Experience Together

Life as I Know It in Eggenburg

By Sister Jean Greenwald

As the seasons change, so has life in Eggenburg, Austria. Although I am still teaching English to refugee boys, many things are different from when I was here in the summer of 2016, but I am acclimating. In my mind, I pictured the need to be the same as it was last summer when I was here with Sister Elise Silvestri. Now, I am with Sister Helen Plum from the Central Pacific Province and Sister Martha Bertsch from the Austria-Italy Province to meet the needs of the refugee boys and families.

With the Willkommen Mensch program, under the direction of Christine Schneider-Heinz and Michael Heinz, we work primarily with boys over the age of 18. Change has been constant for these boys, as Eggenburg has a refugee camp for unaccompanied minors. Once the boys turn 18, they are required to move out of the camp. They can either move to another camp for adults or find some other place to live.

Sisters Jean Greenwald and Helen Plum live in an apartment building in Eggenburg, Austria. They share meals regularly with their neighbors, who are locals and refugees.We live in an international apartment building. Within the nine apartments are residents from Afghanistan, Austria, Syria and the United States. Two of the communities of boys and one Syrian family live in our building. It is truly an enriching experience, especially watching some of the native residents befriend the refugees. Since the weather has been so wonderful, it is not unusual to find a mix of cultures and generations sitting and chatting with one another in the front yard. Although very challenging, I am constantly amazed at how communication can happen without words, or with words, unknown to the ones with whom I speak.

Things are changing in Eggenburg, though. A very noticeable change since my summer experience has had an overarching effect upon the refugees and the work of many people who work with them. I believe decisions that were and are politically motivated in playing a large part in the angst of the people. This angst is a cause for separation and discord. For instance, when the European Union, with agreement from Afghanistan, decided to send Afghani refugees back home because it was said to be safe, it seems to me that fear has increased in both refugees and non-refugees alike.

It is important for us to help them make choices based upon living in the now rather than make choices based upon the fear of what the future may hold. It is important for them to believe that life is worth living and they should live it to the fullest. It is important for them to take control of the life they now know rather than to allow the government to decide their fates. While this is not easy (for we also worry about their future) it is necessary to be strong in our support for/with them. So, organically, we continue to create what is most helpful to each of the boys as together we experience life’s gifts and challenges.

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