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If there is one thing that I learned

If there is one thing that I learned in the past month in Europe, and to put it in one (or two) sentence is: “If everyone has the right to pursue happiness, than we can understand the right of refugees”…and until you will see the plight of the refugees with your own eyes, you will not understand the full extent of their desperation for happiness… DSC_0814

The story of “Are You Syrious” a refugees aid organisation

In my quest to photograph the story of the refugees in Europe, I came across an organisation called “Are you Syrious?” in Zagreb (Croatia). I joined them in the field assisting refugees and became fascinated with the organisations’ story. It all started in their lunchroom at the end of August 2015. Luka and Lejla Juranic (Husband & wife and the co-founders of “Are You Syrious?”) saw what we all saw on TV. They decided to collect food and other things that refugees might need and stored in their garage at home. They approached their friends and drove to RÖSZKE on the Hungarian border. That was the first time that they saw the 1000’s of refugees had no support beside one tent used by “Doctors without borders”. Upon their return, they organised a concert (Luka is a musician). They called the concert “Are You Syrios”, (The name was suggested by a friend musician and a poet). The name became the organizations’ name.  Since then the organisation has grown and now has four storage points which are full at most times. Firstly they decided to send aid to Serbia, but they were returned as they didn’t have the right paperwork. At the same time problems with influx of refugees started in Croatia due to the closure of the Hungarian border. In the meantime the organisation grew and recruited many volunteers who all wanted to go and work in the “field”. For a start they went to TOVARNIK (entry point to Croatia for the refugees) with enough food for 4000 people. Although the police set a blockade, the refugees crashed the blockade, and surrounded the organization’s truck. It took days for the government to set an official camp at OPATOVAC and to get there the refugees went via border crossing BAPSKA. The refugees had to walk 17km from the place in Serbia where they were “dropped” to the Opatovac camp. At Bapska no one was there to help, not even the Red Cross, there were no tents or other necessities. So “Are you Syrious” established a station with supplies for the marching refugees. At the height of the crises there were 7000 refugees crossing the border. Only weeks later the Government provided transport for the refugees and volunteer help was not needed in Bapska any more. But soon a new hot spot opened, as refugeese started to travel through Slovenia after Hungary completely closed its borders. An unofficial border crossing between Croatian and Slovenia was used at KLJUČ BROOVEČKI – RIGONCE. 7000 refugees a day passed through this crossing, without any help provided for them in Slovenia and thousands of children were sleeping in the open field, surrounded by army and police. Even they did not allow volunteers to provide help to the desperate refugees who were freezing and hungry “Are you Syrious” managed to provide clothing and food to these people. I can carry on telling the fantastic work of this organisation, but I am sure that you got the picture by now. Within the 3 months of operation of “Are you Syrious” has grown to have a base group of volunteers of about 40 people (mainly young), and about 250 other volunteers that coming and going. They have 4 warehouses stocked with aid. The volunteers are mostly young women (and some men) highly motivated with a strong humanitarian inclination. They do the work without fuss, going for all night to help refugees in their transfer camps, organising flee markets and other fund raising activities. I hope that these young people will show the way, and some will become future leaders. They organised “responsibility groups”:

  • Co-ordination – about 40 co-ordinators co-ordinate the teams that go to the field as well as the warehouses  and other activities
  • Intelligence – to find out what is happening in each region and also other countries
  • Communication – to work the Facebook page and to answer all questions asked
  • Donations management
  • Stores –they call them the warehouses fairies
  • Transportation – to drive the teams to the camps, and deliver aid there

As Ian Grgiƈ (Luka & Lejla’s son) says: It is not only about going down to the field (as rewarding as it is), behind each humanitarian organisation there is need for a large logistic and back room support. And still. “Are You Syrious” organisation doesn’t have address or accountancy practices, but within 3 weeks, it will become recognised as an “official” aid organisation in its own right…

Every organisation has coordination and decision making meeting regularly

Every organisation has coordination and decision making meeting regularly

Lejla, the co founder of "Are you Syrious"

Lejla, the co founder of “Are you Syrious”

Luka, the co founders of "Are you Syrious"

Luka, the co founders of “Are you Syrious”

Ines Grgurevic - one of the volunteers responsible for donations, also  seeing how to raise sensibility in our society for refugees as well as volunteering in the field

Ines Grgurevic – one of the volunteers responsible for donations, also seeing how to raise sensibility in our society for refugees as well as volunteering in the field

Donations are coming...

Donations are coming…

MEDIKA, is a vibrant place with many purposes … It is used by squatters, It is a club, it is a theater and workshop, it is a place for music training, and flea market. It is also a collection center donations to “Are you Syrious” before distributing it to their four warehouses

MEDIKA, is a vibrant place with many purposes … It is used by squatters, It is a club, it is a theater and workshop, it is a place for music training, and flea market. It is also a collection center donations to “Are you Syrious” before distributing it to their four warehouses

Volunteers at work (organising  a flea market) for fund raising

Volunteers at work (organising a flea market) for fund raising

Volunteers at work (organising  a flea market) for fund raising

Volunteers at work (organising a flea market) for fund raising

The flea market is still in full swing...

The flea market is still in full swing…

The flea market is still in full swing...

The flea market is still in full swing…

The busses with the refugees arrive in Dobova (Serbia) camp

The busses with the refugees arrive in Dobova (Serbia) camp

The busses with refugees arriving at the camp (Dobova, Bosnia)

The busses with refugees arriving at the camp (Dobova, Bosnia)

What they tell me about refugees

They tell me that 80% of the refugees passing through Turkey, and then to Greece, and then to Macedonia, and then to Croatia, and then to Slovenia, and then to Austria, and then to Germany or any other destination are Immigrants and not refugees….so I am thinking to myself, if someone taking his little children through all these countries by sea, foot and busses through border control (with tough treatment), MUST BE EXTREMELY DESPERATE… DSC_0624

Europe’s Refugees

Tonight was one of the most significant nights for me for understanding humanity. As I am traveling through Europe trying to follow the Refugees story, I arrived in Zagreb (Croatia) yesterday. Last night I was invited by an organisation “Are you Syrious” to join them crossing the border to Slovenia to the refugees camp of Dobova. Three young girls picked me up at 10pm and we drove to the border (crossing the border is another story in its own right). At the camp we joined the Red Cross staff, and waited for the refugees busses to come…and they came, thousands of refugees being picked up at the train station in Croatia… old, young, men (a lot of young men), families and babies… all exit the busses in groups as been directed by the “fully armed” Police…carrying plastic bags with some belongings… As the “fully armed” police prevented me from taking photographs (aggressively), I just joined the volunteers. My job was to help people with “full” hands that were carrying babies to go through the Red cross food supply, and then to stand in the line (for about 45min) waiting to be processed…I was carrying babies young as 4 DAYS OLD…!…The faces of the refugees were weary and mostly blank…after extensive search, the refugees had to be processed and registered. All that taking about 3 hours per a group, and then back to the busses to the border with Austria, and there to go through this process again, and again “My” volunteers were young girls in mid-20’s going almost every night to give a hand to the refugees. We were working from 11:00pm to 7:00am…All in all, looking at these people and carrying their babies made me think about my life, my kids and my granddaughter in Australia, and how different lives are to different people just because they were born in different places…The world is not a fair place…

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What I learned about Voodoo

The spirit of Zagozi (given to me at a Voodoo ceremony)

The spirit of Zagozi (given to me at a Voodoo ceremony and now in Australia)

The Creole Voodoo of Haiti is a small part of a ritual. The word Voodoo represents mysterious powers that control the world. The priest is there to serve the spirits. Voodoo is not a religion; it is rather a physical and spiritual experience… The Voodoo practitioners believe in a higher entity that cannot be communicated with, therefore the prayers are directed to “lower” entities and those are the spirits…
The spirits are divided in to 21 “nations” and each is related to a different Catholic saint. Each spirit nation is related to a “family” and each “family” has a different description like military, women, agriculture, fertility, death etc. For example, there is a spirit called Au’aga. This spirt is of the thunder, Hurricanes, and other natural disasters. In Haiti the spirit of Zagozi is the representative of this spirit.
There are 401 spirits families.

According to Jean-Daniel (a friend and a Voodoo priest), when entering a door at the temple one needs to knock three times, and let the spirits know that you are entering. One must say “honor” and wait for a reply “respect”, and then light a candle. Then one needs to pour water on the floor three times and all that represent the four basics: earth, air, fire and water.

According to Haitian beliefs, we need the spirits, and the spirits need us to survive. Voodoo is not a religion of God; it is a connection between us and God. There are a number of dates where Voodoo ceremonies are always held. One is the Saturday after Easter, where you open the temple, and wake up the spirits that did not work during the holiday. Also there are Voodoo ceremonies for “initiations” where one is “finding” again some elements of his being. For example, one goes through an initiation when becoming a Voodoo priest, or when starting a career as a drummer, or to become a ruler. To become a priest, one needs to go through number of initiations.

It must be clear that Voodoo is not a religion, but there is a religion in Voodoo. Voodoo is a way of life, it is a philosophy with strong elements of religion, and a strong belief in the existence of spirits. For instance, when drinking coffee, we drop three drops on the floor, in memory of our fathers, the spirits and the earth. We also light a candle in memory of our fathers as well.

The Haitians clam that their Voodoo is the richest in the world. The Haitian Voodoo is a mix of many Voodoo practices of many African tribes with influences of Greek and European mythology. Furthermore, there are elements in Voodoo of Jewish, Islamic, and Christian rituals.

Jean Jacques Dessalines the founder of independent Haiti became its first emperor in 1804. He tried to abolish Voodoo following and drove the practises underground, After the passing of Jean Jacques Dessalines, the Voodoo practises started flourishing again.

The Voodoo doesn’t have a “Satan” or “bad” spirits, although there are violent spirts, exactly as like there are violent people. The spirts are the reflection of humanity.
(More of the story of Voodoo and Haiti to come)…

Jean-Daniel’s Voodoo temple, and also an artist at work

Today I just added few images from today and one from yesterday (the artist at work). This afternoon, I tooks few shots at Jean-Daniel’s Voodoo temple, including the old lady that looking after the Temple, and Jean-Daniel himself… when I will be back in Australia, I will write a detailed post of what I learned about the Voodoo practices (not enough), and the roll of the spirits like Zagozi, Agaou, Petro and more…

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It is Friday, and again I am out on the streets

It is Friday, and again I am out on the streets….I love the “action”, and noise in the streets with the vendors trying to sale their merchandises to every and any one that come across them, if by car, bus or just passing by…The streets are the heart of the city and it is beating fast (in color and B&W)…

The nights of Port au Prince

Just two shots of “the night in Port au prince”… although the streets are dark, but they are lit in spots by the food stalls…the contrasts between the dark night, and the lit spots with the sound of music coming from the clubs along the way, are forming the atmosphere and magic of the night in Port au Prince…

The streets and the people of Port au Prince

Today I went again to the streets of Port au Prince, and took few shots of the local people… I usually like to engage with the locals wherever I go, but in Haiti it is somewhat more difficult for me as I don’t speak French or Creole…on the other hand I find, that a smile is a great ice breaker…so I smile a lot (and I am sure that I look like an idiot many of times)…I am still trying to find my feet, so some of the images that I take are more out of instinct or enthusiasm than artistic thoughts….but in a day or two it will all come together (like always). I would like to manage to shoot more intimate images, maybe at people homes or family photographs…also it is important to learn about the place, as the history of Haiti which reflects on its culture is complicated and intriguing… All in all, I am happy about how things go, and I am sure that by the end of this trip (there will be more than one trip), I will be able to show “important” photographs. “Important photographs” for me are images of subjects that the viewer wouldn’t be exposed or know about otherwise…
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