Before the refugee crisis in Europe, the yellow vest is usually seen on airport runway staff, workmen on the road at night etc.
Now, the yellow vest has become synonymous with independent volunteers from all over Europe who have arrived to help at various refugee hotspots.
Regardless of nationality, whether you are Danish, Swedish, Swiss, German, Austrian, Czech, Croatian, when one puts on that yellow vest, it sends an unanimous message, in all its loud fluorescent yellow splendour:
“We want to do this because we refuse to turn a blind eye to what is happening in Europe any longer.”
To some of the more established organisations, yellow vests might be seemingly disorganised and untrained. Untrained? Probably. For most of the yellow vests, this is their first time volunteering in a humanitarian crisis. Disorganised? Hardly.
Yellow vests come from all walks of life: Students, doctors, nurses, teachers, lawyers, business owners – many professionals who have put their skills to good use and proven many times over, highly capable of organising aid.
However, the yellow vests are constantly constrained by the lack of funds and are purely dependent on the goodwill of family members, friends and the generosity of the little groups they’ve set up. Yellow vests do not own warehouses stocked to the brim with supplies and they seldom arrive with containers of supplies to distribute aid. If we are lucky, vans and sometimes trucks. Yet the yellow vests work best within their means in order to make the refugees’ journey less frightening. They also constantly work doubly hard in order to gain the trust and respect of the bigger NGOs and authorities on site to co-exist.
The decision to put on a yellow vest means time off from jobs and away from loved ones. It means a dwindling bank account as you’ll have to pay for your own living expenses onsite. It means little or no sleep, and when you do, just wherever you can rest your head. It means irregular meals and more often than not, the lack of a hot shower. Hours are long. Nights morph into days. Days into nights. You stop looking at your watch and simply focus on what is in front of you.
All while requiring you to be extremely resourceful, flexible and a team player. It challenges you to remain calm under pressure, think decisively and quickly on your feet, and be prepared for anything.
Because wearing that yellow vest will stretch you physically and emotionally. Be prepared to perform the fine balancing act of taking care of yourself when helping others. Be compassionate but get a grip on your emotions. Frustrated at the authorities? Find a constructive way to work around things but acknowledge that some things are simply out of your hands. Too overwhelming for you, and want to let out a few tears? Find a quiet spot. Recognise your limits. Remember that you are no one’s saviour.
Put all egos, political leanings and personal agendas aside when you wear that yellow vest.
Because it needs you to respect everyone who crosses your path, fellow yellow vests and refugees alike. And to open the doors of your heart wider than you can ever imagine. Connections will be inadvertently fostered with your fellow human beings, regardless of whether they are Syrians, Afghans, Kurds, Nigerians. They are all someone’s grandfather, someone’s brother, son, daughter, mother, sister – all with their own stories that you will remember for the rest of your life.
There is no glory in putting on that yellow vest. Grateful smiles, profuse thanks and sometimes small gestures like this that warm the cockles of your heart are your payment.
They are priceless.
So are comments that I’ve heard like this: “So I can find yellow vest in Croatia?”
To the refugees, the yellow vest has come to symbolise friendliness, warmth and most importantly, help: Help along their long journey to a new chapter of their lives. Be it with information, a hot cup of tea or simply, a smile.
Be proud when you put on the yellow vest. Be prepared to be humbled by your fellow human beings’ resilience, courage and dignity under such difficult circumstances.
To all my fellow yellow vests, I salute you.
To anyone thinking of wearing that yellow vest, join us.