greece, Mission, refugees

A heart filled with faces and stories

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Sr. Carmen Elisa Bandeo shares something of her experience in Athens, Greece, at one of the Migrant Centers of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS).   The JRS is “an international Catholic organization whose mission is to accompany, serve and defend refugees and other displaced persons, to that they can heal, learn and determine their own future.”

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I come from Athens with a heart full of faces and each one of those faces is full of stories… stories and lives that have been interwoven with mine to make a blanket, to welcome and shelter everyone who comes close to me, to welcome and shelter my own dreams.

As I let my heart speak, some faces come to mind…

Ersa and Abibullah, two brothers, one seven and one eleven years old, lost their father and their other brother at sea when trying to reach the shores of Greece. The mother was so distraught that she could not take care of Ersa and Abibullah, leaving them to the care of the volunteers of the NGO where they were staying. They frequently came to the Center where I worked. They were very mischievous, rebellious, disobedient, longing for affection and care on the surface. Though I had to admonish them    often for their disobedience and transgressions, they always returned… Once, Esra came looking for our Sister. Nurse. “What’s wrong?” I asked him. He showed me the tip of his index finger: “It hurts”, he said. Just then Sr. Ada finished her previous  consultation and told him to come in… A few minutes later, he came out smiling with a large bandage on the finger. Sr. Ada winked at me – “He needs attention,” she said.

The face of Aliya, a young mother I met during the last months of her third pregnancy.  A young woman full of dreams and  a desire to excel, with big plans for the future. She approached our Center to perfect her English and decided to participate in the workshop “How to prepare a Curriculum Vitae.” At the end we give the participants a certificate. She was overjoyed! She confessed to me that it was the first time in her life that she received something like that. A simple piece of paper that testified to her efforts.

The face of Sharifa and her daughters, telling me what the house they left behind was like… The face of Noori showing me the photos of her medical class and asking me if it would be possible to continue studying in Greece once she learns Greek. The faces of Parwane and Dawood, a young couple promising to always be on time if I made the exception of admitting them to the class, even though registration had closed.

The faces of the volunteers and members of the different non-governmental organizations with whom I worked during those three years. People of different nationalities, of different religious creeds, of different ideologies, different ages and sexes but who have a common dream: to make this world a home for everyone, where there is a place to welcome everyone who needs a home. Where the person can find a plate of food, a place to sleep, a place to play, paint, play sports, bathe, take care of their health, defend their rights, live and practice their faith.

These faces, with their stories, with their weaknesses, with their achievements and their failures, with their hopes, their lives, are now interwoven with mine. My ideas were confirmed, my concepts questioned, my horizons broadened. Someone  told me that meeting me at meetings filled them  with hope and renewed their confidence in a better world. These faces, all those who have populated my time in Athens have renewed my hope in humanity. I feel that the blanket of my personal history has grown wider and warmer, that I can welcome many more.


Sr. Carmen Elisa Bandeo, SSpS.

She has provided missionary service among the peoples of Argentina, Taiwan, Rome, Greece and currently she is the Regional Coordinator in Spain-Portugal. She has been dedicated mainly to the service of illegal workers, migrants and a heart full of faces[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]