Monthly Archives: September 2015

By @angieweinberger

When I ask Zarah for her name we instantly connect. She laughs with me „Can we help you Madam?“. I have to laugh. Here’s a young refugee offering to help me bringing the IKEA bag with men’s shoes (in the right sizes) into the „distribution center“. Zarah wears a top that indicates she likes to go clubbing. It’s probably a donation she received in her last night’s interim camp in Serbia. Today she made it into the European Union. She’s with her husband. They beam at me.

I am going inside the white tent. She has to stay behind the table. She needs a warmer shirt size 36 I assume. Little chance that I find a fitting top right away but I find a sweater she is happy with. Later I see her again. Her English is fluent. I distribute scarves and hats at the time. I don’t ask a lot of questions but having her name helps me finding her in the crowd again. With the men it is harder. They all call me „friend“. I try to differentiate their faces. Holding up pants too big or too small, then in one box I find a pair of pregancy pants. The young man says „yes“ and laughts. It’s the first one that fits after I held up about five pairs. I pull out a sweater which looks a perfect fit for a stronger young man. „This is your style“. He smiles at me. „Thank you.“ „Pleasure“.

When I cannot find what we need and wish this place had a better structure so I could find pants and shoes in the right size I ask the volunteer woman who seems to have the supervision here.
„Men ask for shoes. Shall I go to storage. There was a delivery.“
„Yes, and can you bring women’s jackets too.“.
I need to get out of the small unorganized tent. It seems to be a waste of effort. So I become a deliverer. I walk with my torch between the storage and distribution tent.

When my IKEA bags are empty I go back to refill sleeping bags, mats, tents and blankets. The soft ones. I hand them to men. One at a time. We don’t want waste. Everyone is very grateful. A young men needs a baby sleeping bag. By the time I am back with a few of them and a bottle and a tent I don’t see him anymore. I hope his baby will be warm enough.

The interim camp in Rözke welcomes the refugees crossing the Serbian boarder. After they walk for another five kilometers they arrive and are given food, tea and a chance to rest.

Most of the refugees look tired but well groomed considering what they have been through. I am humbled. Thinking about how fast I complain on travel I do for fun or business.

It would have helped if we had more clarity on the process

"Mission One" - 11 SEPT 2015 - Action from Switzerland
“Mission One” – 11 SEPT 2015 – Action from Switzerland

On one of my deliveries two women in their early 20ies ask me about the busses. They look like Eritreans but then I cannot really tell because it is dark. Maybe they are from Syria, maybe not.

„We have heard rumors that people wait for eight hours for the bus in the heat. What happens if they keep us here for the three days? Will we be kept in a camp or arrested“. I have the impression they are alone. No husbands. „Please get onto a bus tomorrow. They will take you to a train station nearby and then you can move on.“

I understand that fingerprinting is an issue for many refugees and wish I had more current information. In their case I prioritize security. I ask them to go to the large blue and white tent so I can find them with a tent for themselves. When I get back I cannot see them. I wonder if they decided to walk to Szeged, the next town 10 km away. I did not ask for their names. I wish I had.

In Röszke giving a smile to a refugee or making them laugh by talking Arabic could be worth as much as a fleece blanket. I try to multitask. It works. We work on from 11 pm to 2 am. It feels like an hour. I can see that the number of men looking for pants or shoes is reduced and many refugees sleep in tents or outside. We speak to other volunteers. We build relationships to UNHCR staff from Hungary.

The morning already seems days away. We left from our hotel in Kecskemet where Gabor, the manager wishes us luck and tells us that he’ll pray for our mission. We are six volunteers today. The men have medical supplies, mats and blankets. The van I rented has 200 sleeping bags and lots of other donations. The backpacks we loaded last are well received and gone right after we are allowed to pass the police stop at the entrance.

We waited there for about an hour, giving out „snickers“ to the young officers who seem to be tired. They liked our van. I drive the van to the blue and white tent. We unloaded only what the tent required: Shoes for men, shampoo and toilet packs and a few sleeping bags. The first woman I meet with a child asks for cream. I cannot find it but she is happy for the toilet kit.

We unloaded all other donations go in the newly built storage tent. We help build up the storage tent in an organized way. Normally this field is used to grow plants. The storage tent is made in a field. We managed to keep sleeping bags, clothes clean and dry. Trucks from mainly German-speaking countries unloaded their donations during the day. A UNHCR staff from South America coordinates income and orders. I like her calm and structured approach. The warm weather helps to keep the donations dry but is also a threat to the refugees when they have to queue to get on to a bus.

Our four men Thomas, Balz, Edi and Patric left us to do other tasks. I feel they have more stamina. I am careful not to overwhelm myself. I take breaks when I need them. In a moment of frustration about not finding everything in the distribution tent I leave that space. There seem to be enough tired volunteers so I start to do the runs between the two tents.

The volunteer experience shows me that our support can be very useful if we keep certain measures and have contacts we can trust on the ground. If you consider volunteering I’d advise you have a conversation with Gabrielle or myself first. We need Arabic, Farsi, Urdu speakers and drivers. If you’d like to come on a “mission” to Eastern Europe, you should commit to at least four days as you probably need a day to rest once you return.

If you would like to understand how you can support ACTION FROM SWITZERLAND please join the Facebook Group of Action from Switzerland.

Here is also a nice summary of our support by


war-953246_960_720This year the refugee „crisis“ has been dominating German-speaking media. Now there are signs that we are taking a new spin to the topic. There is support from volunteers, there are positive conversations about the refugees. I support giving refugees language education and a work permit as soon as possible. Mainly because in Germany and Switzerland we have more work than people who are willing to do the work. We have more than enough space, housing and we can actually help raise children.

We need to consider what we all can contribute to support and I think we can start with small acts of kindness. In Iceland people offered room to leave and now the government says they would like to take in more refugees.

What I thought about as I discussed the idea of support was that in such situations we tend to give the responsibility to governments, official volunteer organizations and even the police. The policemen I know (probably with one exception) hardly ever speak as many languages as I do. My even small vocabulary and skill in Arabic could come in handy when we speak to and listen to Syrians.

I have friends who are native speakers in Arabic, Farsi and Urdu and remember that once I listened to a Beduin women in Egypt and even though I did not fully understand her she told me her story of how she lost her daughter. I gave her my scarve. She could not walk anymore. The pain of losing her child had made her sick. If we could listen and speak to the refugees who come to Europe we could help them learn German and French and integrate.

We could probably also help them with their traumas and grief. My friend S. said he cried when he saw the pictures of the refugees. Me too. I had shed a lot of tears last week. I don’t have a TV but even the stories on social media, stories of support and stories of hope against the negative neo-nazi operations …even those stories made me cry. At the moment I don’t feel like crying anymore. I want to support, but as often I feel numbed and overwhelmed. Not sure where to start so I started with a tweet.

If you are a #refugee and have come to #Zurich we can help you with administrative and language problems.

From that tweet a lot more actions evolved. We already have a project group. Keep tuned and let me know if you want to know more.


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by Caitlin Krause

There’s no doubt about it: summer is an idyllic, popular time for vacations, with August being the hallmark month to flock to lakes and mountains for a bit of time away from the often-demanding nature of work. The sunshine, the joy, the freedom— it’s all wrapped up in my notions of summertime. Recently, I began to think even more deeply about what summer vacation truly symbolizes, so that I could try to capture a bit of that feeling, translating it into my daily life, so that I experience the same summer bliss year-round. Daunting, but do-able!

Why is summer vacation so liberating? Just the word itself, Sommer, or Summer, connotes a carefree, open state. The term stems from a root “sam”, which has been connected to the Proto-Indo-European “sem”, meaning “together/one”. The word Vacation comes from the Latin vacare, “to be free, empty, and at leisure”. This makes sense to me, an avid fan of summer days spent at ease, experiencing each moment as it comes.

On vacation, whether in summertime or other, we feel at one with ourselves; so free that possibilities seem to spread out before us. The idea of linking emptiness, freedom and summertime has logic: in terms of the farming schedule, summer falls between the sowing of seeds and the harvest; it’s a “free” time when the days are filled with sunlight, time outdoors, socializing, and carefree activities.

We might wish for an extended vacation, with open days that make us feel relaxed and renewed, physically and emotionally. Yet, the inevitable passage of time reminds us of the necessary return to rigors and obligations, which could be oppressive. While the laws of the seasons might make it necessary to leave some of the hallmarks of summer behind (at least for another nine months), the following are ways to adopt the trademark mindful freedom of vacation-mode, each and every day— even on workdays!

1) Get Outside, Preferably in the Morning

Vacations contribute to happiness, in part, because they involve movement and freedom in the magnificent outdoors. We’re outside, hiking, biking, swimming and frolicking, connecting with natural elements and getting a good deal of exercise. We breathe fresh air, feel sunlight on our skin, stretch our bodies, and it’s a definite lift.

When we exercise, our bodies release amazing mood-boosting chemicals called endorphins, neurotransmitters which increase our feelings of wellness and happiness. In addition, medical research is only just at the point of discovering new “exercise hormones”, such as the much-celebrated irisin. Its existence verified by Harvard scientists in August 2015, irisin is found in increased amounts in the bloodstream of exercisers. Named after the goddess Iris, it has been linked to increased metabolism and brain functioning, activating genes responsible for memory and learning.

I find all of this amazing and exciting— clearly, I feel better when I invite motion into my day; now, scientific evidence proves it.

Research and data aside, exercising— especially, in a natural environment— simply feels good, which is likely the reason that it’s part of nearly every one of my vacations. Why not start every day like this, getting outside for a daily dose of nature? It will also remind us that there are equally wonderful parts about fall weather to enjoy: the ripening of vegetables at harvest-time, the rich scent of the earth, piles of crisp leaves, and sunlight filtering through fall foliage. Just the thought of it fills me with anticipation.

If our days are busy, we can talk a brisk walk as a quick work break. We can bike or walk as part of our commute. In any case, prioritizing exercise and nature as part of the routine makes it something that will fit into our busy daytime schedules— and, it puts us in better moods to greet our days!

2) Nurture Sleep Needs

Sleep is one of the primary needs that is easy to overlook when life becomes demanding. I’m quick to forget how foundational it is; sleep deficits wreak havoc on the body in elemental ways… Studies show we need more than just a certain number of hours of sleep, but a certain quality, as well.

All I know is, when I’m on vacation, I usually sleep extremely well. I sometimes have vivid, colorful dreams, remembering parts that even might work their way into creative innovations. I tend to wake feeling alert, rested and happy. It’s a trend that makes sense: it’s common, to get better sleep during periods of freedom from stress. Perhaps we sleep better on vacation because our body’s clock has the ability to regulate itself without alarms, and we might simply give ourselves more time for sleep, combined with the relaxed mood of vacation.

It’s recommended by most medical organizations and sleep foundations that we get 7-9 hours of sleep each night, yet we often compromise this when we’re not on vacation. We might even manage time differently, thinking we can’t afford as much sleep during the periods of high demands and difficult work. I operated like this for many years, thinking that my productivity would be diminished if I gave myself more rest, which I viewed as “time off” from pursuing my passions. I wanted to work at my best level, and I also strove to enjoy an ample number of activities during the off-work hours. I soon found myself low on energy, trying to catch up on sleep during weekends.

There are many reasons that this is a natural tendency, to view sleep as a luxury. We scrimp on sleep because we feel there is always more to do; we can’t relax; we want to squeeze in as many “waking hours” for ourselves as possible. Yet, the more respect we give to nurturing our primary sleep needs, the more rested we feel overall, able to use our active time in a more productive way.

The short answer I have for myself, in order to invite the vacation sleep bliss into my daily routine, is just say yes. I’m phrasing this as a positive rather than a negative: if I say yes to sleep, as a commitment to my base level of needs, then it’s a non-compromise. It means I have to give myself a chance to relax beforehand, inviting a restful mindset; training my body to respond in kind. In a sense, I’m tuning in to my local surroundings… and, I can feel as if I’m on vacation while doing this, because I’m letting go of all thoughts of work. I separate myself from devices and pretty much all technology; I’ll enjoy reading, stretching, tea, art— anything that’s just for the moment, to be enjoyed. For many of us, this will feel like an experiment— just remind yourself, all along the way, that you are truly saying yes to yourself and your life by doing this. Your body will notice and appreciate it.

3) Embrace the Empty

The third way I’m inviting vacation-mode into each and every day involves welcoming the “emptiness” mentioned earlier. See, emptiness is not empty; it’s not nothing! A good friend of mine and I always share a laugh over the “glass half empty/glass half full” debate; for us, the key question is not whether the glass is half empty or full, because it’s not representative of a fixed state. In other words, does my glass have enough emptiness to let something be poured into it? Am I inviting that? Can I appreciate opportunities that might emerge at any moment?

This concept is key to mindfulness: to be aware and open to possibilities, even ones beyond our original scope of expectations. I want to create enough freedom and emptiness in my life that I am able to authentically make connections, responding to an environment that is certainly neither rigid nor static! I can be more flexible with openness; this requires a certain breathing space.

John Keats has a phrase about negative capability, and the great power in such emptiness, such un-knowing and open questioning that leads to a fuller experience. If curiosity were a driving force, rather than certainty, then discovery is invited to become a part of the journey. That’s a prime part of vacation: discoveries and adventure, to stretch beyond expected limits.

With this in mind, I will definitely create extra “breathing space” for myself, to be able to respond to spontaneous events and invitations that might come my way. This involves freeing up the calendar a bit, leaving certain spaces open to possibilities. I also invite myself to make use of that time as a creative space for anything that might suit my whims and desires. In this respect, it becomes a form of mindful play— and, this can serve us well as a creative boon, sparking innovations that have profound impact upon our lives!


In sum, after I contemplate the idea of vacation-mode, I’m ready to invite that expansive feeling of rejuvenation and bliss into every one of my days. It’s an active choice. Yes, it seems to all hinge on intention and connection. While it’s a challenge to change expectations and behaviors, it’s not impossible (a phenomenal book called The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg, talks about this concept of behaviors and change). Certainly, the benefits are profound and life-changing. I’m certain that if each day involved even just one of these three vacation-mode resolutions, it would prevent many a burnout… plus, it’s mindfulness, present in daily life.

Thus, let the fall season begin! I’m keeping my vacation bliss a part of each and every day, whether at work or otherwise. After all, it’s a state of mind.