Her wellington boots are similar to those found on the feet of most European teenage girls – bright yellow with on-trend print design. They even match her yellow hair highlights.
Except, Azrah doesn’t wear them to teenage mall hangouts. At twelve years of age, barely a teenager, she spends her weekends in the Grand-Synthe refugee camp, helping her mother distribute aid to refugees.
A nanny by day, Azrah’s mother Deborah couldn’t sit still in the comfort of her home knowing there were children under five living in the Grand-Synthe camp, near Dunkirk, in conditions rated the worst compared to most refugee camps in Europe and beyond. “It’s just an hour drive from our home,” Deborah says in disbelief. The family lives in Wervik, a small town in the Belgian province of West Flanders.
Deborah started helping by spending her own money, ablout 150-200 euros a week. “Rice,” she told me. “I bought a lot of rice… and carrots! It’s cheap but healthy!” While volunteers like Deborah are doing their best to keep the kitchen going, there are days when they cannot feed the camp’s growing population.
I watched Azrah help in the makeshift kitchen, her stamina beyond that of an ordinary twelve year old. When not in the kitchen, she was in the distribution shelter next door learning from her Kurdish friend words for blanket – tent – shoes – toiletries – diapers – and whatever else they were distributing on the day.
Following Azrah’s boots around the camp, I saw men, women, and children greet her with utmost warmth and respect. Somehow she had managed to surpass that child-adult barrier. She was neither a child nor an adult. She would giggle with a refugee teenager in one tent, but would remember to ask after the ill child in the next.
The camp has grown from 200 to almost 3.000 people since Deborah and Azrah first started helping out four months ago. Now home to some 300 children between the ages of 2 months and 17 years, the camp is on the brink of sanitation crisis with only 20 toilets and one tap for every 375 people. Due to torrential rains in the last few weeks, many are left without shelters, disease ridden and sinking in mud.
Azrah spent Christmas day in the Grand-Synthe kitchen distributing meals. Now I ask you, is there a better Christmas present a mother can give to her child than awareness, generosity and the ability to Be In The Shoes of those most vulnerable in our societies?
Be In Their Shoes © Jeta B 2016