AMBASSADOR OF THE MONTH: STEFFI DE POUS
Steffi de Pous (32) is a yoga teacher and co-owner of Sukha Yoga, which she runs together with Anna Smit. When they saw the Internet images of refugees on August 28th, they decided they had to do something. Together, they’ve set up Because We Carry to collect baby slings for the men and women arriving with children on the island of Lesbos.
You’re working on Because We Carry every single day. Where does your drive come from?
I feel the need to leave this world a little better off than I found it. So I help people where I can. Every gesture counts – however large or small. So sometimes I get a cup of coffee for someone without a roof above his or her head, or I sweep the street of the neighbours. Now I feel I can help in Lesbos, so that’s what I’m doing. I started Because We Carry with Anna Smit. Afke Reijenga and Sandy Rodrigues soon joined us. Together we’re a powerful team with a tremendous amount of drive.
How did you set up Because We Carry?
After seeing the images, Anna and I started brainstorming. How could we help? We saw men and women walking for 70 kilometres with their children on their arm. That’s where we could make a difference! We came up with the idea of collecting slings. And then we thought of a name: we came up with “Carry-On”, “Baby-carry” before settling on “Because We Carry”. We started a Facebook page and received more than 140 likes in less than a day. Initially, we thought we’d be able to collect around 20 slings to send to Lesbos. I ended up receiving 100 e-mails per day and collecting around 2500 slings which – thanks to sponsorship by Transavia – we personally delivered to the island.
What did you find on the island?
The strangest thing was actually arriving on a holiday island. People are still vacationing there. It felt extremely schizophrenic: on some parts of the island, it feels like you’re on holiday; on others, it resembles a warzone. We realised our slings were definitely needed, but that there was also a great demand for basic things like food and shelter. We got started right away; I think I was awake for 36 consecutive hours and couldn’t take a bathroom break for over 10 of those. A situation like this awakens something primal inside of you and that’s what keeps you going. There are people arriving in rickety boats who are cold and hungry. Every day we offered transport to women and children and bought food for the families. We also handed out almost every one of our slings.
You last flew to Lesbos on September 21st. What did you experience?
As a team we worked day in day out helping people arriving in boats, making sure they received food and water. Afke and I drove a bus with the food. When the refugees arrive they’re often anxious. The boats can’t come all the way to the shore so they have to swim the last part of their journey. The men sit on the outer ring of the boats with the women and children huddled in the middle. At one point, Afke and I came across a family who had lost their way. We decided Afke should drive them to the nearest camp. Instinctively I felt I needed to stay behind. I sat on the beach; there was nothing to see. I peered through my binoculars and suddenly saw two dots in the distance. I looked again and confirmed what I had seen: two boats coming across the water. I was alone on the beach and had never guided boats to shore before. A conflict started in my head: on the one hand, I was afraid, on the other I knew I had to stay and help these people. The bizarre thing is that a seemingly small dot soon turns into a boat, which turns into a group of people with faces. Faces like yours and mine, looking right at you. I felt ferocity and strength like never before. I had seen how the other volunteers had guided boats to shore, so I did exactly the same. I shouted to tell them to turn off their engines, to stay together and to lift the children in the air. The men formed a human chain as the women and children were lifted to the beach. And it didn’t stop at two boats. I helped a total of nine vessels to shore that day until someone from Stichting Bootvluchteling arrived. When it was over, all I could do was cry.
How do you keep all this up?
It’s extremely important that I take care of myself; none of this would be possible otherwise. One of the most important things I do is to listen to myself when I feel tired or sad. Sometimes I feel that I need to be quiet and conserve my energy. Being over there together teaches us to share our sadness with each other. It helps us to process it in order to let it go. I’ve cried a lot. I try to eat well; I always eat lots of veggies and I think I ate about 8 bananas a day. The bananas were simply brilliant. I also take a number of supplements with me such as magnesium, vitamin C, vitamin B and FITSHE. Every evening we took some time to meditate and I had one or two glasses of wine as a form of relaxation. I also made sure I got around five hours of sleep in each night. It wasn’t always easy, but I knew I had to take good care of myself.
Now I’m back in the Netherlands I’m really enjoying teaching my yoga classes again. Yoga directs all my attention back to my body and lets me feel firmly grounded. As I’m using my head a lot, it’s important to make that connection with my body so I’m able to carry it all.
How have the people around you responded to your efforts?
It’s great to see how many people and businesses support Because We Carry. In a short period of time, we’ve been able to collect over 2500 slings and received many donations, but we’re always in need of more. As well as the slings, we also provide food and blankets for the people staying on the island. There’s a complete lack of basic resources over there. We spend at least a thousand euros a day on groceries.
Some people are overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem and think that what we’re doing is just a drop in the ocean. That’s not how I see it at all. If today I’m able to put a blanket around the shoulders of a shivering child, then that’s what I’ll do. The enormity of this problem doesn’t scare me; it spurs me on to do something about it, be it through something big or something small, just as long as I’m able to be a part of the solution.
We’re now rotating in teams. I fly out to Lesbos again next week. We can still use all the help we can get! Many people have already made a contribution, but we’re still urgently looking for more donations.
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