An Experience in Humanity – My time with the Refugees in Germany

Earlier this year, Germany began receiving thousands of refugees fleeing Syria and the surrounding countries in the middle east.   Many of these men, women, children and families began being housed within miles, minutes from our home here in Germany.  In September, I asked my local community and you, my readers, to send me your clothes, blankets, toiletries, winter jackets to give to these people.

Today, along with my good friend Lizzie and her family plus a few others from our community, we delivered the donations plus a few homemade treats and art bags to the refugees.An Experience in Humanity - My time with the Refugees in Germany | JavaCupcake.com

An Experience in Humanity - My time with the Refugees in Germany | JavaCupcake.com

We packed our car as full as we possibly could with room only to sit.  Lizzie’s car was packed too.  With boxes and bags under, behind and all around us we made our way to Camp Pitman in Weiden, about 25 minutes away.

In March 1959, Camp Pitman was built to house US military who were stationed there to ensure that the Iron Curtain boundaries remained intact and that the Germans remained safe.   It remained occupied until 1989 when the surrounding neighborhoods complained of too much noise and disruption coming from the American soldiers and eventually the Americans were forced to leave.  Since then, Camp Pitman has been the central government receiving point for emigrants and refugees including people from Bosnia and Herzegovina in July 1992 and from Kosovo in April 1999.

Today, refugees from Iraq, Syria, Russia and all over the middle east live at Camp Pitman.

RefugeesInGermany-5An Experience in Humanity - My time with the Refugees in Germany | JavaCupcake.com5wm

There are several buildings on Camp Pitman with small rooms that house four people at a time or one family.  There is also a small playground outside the buildings on a grassy area where the children can play.

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The common areas of the camp included a laundry room with 11 washers and dryers and a kitchen with 3 sinks, several prep tables and 12 ovens/ranges.  Although there were lockers in the kitchen area, all food was kept with each person in their own room.

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During the day, the adult refugees take classes where they learn the laws and customs of Germany as well as trade classes to teach them new skills.  The children attend school as well during the day.

An Experience in Humanity - My time with the Refugees in Germany | JavaCupcake.com

In the evenings and weekends, they spend their time cooking in these kitchens & doing laundry.  Most of them have bikes, but no cars so they can’t go very far.  The grocery store is close so that makes getting food easier, but only as long as it’s not freezing or raining.

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Once we arrived at Camp Pitman we began unloading the bags and boxes and brought them into the hallway of the first floor of the main building.  During this visit there were mostly single men housed in these rooms on the first floor.  A few weeks ago when Lizzie visited there were more families living upstairs, but today they were not home or had moved on.  The people come and go here so often that it’s hard to know the number of families or  men and women who will be there at any given time.

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I collected at least 12 boxes and 25 bags of clothes, shoes, winter jackets, boots, hats & gloves, blankets & bedding as well as toys and games for the kids and personal hygiene products like toothbrushes and toothpaste and shampoo.  These items came from donations made by my readers in the USA and from our local military community.

An Experience in Humanity - My time with the Refugees in Germany | JavaCupcake.com

Lizzie and her family made art bags with paper and crayons to give to each child living at the camp.   Of course, we made some delicious goodies to share with them too.  I brought two pumpkin pies, Butterfinger fudge and Lizzie’s daughters made two kinds of cookies.

Lizzie and her family made art bags full of paper and crayons to give to each child living at the camp.  

Mary Milam was very proud of the yummies & art we brought!

Lizzie and her family made art bags full of paper and crayons to give to each child living at the camp.  

Before we even walked into the building, the men living there were curious about who we were and what we were doing.  They poked their heads out of the windows and doors as I waved and smiled at them.  They were as excited to see me as I was to be there!

Once inside, the men opened their doors and watched as we lined the donations in the hallway.  They were anxious to figure out what we were doing and why were were there.  I encouraged them to come out and look at what we had brought for them.

Lizzie and her family made art bags full of paper and crayons to give to each child living at the camp.  

These two men in particular were excited about the box of shoes first.  In fact, the shoes were one of the most popular items for the men.

Lizzie and her family made art bags full of paper and crayons to give to each child living at the camp.  

The men were mostly taking the winter weather and warm items like sweatshirts, long pants, jackets and shoes.  There were a few pair of Army combat boots that were very popular as well.

The dozens of blankets went like hot cakes as well as the toothpaste and toothbrushes.  In fact, the toothpaste was the first to be gone… within the first 20 minutes of us being there actually.  I wish I would have brought more.  They said it was very hard to get clean there and they appreciated having a new toothbrush and toothpaste.

An Experience in Humanity - My time with the Refugees in Germany | JavaCupcake.com

The man in the photo above was telling me about another shelter in a nearby town that had several families and he hoped we would bring more donations to them too.  So here he is… living in a shelter but still worried about the others.  It was unbelievable to witness such selflessness.

Lizzie and her family made art bags full of paper and crayons to give to each child living at the camp.  

The mother on the left in this photo was shopping for clothes for her two children including her son in the red and her daughter who was back in their room.  I felt particularly drawn to this woman and spent a lot of time helping her find things for her children because that was her main goal.  They needed winter shoes since they only had sandals and warm clothes.  At one point, I found a jacket that looked like it would fit her and she smiled and said ‘danke’ but still was only concerned about getting things for her children.  A mother’s love for her children is a precious thing to witness.   I brought her bags to put all the things she collected in and she was able to leave with a ‘bed-in-a-bag’ plastic bag along with two large reusable shopping bags full of clothes, blankets and toys for her kids.

I felt my heart swell knowing that she was leaving there able to provide for her children.

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This man and his son were looking for winter clothes, but unfortunately most of the boys clothing donated was too big for him.  He did find a purple pair of overall snow pants  he took for his son which fit perfectly.  “Who cares if it’s purple, it’s freezing and he needs to be warm!” the father said to me  His young son didn’t speak to us and was very shy.  I smiled a lot at him was patient, but I can’t imagine what it felt like to be in his shoes away from the only home he knows and around everything different.  I would probably be shy too if I had just fled my country and was living in this strange place.

Of course, I needed to serve them the pie and goodies we brought! This is me explaining to them what Butterfingers are.  They had no idea.  However, they did know what chocolate was!

An Experience in Humanity - My time with the Refugees in Germany | JavaCupcake.com

They asked if the goodies were German and I said no, all American… including pumpkin pie!   Which was a big hit!

An Experience in Humanity - My time with the Refugees in Germany | JavaCupcake.com

The men were very kind and caring to our children, which in all honesty caught me by surprise.   The man in the photo below spoke very good English and loved watching the girls color!  I think it may have reminded him of his brothers and sisters still in Iraq.

An Experience in Humanity - My time with the Refugees in Germany | JavaCupcake.com

He also invited us into his room to show us where he lived.  I noticed that the four men who lived in this room took off their shoes when they entered and as I reached down to take mine off as well as a sign of respect for their home, they told me no… it was okay.  They said welcome and offered me a seat on their couch.  They were proud of the space they lived in and showed us kindness and hospitality.

An Experience in Humanity - My time with the Refugees in Germany | JavaCupcake.com

Unfortunately, the language barrier prohibited me from truly understanding his name… and I didn’t want to ask him 10 times which is why I just refer to him as “he”.  I was able to ask him many questions about his life there at the shelter and was truly open and willing to tell me anything I wanted to know.

The first thing I asked him was “What do you need?”.  His response… a home.

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This is where he lives.  One twin size bed, a small table and a wall locker in the corner of a 15ft x 15ft room shared with three other men.  He decorated with stuffed animals on the wall by his bed, along with a small rug on the floor and a pink flower blanket.  This is where he was proud to call home.

He told me he left his mother, father, and brothers and sisters in the Diyala River Valley of Iraq where he was a hotel manager.  Ironically, my husband spent 10 months of his first deployment in the Diyala River Valley with 2/23 Infantry during “the surge” of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  This man was there at the same time my husband was… this is who my husband was fighting to keep safe… and how a decade later he’s left his family behind in Iraq and has fled to Germany.

Twice in their lives, my husband and this man are in the same place at the same time.  Truly the world is a small place.

His goals were simple.  He wanted a home, an income and a life so that he can bring his family here to provide them a life safe from violence and war.

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His roommates shared the same desires.  They were extremely happy for the opportunity to have a place to live, opportunities for education and a stipend for living/food and hope that they will somehow work hard enough to bring their families here.

One thing that struck me as interesting was that he mentioned several times he wished he had things to clean with.  He wanted a clean place to live and this building was always dirty.  The bathrooms and showers were on the top floor, but were not in good condition.  It was hard to get clean and stay clean without even the basic necessities.   Not having access to a place to wash yourself is not something I’ve ever had to deal with… but these men didn’t let it allow it to stop them from making the best of what they had.  They were thankful to have heat and a roof over their head.

The man in the photo below spoke amazing English.  In fact, he spoke Russian because he was born and raised there but also spoke English because was able to visit Europe often and learned it over the course of his life.  He was very friendly and extremely  excited that we were there.

An Experience in Humanity - My time with the Refugees in Germany | JavaCupcake.com

After a while of us being there he brought out his deck of cards and asked if we wanted to see a magic trick!

So the kids gathered around and he wowed us all with his magic!

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*Grab your tissues… you’re going to need it for this part*

Meet Aman.  Aman loved my son Matty.  And when I say loved… I really mean it.  From the moment we arrived, Aman was instantly attracted to Matty following him around, picking him up, playing with him and loving him.

At first, because I didn’t know him,  I was a little leary but I gave it some time and made an effort to get to know him.

My time with the Refugees in Germany

Aman just turned 19 years old… yesterday actually. He arrived in Germany on November 15 from Iraq.  Two months ago, Aman witnessed his entire family including his mother, father, and three younger bothers & sisters be beheaded by ISIS.  He watched them die.

I know.  Unimaginable.

Aman told Lizzie about his family with tears in his eyes and then later showed me the pictures of his family.  The sweet face of his youngest sister brought tears to my own eyes.  While I’m looking at these pictures, saying “awww how cute” Aman was thinking about how he watched his family die.  He rushed out of the room in tears, unable to contain his sadness.  I was unable to contain my sadness as well for I was brought to tears.

No wonder why he was so drawn to Matty.  Matty reminded him of his little sister who was also close to the same age of him.

My time with the Refugees in Germany

Aman loved all of our children unconditionally and with all his heart.  He didn’t go through any of the donations.  He didn’t eat any of the food.  He only wanted to spend time with the children.

My time with the Refugees in Germany

At one point during our visit, a violent outbreak between two men occurred over some of the clothing.  This scuffle brought the women and children outside while our husbands broke up the fight allowing the men involved to cool down.   Aman protected our children from the violence, comforted them and tried his best to let them know that everything was okay.  He held Mary Milam for at least 5 minutes while she cried in his embrace.  He wiped her tears and loved her until she felt safe again.

The desperation between the men who were fighting was not something we shied away from teaching our children about.  Our children were scared and confused but it was important for us to teach them about the reality of the situation.   This was a perfect opportunity for them to know and understand that these men have nothing… and to survive they often times fight each other for what they want and need… and that is what our children had just witnessed.  Desperate times call for desperate measures.

My time with the Refugees in Germany

Emily and Aman spent a lot of time talking together as well.  With only 3 years separating them, they shared a commonality of both being teenagers.  Aman flirted with Emily, played with her hair, asked her about her piercings and finger nail polish.  They spent time telling each other what things were called in Arabic and English and after a while, Aman asked Emily for her phone number.  Emily blushed and said she didn’t have a phone (which is true… she’s grounded from it!) but Aman just wanted to stay connected with someone… with my Emily.  It was sweet.

Once we found out that it was Aman’s birthday, we gathered around him and sang him the happy birthday song.  With a huge smile on his face, Aman, for a moment was surrounded by family and was loved.

 

When we left the shelter Matty said, “I had fun today!”  Although I know Matty couldn’t comprehend what exactly it was that we were doing, he felt the impact that being there with Aman had.  We all did.

It’s stories like Aman’s that need to be heard and shared.  The world needs to know that the war in the middle east is devastating families like Amans.  Aman told Lizzie that he’s emotionally and mentally destroyed, that his brain is all messed up.  It broke my heart and I felt like wanted to bring him home with me, to love him and give him a life.  I know it wasn’t possible… but I still wanted to.  I think I hugged him 3 times and I hope he felt my love.

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These refugees were incredibly grateful for us and our time.  They also felt fortunate to physically be in Germany and talked a lot about how much they like it here.  Many dreamed of coming to America and several were surprised that we were there, bringing these things to them.  America for them was a dream and here were a group of Americans bringing them hope.

The Dalai Lama says, “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.”  We witnessed humanity in it’s truest form today.  

An Experience in Humanity - My time with the Refugees in Germany | JavaCupcake.com

So will we go back?  Absolutely.  These men showed us hospitality, kindness and love during one of the hardest times of their lives.  You better believe I’ll be going back.

Next time,  I’ll be making a hot meal for my new friends and I’ll be bringing cleaning supplies along with personal hygiene items and toiletries.  I want them to be able to sweep and mop their rooms, clean their spaces and not have to feel like they live in filth.  I’ll bring laundry soap and dryer sheets to help keep their clothes clean too.  They need to feel good in their temporary homes in order to feel good about the lives they are trying to build for themselves and their families.

There’s still time if you want to help.  If you get something in the mail within the next few weeks, it’ll reach me before I leave Germany at the end of January.  I will make sure everything you send gets to people like these.

Although clothes are always a good thing… there are some items that are in shorter supply.

  • Toothpaste
  • Toothbrushes
  • Combs/brushes
  • Shampoo/conditioner
  • Body wash/soap
  • Razors & shave cream
  • Gender specific toiletries
  • Boots and athletic shoes
  • Warm jackets, hats and gloves
  • Blankets, pillows and bedding (twin size)
  • Laundry soap & dryer sheets
  • Towels – bath, kitchen, & cleaning
  • Cleaning supplies for kitchen, home & bathroom
  • Brooms, mops & buckets
  • Paper towels & tissues
  • Pots & pans
  • Silverware, plates, cups, bowls
  • Kitchen utensils

Send these items to:
Betsy Eves
CMR 415 Box 6018
APO AE 09114

This is my military address and items can be shipped via flat rate boxes with a customs form for a fairly inexpensive price. Please be aware of the restricted items you can not ship via USPS.

If you live locally and you’d like to visit Camp Pitman and bring donations and spend time with the people there you absolutely can!  Currently, there are no restrictions on visitors.  A few things to remember if you go…

  • Do not go alone.  Make sure to bring at least one strong man with your group to keep you safe in case of violence.  Don’t let this scare you away… just bring someone to help keep the women and children safe.
  • During the week the adults are in German classes and the kids are in school.  Most people aren’t there until after 5:30pm.  Evenings and weekend afternoons are the best time to visit.
  • Be prepared for single men and families.  People rotate in and out of the camp frequently so the number of children & families changes.
  • In the map below, you’ll see the red X… this is where you can enter and leave your donations in the hallway.

Camp Pitman
Kasernenstraße 4, 92637 Weiden i.d. Opf.
Download Map Here

An Experience in Humanity - My time with the Refugees in Germany | JavaCupcake.com

Finally, I want you to know why I did this and why I’m sharing it with you.  This summer when all I saw on the news was coverage of the thousands of people fleeing their homes due to war and violence and I realized they were coming to where I lived, I felt called to do something for them.  I felt a pulling desire that I had an obligation to help.  I am fortunate enough to live in Germany, have everything I need in life and have this platform of a blog to do something to help.  There was no choice for me.  I had to do this.

And now, I have to share what I saw and to share what I felt.  I am obligated, as a human being on this planet, to share with you the stories of the people I met.  Their stories need to be told and the world needs to know how ISIS and terror have destroyed their lives.  I fear that because America is so far away from what is happening here, it is easy for Americans to be disconnected from the reality of the devastation.  I hope that by telling these stories I can bring understanding, compassion and lessen the fear that Americans have toward refugees.

I hope the world, like I have, will reach out and hug them, keep them safe and help them back on their feet.

Update:  Many people have asked to share this post on Facebook or with friends.  The answer will always be YES.  Please do share!  The entire reason for me writing about it was for the world to give a human face, a human story to these refugees.  Share it with everyone!!! Let the world know about these men and families!

9 thoughts on “An Experience in Humanity – My time with the Refugees in Germany

  1. This was such an awesome thing you did for them. God has truly blessed them with a wonder person who has the desire to help people out even though you don’t know them. Thank you for doing this for them

  2. I loved reading this, Betsy. The way you told the story of these refugees was filled with heart
    and compassion, both if which you have in spades. You are an inspiration! <3

  3. Thanks for your post. I wanted to gather us some donations this year and I was wondering if there were specific items needed. I looked for a contact number online for the shelter and was unable to find one. Do you happen to know it?

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