduate students of Islamic Studies and Arabic, were there as the ‘translators’, to allow us to more effectively communicate with refugee families.
I have been asking myself again and again these days, what does it mean to belong to the human family…
With the financial support that has been raised through Heartbeat we were able to place a solar unit in Kara Tepe, a camp for nearly a thousand of the most vulnerable refugees. A second unit has already been installed on the mainland of Greece near Athens at Camp Malakasa where electricity supplies are sparse. Heartbeat enabled the construction of these first units. This means that Project Elpis is now fully up and running with a crowd-funding campaign underway that will enable another four units to be built by the end of the summer.
International refugee crises can seem overwhelming. Where does one start? Heartbeat chose to enable a very specific project, enabling refugee families to recharge their phones so that they can more readily be in touch with family members and other sources of information. This is just a small niche but as Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the movement for democracy in Burma, says in relation to the enormity of crises facing us today as nations and communities and families, ‘Just start somewhere’. Otherwise we end up feeling paralyzed by the enormity of the task.
International refugee crises can seem overwhelming. Where does one start?
Heartbeat chose to ‘just start somewhere’ and, thanks to many of you, we’ve enabled Project Elpis to get off the ground. This initiative reflects our threefold vision at Heartbeat. It is solar, respecting the sacredness of earth’s resources. It is interfaith, harnessing the relationship between religions to work compassionately together. And it crosses boundaries, in this case not only the boundaries of nationhood and religion but the difference between generations. The birth of Christianity was characterized by a prophetic conviction that the dreams of the old and the visions of the young could be married. This is what we experienced on Lesbos. Heartbeat’s dream of transformation in the world came alongside the genius of two young men and their vision of hope was born. I invite you to continue to support our refugee fund.
It is making a difference.
John Philip Newell is the co-founder of Heartbeat: A Journey Towards Earth’s Wellbeing. He is an ordained Church of Scotland minister with a passion for peace among the great wisdom traditions of humanity. His PhD is from the University of Edinburgh and he has authored over 15 books, including Christ of the Celts, Praying with the Earth, A New Harmony, and his most recent visionary title The Rebirthing of God: Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings.