Over a decade ago I co-founded a tourism company that has grown to cover a dozen countries. During that time I have travelled all over Europe and to Israel and met thousands of people from all over the world. My business helps people get an understanding of the places they visit and I like to think that in a tiny way this makes the world a better place. What more can anyone ask for really? Ironically, given my former back problems, I have benefitted immensely from freedom of movement. I am well aware how lucky I am to live where I do, when I do. So when I was thinking about which charity to support on my marathon attempt I started looking for an easy solution that might pay back a little to the world that’s been pretty good to me.
After looking at a couple of websites I came across http://www.betterplace.org which made it simple and presented a huge choice of causes. I thought about supporting a local charity as I am proud of my home of Berlin and noticed a fantastic range of charities that are helping refugees. This is, of course, a bit of a hot topic. Germany is doing a lot the heavy-lifting in Europe right now when it comes to housing refugees (ok, not to be smug and Euro-centric I am well aware that other countries outside of Europe have taken tons more) and Berlin has taken in a massive amount (2831 in June 2015, that’s three times as many as June 2014). Obviously not without protests or problems but Berliners can be proud of their city’s reaction. There is a massive amount of ‘so what’. Typical Berlin. No one really cares about anything - the normal reaction is ‘tons of refugees coming to Berlin? Yeah, whatever’. However blasé that sounds remember it’s our idiosyncratic brand of tolerance. We are perfectly accepting of refugees because we treat everyone equally. Alongside this giant collective yawn there is also plenty of graffiti and other art springing up saying ‘refugees welcome’. If this amount of people showed up in other (Western) countries or cities people would be up in arms. Not Berlin. The average reaction is not negative or aggressive or fearful but… no reaction at all.
Anyway, reading into the refugee situation is frankly not a lot of fun and I’m not about to break it down right here and propose the solution. But if you think about it there are three phases to the crisis: at home, underway, here. We can and should try to stop people leaving the first place - resolve conflicts, redress imbalances, promote stability; we can and should integrate refugees in their new homes - short, medium and long-term support, integration and acceptance. I looked at various great charities that are all doing fantastic work but then I came across MOAS (http://www.moas.eu/) and knew I had found the right one. As they explain, that middle part, the crossing to Europe, that’s the most dangerous part. That’s the part where every little bit of help does the most to save lives. That’s why I decided to look for a charity that rescues refugees in trouble at sea. The very next day The Guardian newspaper published an in-depth article online (http://www.theguardian.com/news/2015/jul/08/millionaire-who-rescues-migrants-at-sea) about the exact same charity. Now if that’s not ‘a sign’ then what is?
MOAS operates out of Malta but patrols all around the Mediterranean. They help find boats in trouble and offer immediate assistance, coordinating with the relevant authorities. Right now the situation in Syria, with 4 million refugees, means they spend a lot of time at the Eastern end of the Med but they also help people sailing north from Africa. The winter season is much quieter as far fewer boats risk the bad weather. So they concentrate on the May to October period. During this time it costs about €600,000 a month to run things. In their first 10 weeks in late summer 2014 they directly rescued 1462 people and helped another 1500 onto Italian naval vessels. So that’s about 42 people a day at nearly €500 per life. It feels wrong to put a price on lives like this but the numbers are as harsh as the reality of the situation. When I set up my fundraising account online I was asked if I wanted to set a target so I arbitrarily put €1000. I now realise that that represents 2 lives. Maybe I won’t reach that target or get anywhere near it but I can be sure that every cent helps.