#TBT ”Sex-distribution in the Swedish Red Cross Youth result of social norms?”

Since I’m currently in a course on scientific methodology and I’m really not studying (and of course definitely not freaking out about how to pass the course *cough*), I decided to go back in the archive and find the first ever research paper that I ever wrote, as an English assignment ( March 2012). Hey, if I could do it then, I can do it now! Never mind I had no idea what internal/external validity, confidence interval or standard error meant back then (although I was probably much better at maths when I was 17 than I am now). From a scientific point of view it’s kind of bs but it was fun. I guess. Since it’s throwback Thursday and all, I thought I’d also share it with you! (And also because I’m procrastinating… and I have been too lazy to write anything else for the past… 6 months)


Sex-distribution in the Swedish Red Cross Youth result of social norms?


Statistics show that about four out of five volunteers at the Swedish Red Cross Youth are females.

In order to understand the causes of this phenomena, in-depths interviews have been carried out along with questionnaires. 50 female and 50 male non-volunteers have completed the questionnaires, and one volunteer and one non-volunteer of each sex has been interviewed. The data suggests that males and females are equally empathic and value the existence of humanitarian organisations equally much, but more females  than males choose to volunteer in humanitarian organisations because of the norms of society suggesting that it is a feminine activity.

A humanitarian organisation is an organisation working to save lives, alleviate suffering and improving the human welfare.[1] The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement was founded by Henry Dunant in 1863, and is now one of the most famous trade marks in the world[2] , with humanitarianism as its fundamental principle[3]. The Swedish Red Cross Youth (RKUF) is a subsidiary organisation, which has been independent since 1996. RKUF works to help children and adolescents in vulnerable situations, with the 4 main areas humanitarian migration, participation and social safety net, diversity and compassion, and sustainable development. There are 23 local associations in 21 different cities in Sweden, around 6200 members between one to 30 years old – who support the organisation by paying 50 crowns each year – and 1060 active volunteers.[4] There is also a National Executive Committee (FS) who has the responsibility for national issues and overall operations of RKUF. Everyone except for the president of FS and the paid employees are working voluntarily[5]. RKUF receives money annually from the Swedish Red Cross and from the paying members, but also from funds that projects apply to when needing money. The volunteers mainly contribute with their time and commitment, and most projects do not require much in terms of skills and knowledge. However, in my work with RKUF I have noticed that there are always more females than males present at projects and courses. The purpose of this paper is to investigate the cause for this phenomena.

   Key words

Altruism is defined as ”voluntary, intentional behaviour that benefits another and that is not motivated by the expectation of external rewards or avoidance of externally produced punishments”[6].

Social norms are rules developed by a group of people that specify how people must, should, may, should not, and must not behave in various situations”[7], and a person that breaks the norms can receive both formal punishments, for example a parking fine, and informal ones – an odd glare. There are different norms for different social groups, and these often lead to stereotypes, which are “over-simplified or untrue generalizations about social groups”[8]

 Sex is something a person is born with depending on the X and Y chromosomes – male or female, while gender is socially constructed – man or woman.
The decision whether to volunteer or not is affected by gender identity and not by sex; because of the social norms suggesting that volunteering in humanitarian organisations is a feminine activity, more females than males are active in humanitarian organisations.
I will look at the member statistics on the RKUF web site in order to compare the number of male and female members in the organisation, and the number of female and male members in the local association boards. I will also talk to leaders of different projects and courses about the sex distribution of the participants, and I will investigate the reasons for not volunteering and the perception of voluntary work by making a questionnaire. The age range for the participants will be 15 to 30 years since this is the main target group of RKUF. I will ask friends on Facebook, and collect answers from 50 males and 50 females in order to make a comparison between the sexes. I will also look at previous studies on altruism and volunteering through a gender perspective to see if they support my findings, and  carry out four focused (semi-structured) interviews[9] in order to compare the quantitative questionnaire with qualitative data. I will interview B and K who both hold important positions within the organisation (not disclosed for confidentiality reasons). They have been engaged in RKUF for several years, and have extensive knowledge about the organisation. The other two will be students in the second year in this school, and have not had any prior contact with RKUF. Respecting that, I will not mention their names and only refer to them as female non-volunteer and male non-volunteer In the beginning of the interview, neither of the subjects will have any knowledge of the exact topic of my research paper, more than it is discussing voluntary work in humanitarian organisations, in order to not affect their answers. I will ask them about differences between volunteers and non-volunteers, and reasons for why or why not people are volunteering, to see if this implicitly or explicitly states that females are more fit for volunteering. I will analyse the interviews with respect to the sex of the responder, and the connection to RKUF.



There are several theories regarding gender development; whether it is mainly nature or nurture that determines our gender and behaviour. The theoretic perspective of this paper will be the Queer Theory, which Judith Butler writes about in her book ”Gender Trouble”. One of the main claims of Butler is that gender is ‘performative’[10], and not decided by biological factors. This means that the way we act consolidates an impression of being more or less ‘manly’ or  ‘womanly’. Society is always trying to keep us in our gendered place – man if you are a male, and woman if you are a female – both by institutional powers such as psychiatric normalisation, and informal practices, for example bullying. Butler sees gender not as a fixed attribute depending on your sex and body, but as a ”fluid of variables which shifts and changes in different contexts and at different times”[11]. Thus, there is no genetic male or female behaviour.

The existence of altruism is also a controversial topic. Since it is impossible to know the ‘real’ motive of another person it will be disregarded in this paper, and altruistic behaviour will refer to all seemingly selfless behaviour in order to benefit another. However, the theoretical perspective in the paper will be the empathy-altruism hypothesis by Charles Daniel Batson, stating that empathy is the biggest reason for altruistic acts[12], as opposed to thee social exchange theory that states that ‘altruism’ only exists if the benefits outweigh the costs. Batson claims that feeling empathy for someone in need will evoke altruistic motivation – which is the foundation of all volunteer work. Experiments supporting this theory show that people can be willing to help others even without reward, and that people become more willing to help when feeling empathic concern[13].
Background research

As shown in table 1, Out of 62 trustees in RKUF 46 are females and 17 are males, and there are 16 female and 2 males employed by RKUF, which makes a total of ¼ males. During the latest XX course, 3 out of 18, that is 1/6, participants were males. In the YY school association of RKUF, there are 7 females and 1 male engaged in the newest project. In the ZZ project, there are currently 3 male and  15 female volunteers. During the AA training weekend in 2011, there were 7 males out of 33 participants, and only 1 male lecturer out of 10[14] . Out of 200 members on the online membership list, only 33 are males. This supports the observation that more females than males are active in RKUF.

Table 1: Sex distribution among 12 local association boards and employees

Association: Female Male
Eskilstuna 2 2
Kalmar 4 2
Linköping 4 2
Lund 3 3
Malmö 3 0
Mölndal 3 0
Skaraborg 3 0
Stockholm North East 7 0
Stockholm South East 6 1
Umeå 4 2
Uppsala 6 1
Örebro 4 1
Paid employees 16 2
Total 64 16

   Previous research
Since 1970, studies regarding altruism have been conducted frequently. Generally these studies have not shown any eye catching differences between males and females.[15] However, several recent studies have shown that even though females and males score the same on empathy tests[16], women have a higher tendency to work as volunteers[17]. This is controversial because according to the empathy-altruism hypothesis, empathic feelings should automatically lead to altruism, which is the foundation for a choice of volunteering. A similar empathy score should logically lead to a similar tendency to volunteer, but this is not the case, which lead to the belief that there is another factor than inner motivation of empathy affecting the choice whether to volunteer or not.

   Social acceptance

The questionnaire included a question asking the participants why they are not volunteering in a humanitarian organisation. More males than females answered that it was because they found it boring or unnecessary, while more female than males answered that they did not know (tab.2). It is hard to draw a conclusion from these answers since almost everyone has time to volunteer in some way if they would want to, thus everyone who chose not to do so believe that it is boring or unnecessary in some degree. However, if the answer they chose is what they want to show outwards, these results suggest that it is more normatively acceptable for males to simply not want to volunteer considering that more males than females chose that answer. This means that they are, as Butler states it, being kept in their gendered places by the norms. This is also true for the two non-volunteers that were interviewed – the female did not know why she is not volunteering, whilst the male securely answered that he was not interested.

Table 2: Why do you not volunteer in a humanitarian organisation?

  Males (%) Female (%) Total (%)
Lack of time 54 52 52
Boring, unnecessary 22 10 12
Don’t know 16 32 23
Other 8 6 13

   Volunteering in general
Table 3 shows that more of the males than females that were asked have worked as volunteers, in contrast to the situation in RKUF. This suggests that males are not more reluctant than females to volunteer in general – rather the opposite. However, males seem to be active mostly in sports organisations, something that lays more within the male norms than humanitarian organisations do. According to K and B, the reasons to volunteer in RKUF should be the same for both males and females, and the female non-volunteer also believed that the sex distribution is equal, probably due to the fact that there should be no difference in male and female motivation. However, this is not the case.

Table 3: Have you ever worked as a volunteer? If yes, in what areas? (multiple-choice)

  Male (%): Female (%): Total (%):
No 38 52 45
Sports 46 20 34
Religion 8 0 4
Environment 0 6 4
Politics 4 6 5
Animals 0 2 1
Plants 0 0 0
Culture 20 12 26
Other 6 12 9

   Importance of RKUF

More females than males are aware of the work of RKUF (see tab. 4), and more females also find the existence of the Red Cross in Sweden important (tab. 5). This does not mean that males find the Red Cross less important since one fifth of the males chose ”don’t know”, but males seem to be less aware of the existence of the Red Cross and the RKUF. However, the differences in table 5 are not significant, which suggests that males and females find empathy equally important. According to the empathy-altruism hypothesis, they should then be equally altruistic.

Table 4: Do you know what RKUF does in Sweden?

  Males (%): Females (%): Total (%):
Yes 18 24 21
No 82 76 79

Table 5: Do you find the existence of the Red Cross in Sweden important?

  Males (%): Females (%): Total (%):
Yes 70 74 72
No 6 8 7
Don’t know 24 18 21

 Assumed sex-distribution

Despite the lack of knowledge regarding the Red Cross, a majority believed that more women than men are active in RKUF (see tab. 6). 99% of the participants made a wild guess or used deductive reasoning and 1% claimed to know the answer, which suggests that the society stereotypically expects women to be engaged in these kind of activities more than men. In the interviews, this also came up as a possible explanation. “Women help people, men fight against tigers”, as the male non-volunteer explained. Statements like this encourages the present norms, and he admitted that this is a common conception. K also states that RKUF is a too soft and nice organisation, which does not fit into the male norm. B explains that he has never received any negative feedback from the surroundings, on the contrary, but that however the situation might be worse for males who are already outside of the social norms to work as a volunteer. However, even though the feedback he receives is positive, it reinforces the difference between female and male volunteers as it focuses more on the sex than the actual work done.

Table 6: What do you think the sex distribution looks like among the volunteers in RKUF?

  Males (%): Females (%): Total (%):
More than 80% men 0 0 0
60-80% men 4 8 6
40-60% of both 22 6 14
60-80% women 66 62 64
More than 80% women 8 24 16

Since males and females answered similarly the question about the importance of RKUF (table 5), there should be no difference in their feelings of empathy – and according to the empathy-altruism hypothesis of Batson, there should be no difference in altruism. However, if volunteering it is not sex-dependent genetically, it is response to the expectations from the surroundings, as supported by the queer theory. Even though more males than females volunteer in sports, females are clearly over represented in RKUF. If the society believes that volunteering in a humanitarian organisation is a female characteristic, it will, according to the queer-theory, consciously or unconsciously encourage females and discourage males to become active in order to keep them in their gendered places, leading to more females than males in volunteering organisations. The answers from the questionnaire and the interviews support the idea that it is less accepted for males to volunteer in humanitarian organisations, whereas it is less accepted for females not to volunteer, leading to the unbalanced sex-ratio today.

Reflection on methodology

The reliability of the questionnaire can be improved in many ways. First of all, some terms were not defined, and some questions – and answers – can be interpreted ambiguously. I did not define “volunteering” or “humanitarian” and I did not specify nor explain the difference between gender and sex. One person wrote that she had volunteered at her grand mother’s place, which is not the kind of volunteering that I had in mind. There were few questions and the questions were short and simple, thus few opportunities were given to express and explain thoughts and values. Two people who have answered similarly on the questionnaire does not necessarily have the same view on volunteering. The small number of questions was intended in order to gather many answers, and the data wanted was quantitative and not qualitative. However, some of the conclusions drawn from the answers to the questionnaire might not be falsifiable since they are very hard to test experimentally. One of these conclusions is the argument that women did not choose the answer “boring/unnecessary” in table 2 because it is less normatively accepted for a woman to think that. The conclusion was drawn purely from qualified guesses and assumptions, without any empirical evidence.

The choice of test subjects was not random, and my prejudice might subconsciously have played a role in deciding who to ask. I tried to ask as ‘neutral’ people as possible, for example old school mates and people I don’t know well, but I cannot deny that many of the participants either play badminton or attend BB high school. Supposedly, the badminton players have volunteered in sports, and the people from BB high school do not have much free time. These factors might have affected the results, and the 100 people might not have been representative for the society. 52 of the asked people chose to not answer, which might be a source of error as well. It is possible that less altruistic people have a smaller tendency to answer questionnaires as they are not directly self-beneficial. I might have been able to gather more answers if I had posted the questionnaire publicly instead of asking every person individually but I suspect that the chance of people answering – truthfully – is bigger when being asked personally. Also they had the chance to ask me questions if anything was unclear. A problem is that people who do not have Facebook was excluded in this research. Even though age, ethnic, religious, socio-economic factors were disregarded in the research question more time could have been spent in finding a larger spread among participants.

The statistics are not very accurate since they are gathered only among those who are members on the RKUF web page, and sex was determined by looking at the names, which is not always accurate. The original idea was to contact the administrator of RKUF who has the member statistics in numbers, but she is currently on a parental leaf and no replacement has been found yet. Some people choose to not become a member on the web site, and some who are members on the web site are not active volunteers. This means that the statistics are misleading, but since the average difference between males and females is 400%, I believe that possible discrepancy is within the error range for my investigation.

To improve the questionnaire, the subjects should be chosen randomly. Also, more variables should be controlled. More accurate statistics is also needed to enhance the credibility of the research.

The interviews were used to enhance the validity of the questionnaire, but the reliability of these answers and the conclusions drawn cannot be guaranteed either. The questions could have been more to-the-point, and some of the information gathered is not at all relevant to this paper. I found it very interesting to interview these people and had a hard time staying to the topic.

Reflection on results
One exception to the results of the sex-distribution in the boards is in the FS with 4 female members and 5 male members, which is odd because the committee is supposed to reflect the organisation. However, this might reflect the society today, which has a majority of males in power positions[18][19]. As B said, the decision of board members is to a great extent made by the nominating committee, but that there are probably more males than females candidating. One possible explanation is, again, norms, which say that it is more right for males to run for power positions than females, which makes the females feel like they have to be ‘better’ before they can candidate.

I was surprised that neither B nor K mentioned the sex-distribution until I brought it up since both of them were aware of the, describing it as “extremely unbalanced” (B) and “catastrophic” (K). Possibly, B does not notice the difference to the same extent as he is sitting in the male dominant FS, but both he and K underlines the importance of attracting more males to RKUF. However, in one way I believe that the sex-distribution is not something they have in there minds every day when working with RKUF since male and female volunteers are supposedly similar. It might sound controversial, but in a way that can also be an argument for the norms being the main factor; male and female volunteers are not different even though they are of different sexes.

In the questionnaire, the participants who had never volunteered and knew the least about the Red Cross were generally the most reluctant to volunteer in a humanitarian organisation. The majority of the people that chose “other” as the answer for “Why are you not volunteering in a humanitarian organisation” and a majority of the people that did not find the existence of the Red Cross in Sweden important explained that they did not have enough trust that the organisations do what they should, and that they waste money on the wrong things. This is certainly a problem for the organisations to solve, but this also shows of a misconception, since volunteering does not directly involve money. Also both non-volunteers in the interviews associated volunteering in humanitarian organisation with hippies, something that neither of the volunteers mentioned. True or false, but since this is also a norm and stereotype issue, it might affect the choice to volunteer or not as well.

[1] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/humanitarian

[2] http://www.sok.se/osiskolan/osfakta/olympiskaringarna.4.5f13b5361230899f91780001454.html

[3] http://www.redcross.se/om-oss/sa-har-arbetar-vi/grundprinciper/

[4] A. Bäcklund, C. Andersson Bonnevier, M. Anlér ”15 år av kärlek och respekt med Röda Korsets Ungsdomsförbund”

[5] ”Arbets- och delegationsordning för Röda Korsets Ungdomsförbund”, adopted by FS 7-10 October 2011

[6] [http://www2.uwstout.edu/content/rs/2008/10Gender%20Altruism%20for%20publication.pdf

[7] http://www.sociologyguide.com/basic-concepts/Social-Norms.php

[8] [Sociology – themes and perspectives, p. 688].

[9] http://www.sociology.org.uk/methfi.pdf
[10] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bo7o2LYATDc&feature=share

[11] http://www.theory.org.uk/ctr-butl.htm

[12] http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195341065.001.0001/acprof-9780195341065-chapter-2

[13] http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/psp/61/3/413/

[14] http://rkuf.se/blog/uncategorized/forst-till-kvarn-pa-platserna-till-move/

[15] http://www2.uwstout.edu/content/rs/2008/10Gender%20Altruism%20for%20publication.pdf

[16] http://lbms03.cityu.edu.hk/oaps/ss2007-4708-wms591.pdf

[17] http://midus.wisc.edu/findings/pdfs/369.pdf

[18] http://rod.se/sites/default/files/Grafik%20könsfördelning.pdf

[19] http://www.scb.se/Pages/ThematicAreaTableAndChart____327822.aspx





B. Personal interview. 2012-04-08 (translated from Swedish):

I am writing a research paper about volunteering in humanitarian organisations, with focus on RKUF. How come you started to volunteer with the RKUF, from the first beginning?

  • As most other people, I wanted to learn something and to broaden my perspective. And because there are so many possibilities, to help people in need.

Do you think the same argument goes for everyone who volunteers here?

  • Well no, I think there are many different reasons.

Like what?

  • For example, some people want to learn something and get experience, especially the ones who are engaged a shorter time. I think all volunteers feel passionate about something, but about different things. For example the organisation, or the work, or particular questions.

So why do you think some people chose to not volunteer with RKUF, or another humanitarian organisation?

  • Either they don’t have an interest in it, or they don’t have enough time. Many people have some kind of mental obstacle.

What do you mean by ‘mental obstacle’?

  • They believe that it takes a lot of time, and that you don’t get anything back. But I don’t think that is true.

Do you think there is any distinct characteristics for volunteers; some kind of pattern in who becomes a volunteer or not?

  • Yes, there is a distinction. RKUF is a very homogeneous group, though volunteers in general can be very different since there are so many different areas, like sports for example. We are very bad at reaching out to different target groups

How are we homogeneous, and which groups are we missing?

  • First of all, age wise. Many of the volunteers in RKUF are older than 20 years – in some local associations almost everyone is over 20. One reason can be that we are bad at adapting our language.

How is your language?

  • Very academic, and maybe a bit formal. We also have a under representation of people from socio-economically weak areas.

What about the sex-distribution?

  • We have around 1100 volunteers, and an extreme over representation of the female sex.


  • I actually don’t know. Maybe because that’s the norm. Volunteering does not fit in the male stereotype, it’s a female thing. And maybe also because the way we communicate, and our appearance.

So how is your appearance?

  • Well, that’s what we have to find out! But maybe guys feel less welcome.

Why would they?

  • Maybe not less welcome, but they might feel like their competence is not needed, or maybe no one has ever asked them to become a volunteer.

But how does this unbalance affect the work of RKUF?

  • In the projects, I don’t think it affects very much, but generally it is of course good with a balance between the sexes. Especially in projects where we meet young people, it is good that they get to meet both male and female volunteers to look up to. Most of the ‘leaders’ in RKUF are females, for example the president of FS has always been a female from what I can remember. This is not a problem though, only an establishment.

How does the sex-distribution look like in the FS then?

  • Last year there were more females than males, but this year there are five males and four females. I don’t think it has that big significance, it is always going to be more of one sex as long as we have nine board members in FS. Of course it would be a problem if the guys takes too much space since there are more girls in the organisation, but this year it hasn’t been a problem. Everyone has been taking a lot of space.

How come there are more males than females in FS when the situation is the opposite amongst the other volunteers?

  • Ask the nominating committee. But there are probably more males that candidate, I don’t know why. In the local associations, it seems to be more girls. Weird.

Okay, so as you might have figured out, I have a main focus on the sex-distribution in RKUF, and I have the same thesis as you had – that the norms of society say that females should volunteer, and males shouldn’t. And as an actively volunteering male, can you notice these prejudices?

  • You mean in a negative way? No, I have never received any negative feedback from the surroundings because of my sex – rather positive actually. Maybe it would be worse for a person who is already outside normative to work as a volunteer. However, people have asked me why I work for free. But this is my hobby, that I like to do during my free time, and besides I do get a lot back so I wouldn’t say it is for free.


K. Personal interview. 2012-05-03 (Translated from Swedish):

I am writing a research paper about volunteering in humanitarian organisations, with focus on RKUF. How come you started to volunteer with the RKUF, from the first beginning?

  • I want to make the world more equal, and we should help when we can. To be engaged in RKUF is a concrete way to help; you really see that you’re making a difference.

Do you think everyone volunteers for that reason?

  • No, I think it is different for all volunteers. Some people might feel guilty that they have a better life than some other people, and choose to volunteer in order to clean their conscience. Another reason might be to find new friends, especially in the youth association I think, because it’s fun to meed other people with the same interests.

So why do you think some people chose not to volunteer?

  • Oh gosh… Lack of time? Some people feel like they don’t have enough time. Some think that it doesn’t matter, what we’re doing, and that we are naïve doing it. But some people might have other interests and actually don’t have enough time.

Do you think the people active in RKUF is a special group of people?

  • Yes, we are all very socially aware generally. We don’t only know that some people are poor, we know WHY people are poor, and WHY injustices exist. A majority of us come from middle- or upper-class families, with a stable background, so we feel like we can help others. There are probably also people who have received help from the Red Cross earlier and want to ‘pay back’. We are engaged, optimistic people.

And what do you think of the sex-distribution?

  • Catastrophic! Catastrophic, really. Especially if you compare us to other youth associations, for example the political ones – they are much more equal in sex-distribution. Especially in organisations where there exists power positions, there are more males. We don’t decide in the same way as politicians, and it’s a pity that not more guys are interested in us.

How do you notice this maldistribution?

  • Mostly when they (males) are needed, in projects where they’re asking for male volunteers, and we have to say no and explain it. Also, we have a strong feeling of sisterhood, we’re nice to each other and take care of each other. I don’t know if it is because of the lack of males, but the atmosphere seems to be warmer.

Are there any more negative consequences of this?

  • We (RKUF) are not taken as seriously. Instead of being seen as an organisation that fights for everyone’s best, we become an exceptional group, which does not reflect society as a whole. We don’t get as much legitimacy, which might make us less influential in politics – just because we are so few. People see us as a group of naïve girls who think that we can change the world instead of a serious organisation for everyone. I notice it myself when I’m talking to people at fairs, and they tell us that we are a nice organisation. That is good, but we don’t only want to be nice – we want to be seen as an important organisation.

How then can we attract more males to the organisation?

  • Well, we have to be conscious about our way to advertise. I don’t think we should tell everyone that there is a lack of males because that might sound frightening. It is important for us to try to have a even sex-distribution at exhibitions, and where people see us, even though this is not reflecting the actual situation. And we also have to put more emphasis on what we are actually doing! Many people probably have prejudices about what we are doing, for example first aid, but we also have homework-groups, immigrant and refugee-projects, etcetera. This knowledge might attract more volunteer overall, but also males.

Is there a different sex-distribution in the association boards compared to the projects?

  • Not in the youth association… or it depends! In our board there is usually one guy and the rest are girls, which represents the organisation pretty well. But generally there are often more guys in the board if you think relatively, compared with the distribution in the organisation overall. This might be a conscious choice by the nominating committee, because when a equal board represents the local association more males might want to join. However, it is a little ironic that the last president of the Swedish Red Cross was a male – that is definitely not representative. It is fine that there are males in the board, but that was a little over the top.

Do you think there is a difference between the choices of a girl and a boy to volunteer or not?

  • No, I think the reasons for not volunteering are the same. Or to not get engaged, boys might choose other non-profit organisations, like political youth associations. But when it comes to the Red Cross, maybe we have a nice image that maybe doesn’t attract males as well as the images of political associations, which have a tougher image, power-image. We put very little emphasis on power. We have a too nice image. Politicians fit in the male norm, whilst RKUF is an too soft and naïve organisation.

Okay, as you might have understood, the main focus of this paper is on the sex-distribution. Do you have any more thoughts of this topic, that we haven’t talked about?

  • It is a pity that we have to fight to find engaged guys! Especially since our objective is to help people in need, and there is a great demand for male volunteers. So it’s not because it looks nice in the membership list, but because there is a need. Otherwise an all-girl organisation would do.


Female non-volunteer. Personal interview. 2012-05-08:

I am writing my research paper about the Red Cross, and volunteering, are you a member of or a volunteer at the Red Cross?

  • No, I’m not.

Okay, first three quick questions: Do you know what the Red Cross does?

  • Actually no, I don’t know that much about the Red Cross. It has not been one of those things… I know that it’s mostly about helping people, in different situations I guess.

Have you heard of the RKUF?

  • Yeah I think so.

And do you know what they do?

  • No, not specifically.

Now to the ‘real’ questions: why are you not a volunteer?

  • Because I haven’t been asked or felt that kind of want to do it necessarily, I haven’t though of it really. I’ve thought of volunteering but not with the Red Cross. I haven’t really felt a strong drive. It hasn’t been one if the things I’ve wanted to do. Well, once in a while I’ve been putting a coin in those things, and I have this idea that I want to, well after the gymnasium or something, I might volunteer somewhere, travel around, learn Arabic, travel around some countries, help people, countries, you know…

So why do you think other people chose not to volunteer in a humanitarian organisation?

  • I think it’s because… I think its a lot to do with culture – in some cultures its bigger to volunteer and give money away to charity, and in other it’s not as big. And I think people who don’t volunteer don’t have enough time, or don’t want to put away their money and time into something they don’t really know about, that they’re not sure that they want to do. That they’re not passionate about, I think it has something to do with that.

And on the other hand, why do you think some people do volunteer?

  • It might either be a religious thing, or a cultural thing. Some people feel like being a good person, helping other people, is what you should do. Other people feel like, kinda, what is life, if other people have it worse than you and you can help them if you want. And you can’t live with not doing it. Some people just want to do something good for the world. Some people might have experienced it themselves – experienced starvation, being really poor, not having anyone on your side really, living in a country where they don’t have rights, where they’re not given the help they need. Caught between wars, things like that.

Do you think it is a special group of people who volunteer?

  • I don’t know, I think it depends on what has happened in your life, different events can lead to that path. Like if your stuck with a boring job and you’re so sick and tired of that, and starting to volunteer might feel like it gives your life a meaning. Some people can’t live with such an unfair world and want everyone to have a nice life. I definitely think its different, it depends on what they feel.

 What about things such as social status, age, sex etc?

  • Young people I think, during this age you have a lot of opinions and you’re not tied down by work and family. This is a time when I think a lot of people want to volunteer. I think a lot of old people as well that have gotten their pension. And middle aged people as well. As for the economy, I think it depends. But a lot of, maybe, since we live in a country with a lot of middle class people, probably… Its really difficult to say. I know it is… No i don’t think it really depends on this. There are people who earn a lot and don’t give anything away, and people who earn a little and don’t give anything either. I think its quite equal. As long as you ear something you can give away some if you want.

What about sex?

  • I don’t know. Maybe I think its pretty equal too. Though… I think its got a little to do what time, like during 60’s, it was peace and hippie revolution, and a lot of people, I don’t think sex was really important.

And today?

  • I still… I don’t know… it’s a tough one. I guess… I don’t know. Probably kind of equal. Maybe it depends on the kind of charity. Different charities have different… more of one sex. I think its really mixed. About equal. I don’t think sex has a big part of it. I don’t think your sex really dictates what you’re passionate about. I think there are so many different the Red Cross does really… anybody could be interested in it. It’s not just one thing, there’s a lot of different things and different people can find something they’re passionate about.

I wish you were right, but the fact is that there is a lot more females than males volunteering. What do you think about that, why do you think that is?

  • I don’t know really, a lot of it has to do with culture, probably. Charity has been seen as something housewives in the past participated in and contributed to. That kind of mentality might have continued living. Like, working as a volunteer, with charity, is not something manly. I think if that mentality changes, if we’re brought up as equals maybe – like there’s not that big of a difference between males and females – I think it would be a lot more mixed!


Male non-volunteer. Electronic interview. 2012-05-11 (translated from Swedish):

My research paper is about volunteering in humanitarian organisation, and I have now interviewed two people who are volunteers, and one who is not. Are you, or have you ever been, active in an organisation such as the Red Cross?

  • I’m not, and I have never been.

Why are you not?

  • I haven’t seen a reason to be a part of it, and no one has ever asked me so I have never been introduced to that really.

Would you like to become a volunteer if someone asked you then?

  • No, I don’t think so, I don’t feel attracted by the idea, and I don’t think that I’d enjoy it.

But do you think it is good that organisations such as the Red Cross exist?

  • Yes, I think it’s good that they exist even though I am not very engaged or interested.

Why do you think people chose to not be engaged, apart from yourself?

  • Because it required motivation and time, and I don’t think everyone sees it as something rewarding.

And on the other hand, why do you think some people are engaged?

  • Because they feel like they can make a difference. And because they think it is fun to help people.

Do you think there is a specific group of people who become active with these sorts of things, if you understand what I mean?

  • Yes, I think it’s the aesthetic type. Not hipster, but kind of hippie, in a 21st century way, if you get that.

I think I do. So how would you describe that in terms of socio-economic class, age, sex and such?

  • Age, either young or overgrown hippie. Either lower-class or upper-class. sex mixed, but more women.

And why do you think it is like this?

  • They want to help people, and they have the energy. And they have a lot of time. And so on.

So does that make women more suitable than men?

  • Yes, they are more helpful and care for others.

Would that be nature or nurture?

  • Evolution! Women help people, men fight against tigers. Or something like that.

So my thesis is that more females than males are engaged in volunteering because the norm say that it is a female thing to be engaged in humanitarian organisations. What do you think about that?

  • I think that might be very true. I don’t really know why, but I guess it is a common conception.

So people usually believe that the woman should take care of others while the man fight against tigers?

  • Exactly!


[1]   Definition of humanitarian http://dictionary.reference.com/

[2]    The Olympic committee of Sweden

[3]    Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross

[4]    A. Bäcklund et al, ”15 år av kärlek och respekt med Röda Korsets Ungsdomsförbund”

[5]    ”Arbets- och delegationsordning för Röda Korsets Ungdomsförbund”

[6]    Lacey D. Seefeldt Gender Stereotypes Associated with Altrustic Acts

[7]    Sociology guide, ”Social norms”

[8]    [Sociology – themes and perspectives, p. 688].

[9]    Socioloy Research Skills: Research Methods

[10]  Judith  Butler (Big Think), ”Our behaviour creates our gender”

[11]  Resources: Judith Butler http://www.theory.org.uk/

[12]  C. Daniel Batson, ”Altruism in humans”

[13]  Batson et al, ”Empathic joy and the empathy-altruism hypothesis”

[14]  ”Välkommen till MOVE 2011!”

[15]  Lacey D. Seefeldt,”Gender Stereotypes Associated with Altrustic Acts”

[16]  Woo man Sze. Zisi, ” Gender and cultural differences in empathy-altruism hypothesis  among university students in Hong Kong”

[17]  “Men’s and Women’s Volunteering: Gender Differences in the Effects of Employment and Family Characteristics”

[18]  Riksdag och Departement, ”Könsfördelning bland ordförarna av statliga kommittéer år 2011”

[19]  Statistics Sweden


Puppy cake (Chocolate cake)

Specially dedicated to my flatmates here in Ankara.

Known as ”Puppy cake” in our flat because apparently the smell resembles puppies, in a good way. Like new born puppies, which apparently smell good. I’ve never smelled new born puppies but if they smell like chocolate, I suppose it would make sense.

Vegan Puppy cake (Chocolate cake / Mud cake)
4 dl sugar
2 dl oil (sunflower)
3 dl Soy milk (or water, or milk if you don’t want to be vegan)
5 dl flour
8 table spoon kako
2 tea spoon vanilla sugar
0,5 tea spoon salt
6 table spoon coffee (or not)
+ nuts if we want

Mix everything in a pot. Put in oven for about 40 minutes, 150°. It should be soft, liquid is fine, on the inside, but at least the surface should not move when you shake the pot.

If you’re fancy, you can eat it with cream, or ice cream, or fruits or something. If you’re like us, you eat it with a spoon directly from the pot. It’s hard to take it out from the pot and keep it pretty. It’s not supposed to be pretty, it’s supposed to be tasty.


Don’t turn it upside down. Just don’t.

My mind is still in Greece

Every time I go to bed, my mind flies back to those nights in Greece. To the nights we drove carloads of blankets to camp Idomeni and Hara, but obviously never enough for everyone. To those nights after the rain, where all tents, inside and outside, all blankets, clothes and people were soaking wet and freezing cold.

”Give me a blanket please, just one blanket”
”You have a blanket already. I know it’s not enough, I know you’re still cold, but look – this person doesn’t have any blanket at all, and we only have one blanket left.”
”It’s for my children, please, they’re cold”
The blanket he has around his shoulders is as thick as a bathing towel. But we don’t have enough blankets.

There have been push backs from the Greece-Macedonian border this night – like every night. People are trying to cross the border with the help of smugglers, but many are arrested by the police and sent back. Sometimes also beaten up. They leave with few belongings, and often return with even fewer. We don’t have blankets for everyone, not to mention tents.

Who has a blanket? Who is exaggerating? Who is telling the truth? We try to be fair, but fairness doesn’t exist, does it? It is cold, for everyone. We run out of blankets, we drive home. I lie down on a pallet under the warmest blanket that I can find. Two blankets. Three blankets. It’s not windy, it’s not wet. Still, I am cold.

I’m in a hotel room now, one week later. In a soft bed, under a thick duvet, in a different country. The people in the camps are still there, in their tents. They’ve been there for almost three months. For how much longer will they live like this?

Do we have dentists here?

Dearest dentist friends and friends of dentists – I need your help, and Idomeni needs dentists!

You might have heard of Idomeni, the camp close to the Macedonian border in Greece. Health-Point Foundation is providing dental care in this container, but there aren’t enough dentists to see all the patients. The clinic opens at 10, but some patients arrive already at 8 to secure a spot that same day. To most patients who arrive later, we have to say ”sorry we’re full today, come back tomorrow at 10 am”. The need is immense.

Some people have traveled here from other informal camps, 30-40km away, to receive medical attention. All in all, we’re talking about a population of around 14’000 people if I’m not mistaken. There are some other dentists operating in the area, but not in any bigger scale as I know. Many of the patients have also been referred there by MSF, SAMS and other organisations.


When I was there we only have one dentist, and this week we will have no one at all… Can you come and help out? Even if it’s only for 5 days, it would be amazing! If you’re interested, please send an email to dental@healthpointfoundation.org – or approach me!

Thank you ❤


Goodbye Greece, again

In the morning, I went off to the bank and to the shop to pay for the goods from yesterday. The Hummus Team had postponed their distribution until 13:00, so I drove down to Idomeni myself. I first walked to A and his brother. “Sabah al kheir!” I said, and they came out from their tent. “I’m leaving today,” I told them that I would come back a bit later and say goodbye again.

I walked on to R’s family, oh how I would miss them! They invited me into their tent and gave me tea, as always. “El youm, I go Turkiye,” I told them. I left my phone number and Facebook address, and we took some pictures together. I gave them some packs of biscuits, R opened them immediately and put on a plate, inviting me to eat. I hugged them all goodbye.

On the road, I met H by coincidence, and we walked to their big tent (it’s a big tent with probably 100 beds or something, I don’t know). I gave his sister the eye shadow that I had previously bought for her, and also one disc with hijab pins. “It’s my birthday today,” she told me. What a great coincidence. “It means nothing. Before, mom always helped me to organize a party on my birthday. This is my only birthday gift this year,” she continued, holding up the eye shadow, smiling. She started peeling an apple, and her mother gave me a cookie. “We don’t have money anymore. We had money when we came, because we worked in Turkey, but we have no money left. We cannot do anything here” She had been working with sewing clothes, or maybe selling clothes. I’m not sure. “I learned Turkish in a month,” she told me. The mother and daughter showed me their painted ‘tattoos’, hearts, flowers and fire, and two letters. “It stans for my husband and me,” said the mother. The girl leaned towards my ear and whispered “It for my boyfriend! Don’t tell anyone!”

IMG_8958.JPGH and I walked towards the Hummus team together. Today was not too good, and not too bad. I probably didn’t contribute much to the actual crowd control – I don’t remember. The children gave me flowers, like they so often do. I put it all in my hair.  “Where have you been? You should visit us every day!” I met a member of one of the previous families at the distribution; I hadn’t visited them for some days. “I’m leaving today,” I said, “to Turkey”. They wished me a safe trip, and I wished them good luck.

I started to say take farewell of everyone.  “Why are you leaving?” one of the boys asked me, “It’s always like this. The good people always leave.” He named some other volunteers, who had already left, ”and you are also leaving…” These are the times when I feel the inequality stronger than ever. Someone asked me to please stay. E started crying. I started crying. H took pictures of us crying. I took pictures of everyone, or at least some people, and hugged them goodbye. “I’m leaving now,” I said. But obviously I couldn’t leave. I took farewell of everyone again. We hugged again, I cried some more. “I will cry when I come home,” H told me. “We will meet again, Inshallah! Let me know what you do, where you go. I will come visit you, wherever you go,” I promised them. “Don’t forget me,” H said. “How could I ever forget you?” I asked rhetorically.

After many more rounds, I turned around and walked away. I looked back. Will I see them again? I walked on. Don’t turn back, I told myself. Keep on walking. I dropped by F’s family on my way back, and said goodbye to the children. Then, I took farewell of dentists in their container.

I left Idomeni with the radio on full volume. Goodbye, good luck.


I stopped at Hara on my way back to Polikastro, to say goodbye. We were hanging around the cars for a while, chatting. Cool kids. “Don’t go,” S told me. I started crying again, of course. They are amazing. Really. Incredible. We looked at each other. Group hug. We said goodbye, we said see you later. I stepped into the car and dried my tears. I looked into the rear mirror and took a deep breath. I started the car and looked in the mirror again. I waved, and drove away.

I stopped at the Chinese shop to say goodbye. They asked when I had to leave, and invited me for lunch. I explained that I wasn’t able to stay, as I also had to wash the car. Some people entered; they had come from EKO and Nea Kavala (a military camp close by). I tried to help translating between Turkish and Chinese. “He has a clean heart! Tell him that” one of the men told me to translate to the male shopkeeper. “Pffff, let’s go! I’ll help you clean your car,” said the the female shopkeeper (who I’ve been talking mostly too), and pulled me away from the desk, grabbing tools for the cleaning. “They don’t like me,” she said, “all those men like him more than me”. I asked why, and she started explaining: “He is so nice to them, he often gives them things for free and for really low prices.” I know that she does that too. “Actually, when they first arrived here, I didn’t like them. I had just read about that case where that young volunteer was raped by some refugee, and I was angry with them.” I don’t know what made her change her mind, but really they are wonderful people, both of them. I don’t think I’ve been able to describe it fairly.

It took more than an hour even though we were two people and we had better equipment than I would have on my own, so I’m really very grateful for her help. Eventually we were done, and once again it was time to say goodbye. “Come back soon!” they said, and I promised that I would come back. I really like these people; they don’t seem to see how many amazing things they are doing and how much it means.

Then, as a last goodbye, I drove “home” to the warehouse. I had hoped to write some letters and those kind of things, but really there wasn’t enough time. I took farewell of everyone, they’ve really been doing an amazing work, especially the ones who have been here for a long time – and who are planning on staying even longer. “Another hug,” one of the volunteers said when I came out from the kitchen, the person that I’ve probably spent the most time with. “A fourth one,” I said. Then I ran to the front – “If I don’t go now, I will never go,” I ecplained. It had taken more than an hour to get out from Idomeni. They came to the front door too, and we said goodbye again. A last hug. “And I’m a cold person,” he said, “I can imagine how it was at the camps…” I laughed, and jumped into the car, waved, and left. Don’t look back, I told myself.

I stopped by EKO camp on my way back to Thessaloniki. It’s of course smaller than Idomeni, and less muddy. It also looks more structured than Hara, with more stable tents on tidier rows. I met with a volunteer who dropped by the warehouse last night, and she showed me around in the camp, presenting the NGOs and similar active in the area. We eventually went to have some Falafel. I didn’t have time to grab a last falafel in Idomeni, so this kind of compensated I suppose. I said goodbye to the volunteer and the kids who were following us around. She’s cool, she’s very young. Several people here are quite young, well, everyone younger than me is ”young” in my opinion. I’m told that I’m young too. But many volunteers here, or at least a handful, are like 18, it’s great and impressive.

I survived the one hour drive to Thessaloniki. I feel like I might die every time I’m driving; it’s a wonder that there are not more car accidents. I did have to slap myself a couple of times when it felt like I was falling asleep. It took four circles to find the right entrance to the parking lot in front of the car rental though; would be funny (or not) to have an accident during the last minutes of the rental. Obviously, I care about the money this would cost (no insurance, wiho), not really about other consequences. We survived, the car and I. Did I mention that the car has been terribly scratched since the first day? That has been my biggest fear throughout the two weeks. ”How was it?” the man at the car rental asked me. ”It went well!” I replied, ”I cleaned it, I think it should be okay. Only… It’s a bit scratched… I don’t know how it happened…” He looked at me, ”what do you mean?” I showed him some of the scratches with a pounding heart. ”Oh, it’s not too bad,” he said, and I think both of us felt quite relieved. He looked under the carpet, it was clean (I think – at least we did clean). We went back to the office. ”You don’t have to worry about the scratches, it won’t be too expensive,” he said. ”Let’s say 25€” I nodded and reached for my wallet, while they gave me back the deposition fee. ”Or no, just give me 20€”. We thanked each other, and I left for the bus.

I waited for the bus on Aristoteles Square, blowing soap bubbles and looking at the people passing by. Thinking about the people that I met here. It was so much more than expected. Everything was so different from expected. More beautiful, more horrible. Every time the bubbles burst, I felt the tears accumulating under my eyelids. I don’t know if I love or hate this place, I don’t know what it did to me.


Bye Greece, maybe we will meet again. Probably. The question is, what will you have become by then?


The last night shift

I started at the dentist container; that was kind of my intention. I tried to keep track of who came first and not; a lot of people were waiting already before 10. The dentist started there work, and after a while I decide that it was calm enough for me to sneak away to Hummus. “You are never here, where have you been?” someone commented. “I’m sorry! I promise to be here tomorrow,” I answered. Another volunteer was leaving today.

“I have to go back,” I said after distribution was done. But no – instead I ended up at E’s tent. While she was lighting a fire and burning everything from plastic spoons and bottles to panties, I was talking to her oldest little sister. This girl speaks beautiful Turkish; she is 15 years old, and had also been working during their years in Istanbul. Similar to E, she had been involved in making plastic cutlery. I look at the plastic spoons that E is burning. How have they been made?


“We want to go by smugglers,” the sister tells me. I don’t know how to feel about that. I don’t want them to go with smugglers; I’ve heard countless stories of people getting arrested and sent back, getting all their belongings taken away, and also beaten up. We see people pushed back from Macedonia every night. But at the same time, what are their options? What do they have to lose? They tell me about friends and relatives who have successfully crossed. I don’t know.

They invite me for breakfast; they’ve cocked the food from the Hummus Project distribution, and gotten tea from the Tea Tent. I stay with them; this might be the last time. We eat from these foam boxes, which I suppose they received during some other food distribution. I decide to buy them some plates for tomorrow. Eventually, I have to run off towards the warehouse. My shift today is from 15, as we are currently lacking people. Also, I have to pick up the items ordered yesterday, from the shop.

I find an ATM in Polikastro – it’s empty. Uh-oh. The shopkeeper comes with me to another one, it’s also empty. ”You can take the goods now, and pay us tomorrow,” says she says. ”Really? Okay, I promise to come tomorrow! I can leave you… not my passport in case of police controls, but I can leave you my keys,” I suggest. ”It’s not necessary,” she assures me, ”the volunteers here always keep their words and do what they say.” They help me load my car. ”It’s way to small,” they comment, and decide to drive with me to the warehouse, with the rest of the items in their car. ”We’ll just close the shop for a while, it’s alright,” they say.

At the warehouse, we try to prepare a pallet to send to one of the military camps, trying to match the number of shampoos and soaps and washing detergents with the number of tents and number of people. I was planning on meeting up with some of the Hummus Team volunteers for a farewell dinner, but I completely lost track of time during the packing process. Never mind, this is more important.

”Are you busy tonight?” one of the Northern Lights volunteers ask me. They don’t have enough people for the night shift. I’m more than happy to help out, although I really still don’t know how to make the distribution run smoothly. ”Prioritise the people who don’t have any tent or any blankets at all,” she tells me. These are usually people who have just been pushed back from Macedonian border.  ”And then, families with small children. If there are not enough tents for everyone, they can sleep in the big tent for kids activities.” I receive instructions to pick up some tents from another warehouse.

We fill the car with blankets and sleepingIMG_8775.JPG bags. Just before midnight, I drive to Polikastro to pick up the other volunteer who will join. Also, one of the Czech Team members decided to tag along. We eventually find our way to the other warehouse, but we cannot find any tents. Apparently, some other people took them to the camp. Oh well, confusion. At Hara, we meet up with these other people, and start the distribution. ”Do we know how big the tents are?” I ask the others. Nope. Oh well. Luckily, it’s not too crowded today either. We have almost enough blankets for everyone, although some people had to go to the kids tent.


In the end, I stand with two fathers, not willing to give up. ”It’s not for me, it’s for the children,” the insist, but I simply don’t have enough blankets. I cannot do magic. Some other people are still standing around, watching us. We talk, and talk and talk, and talk. It’s English, its Farsi, Arabic and Turkish – and an even bigger dose of body language and facial expressions. In the end, they just start laughing. Well, it could’ve been worse considering the situation. Everybody starts laughing. I wish I could’ve gotten to know these people under different circumstances. I give one of the fathers two scarves, and the other one the jacket that I took from the warehouse. I lock the car; it’s over. They leave – at least they’re not angry. Some while later, another guy drops buy and asks for a blanket, because everything is wet. I give him a doormat. ”What am I supposed to do with this?” he laughs, but takes it.

Eventually, it was time to leave. I think we did quite well, for being all new and confused. We jumped into the car, everybody was tired. ”I will talk,” I declared as we started the 30 minutes drive; ”You have to talk with me, or else I’ll fall asleep and you don’t want that.” They didn’t object. ”What are your dreams?” I asked them, and we had a rather nice conversation all the way home. I don’t remember what we actually talked about, but at least I didn’t fall asleep.

Last days: Time for everything

“We’re out of tape,” said our coordinator at the morning meeting, “But all shops are closed now”. “Not my Chinese shop!” I exclaimed with raised arms, “Should I go there and check if they have tape?”

I drove down to the shop and bought all their tape (6 rolls, or something). After dropping the tape at the warehouse, I drove off to Idomeni. I received a text: “The tape was great! Can we get some more until tomorrow?” I called the Chinese shop, they said yes. Some few hour after, the dentist student from before dropped by the container. She had been given permission to stay at the dentists, as it was her last day. Totally fine by me; I walked off towards the Hummus team. I met some of the Syrian volunteers on the way, and understood that the distribution was already over. “Do you speak Turkish?” one of them, let’s call him H, asked me surprised. “Do you speak Turkish?” I asked him back.

We walked towards his tent to say hi to his mom and siblings. Then, we decided to take a walk towards the little town of Idomeni. From the hill, we could view over the camp Idomeni as well as across the Macedonian border. There was some larger building there with people outside. I wonder if that’s also related to the refugees? H’s father is in Germany. He went there some while ago to treat some disease, and now the rest of the family cannot get to him. “Even if my family reunifies, I wouldn’t be able to go,” he said, “I’m 20, I’m not a child.” We sat down on the grass. Rain started falling softly. And then less softly. We hid under some bushes until the rain stopped, and then walked back to the camp.

I visited a bathroom at the camp for the first and the last time. I planned initially to wait until I got back to Polikastro, but then I thought that this is the reality of people here every day, several times per day – how am I “too good” for this? We went to some MSF bathrooms quite in the corner of the camp; ”Those are better,” said H. They were not too bad, only filled with small flies along the walls. And a puddle of faeces in the corner. I’ll spare you from pictures. There is no paper or soap in the bathrooms, which makes sense to me, but I wonder if all the inhabitants have these things themselves?

The Chinese shop called me – ”We have the tape! You can come and pick it up whenever”. Amazing. I walked to the car, but dropped by the train on my way. Well, it’s actually hard to not drop by there when crossing from one side of the camp to another, but still. I had promised to visit the kids from before. The oldest girl, still not a teenager, ran up to me and gave me a caramel. ”Why?” I asked her, ”Keep it!” She explained: ”You gave us candy yesterday, so it’s my turn to give to you now!” How sweet is she. We played some board games, and looked through their toys and picture books. She gave me her bracelet, and a box of rice pudding. ”It’s for you,” I said, ”not for me”. ”I already have one,” she replied, ”It’s for you”. On the wall they had put up drawings on a neat line. ”We got these from kids in Spain, they sent to us!” the girl explained exited, pointing at pretty drawings with hearts and butterflies. ”I drew this one,” she pointed. Three persons crying in the center of the picture, other people lying down in pools of blood. I wonder what she has already seen in life, this beautiful child.


My warehouse shift was 17-22, and it was quite calm. It seems like we have most things in order. I decided to rinse through the male trousers box – the box itself is quite full, but it mostly consists of suit trousers and too big sizes. Jeans is a rarity, although many people want it. I grabbed a headlamp and jumped down into the box to separate the suit trousers from the rest. When I say box, I mean a big box. I’ve been imagining sleeping in these, I think it would be much more comfy than our paletts. From  there, I could also give instructions to our ”visitors” when they were looking for certain items. I liked it. Northern Lights was there with a rather big group. ”Who has the night shift tonight?” I asked, and three people answered. ”Do you want to tag along?” they asked, and I hesitated. It was probably not very necessary, although they were happy for me to drive, but also it’s almost my last day and I just want to do everything. ”Yes,” I said in the end.

After my shift ended, I went to Park Hotel to talk with another of the coordinating persons there, and then to the lovely Chinise shop to make our order. I mean, what other shop would be open at 22:30 during Easter? One of the volunteers from Northern Lights also came to buy some things. I decided to get a headlamp and a raincoat for myself. ”Take it,” said the shopkeeper. ”I want to pay,” I said, but she refused. Why do I always lose?

Around midnight, we drove to Hara again. I was afraid that it would once again be a mess, as it had rained, but it wasn’t too bad, not at all as crowded as last time. We did our distributions, and went home after some hour. I had enough energy to brush my teeth.

Good night!


Dentist, müsli and flipflops

I didn’t go with the Hummus Team today! I was at the dentist; it was actually quite nice. I was mostly standing outside and talking to the patients waiting – also recognizing some people from the day before.

A dentist student named came in the afternoon, eager to help. Sure I said, and went for falafel. I was immediately caught by some of the kids who used to be at the bread distribution in the mornings. They all spoke great Turkish, so we could communicate, yay! They were climbing around on the train, eating müsli provided by IFRC. For some reason, it just looked like… not for Europe. More like, somewhere with famine and you know, organisations dropping boxes with food. But then again, I’m living in a very privileged part of Europe (not referring to Turkey, but to Sweden) so I think my references are skewed anyways. “Come play with us!” they chanted. I stayed with them for a little while and promised to come back the following day, and visit their home in the train.

I then walked over to A’s tent group, since I didn’t go there during the previous days. ”I have to visit some families,” I told him last time. ”Everyone is visiting families, people only visit families. What about us?” I sighed. It’s true, I think. But also, I understand why families get more attention. It’s just difficult. But anyways, we met up and spoke for some minutes before I had to head back to the dentist container.

“Let’s count flip flops!” back at the warehouse, we sit with a report from UNHCR playing around with the data. I like this; it looks structured. Also it’s interesting to see the numbers of people in camps, compared to capacity, and so on.We ended up with some enourmous number – around 27’000 people in our vicinity, to whom we want to provide different items. Uhm. We cut it down to 8300.  (Idomeni not included)

UNHCR stats.png

When darkness hit

I once again planned to not stay with the Hummus team, but to instead hang out with the dentist. But once again,  there was a huge and messy line, even on the men’s side. So once again, I ended up staying. This was probably the messiest time that I’ve been there. There were these intense quarrels erupting, not so unusual, but there was also a lot of pushing and squeezing. I ended up at a big blob with a lot of children and baby carriers in the middle, and people were pushing in all directions. I jumped into the line, but for the first time it was actually not possible to keep them still holding the rope pulling towards the wall. People pushed, climbed, crawled, I don’t even know. Babies and carriers were carried over our head.

”It’s finished, it’s finished!” another volunteer shouts while walking down the line. We had decided to pull out, as it had become too messy, beyond what is acceptable. “If only they wouldn’t come tomorrow,” E’s little sister sighed.

I stood in the door to the dentist for the rest of the day, I think it’s good language practice. Usually, we would write people’s name up on a list for them to be seen, but the list was already full. So, my tasks was more to prevent people from entering the box, so that the dentists could work without being too much disturbed. ”Today, finished,” I would say in Arabic and point at the list, ”Tomorrow, 10 o’clock, morning, okay?” How beautiful. Then, I saw it as my task to entertain the people waiting outside as much as I could. They are all in pain, of course, this must be really hard. And I cannot give them biscuits (my world is upside down now).

”We’re friends,” a teenager from Syria tells me, pointing at the patient who just entered the container. “Oh, friends from Syria?” I ask. “No,” he replies, “Syria BOOM, all friends dead”, he gestures. What do I say…

I met up with one of the girls after my shift. She was very quiet. ”Whats wrong?” I asked, ”nothing,” she replied. We walked towards the car. “C (another volunteer) left yesterday. You’re also leaving soon,” she said, with tear-filled eyes looking somewhere far away. I know. ”You are all leaving.” All the volunteers are leaving, at some point. Only they are staying. ”I’m sorry,” we hugged, and talked some more. “What will you do? Are you going home?” I asked eventually, and she shrugged. “What do I know? I would prefer to die”. She is such a beautiful person, it hurts.

I drove to Hara in order to drop off the Northern
IMG_8789Nights vest that I accidentally kidnapped yesterday. I did also want to see the camp in daylight, although it didn’t feel like a good time after way too little sleep and maybe a bit too much emotions. Anyways, it was too late. I met D, and we walked down to the hotel. A young girl from Afghanistan ran up to us. She had a backpack on, and looked like any school girl. ”Do you go to school?” I asked her. ”Not here,” she replies, ”I want to, but there is not school”. My farsi is not sufficient for much conversation. ”Where is your family?” I asked, and she decided to bring us there. We said hi, and left.

An one lady called for us from one of the tents – she spoke quite good English. “I have diabetes,” she explained, “my sugar is high. The food we get here is not good for diabetes. We get so much rice. Some medicines makes my sugar go high. But no one cares”. I asked if she had been to the doctor, and she said that she did go, but they didn’t do much. I don’t know what I can do either. Another family told us that they need clothes. They need things for their baby. They don’t have any money, they don’t have anything. They would prefer to work and earn some money to buy their own things, but that was not possible. “Also, there are so many Syrians and Iraqis here. Everyone cares about them. No one cares about us.” D listened, nodded, and gave them a number of suggestions of things to do. At the end he said “If you don’t get those things by tomorrow, come find me. I’m always here”. This boy makes my heart break into a thousand pieces. He is so much better of a human than I will ever be.

We went back to the car. “The children is what makes me the saddest. What will happen with them? They don’t go to school. They don’t have anything. What’s in their future?” he asked rhetorically.

How can I live in this world? How can I leave, and continue with my life when things are like this? And it’s not even about me, haha, is this funny? I cannot see a future, what is the future? The darkness is too big.

I will not specify how much I’ve cried.

I’m back at the warehouse now, we will do some purchases and discuss some financial things. Maybe that’s good, for a change.

Good evening!


Night at Hara

I returned back to the warehouse around nightfall, and once again Northern Lights came just before midnight to collect blankets. Did I mention that it was raining again? I recognised one of the persons coming; their teams have been at the warehouse quite a lot. ”That’s enough, I don’t think we have more space in the car,” he said as we carried the boxes. ”Do you need more? I also have a car,” I offered. Still want to use that car as much as possible. It’s like not even altruistic reasons etc, I would just be frustrated about renting a car and not using it, haha. We loaded my car as well, and started driving towards Hara. Hara, and BP, are two other smaller (around 1000 people in total) informal camps just next to the highway on the road towards Idomeni. I had driven past it every day, but never visited it.

We arrived to the camp, and were immediately surroIMG_8773unded by people. Once again, I stood irresolute. How to do this without creating chaos? The other volunteers have done this many times, I thought, I’ll just stay in the background. It was dark, but the camp was crowded. We started walking around the camp, trying to assess peoples needs and to gather them at the hotel reception. Oh yeah, so Hara is a hotel actually, not really functioning as such I believe. And there are some troubles between the owners and the people living here, as well as the organisations. Some days ago, all water supplies here were cut.

”Come to my tent! Look, touch the floor. Touch the blankets” Everything was wet, of course. Everyone needed blankets, sleeping bags. Some of the inhabitants there helped us to translate, luckily. What would we do without them. The people were told to wait at a certain place, but it didn’t seem to work. I didn’t understand the system. Let’s just stand and look, I decided. Another person kept me company, let’s call him D. He’s from Syria, but he speaks amazing Turkish.

Eventually, we ran out of blankets. I have no idea how the distribution was actually done, who was prioritized and so on. There was apparently still a huge need, so we drove back to the warehouse to pick up more blankets. ”Har du vann?” asked one of the volunteers in Norwegian. ”What?” I didn’t quite get it. ”Vann,” he said again. ”Vagn?” (wagon) I asked back, confused, and he nodded. ”What kind of vagn; barnvagn?” (baby stroller – common request) I asked to confirm. ”VATTEN!” (water) he said, and we all started laughing. Language barriers at its best.  It doesn’t sound funny when translated though…

We decided to first park the cars further away as we arrived back to Hara, and gather the people in an attempt to not create to much fuss. I think it worked, I don’t know, but eventually all the blankets were gone. I had my sleeping bag in the back of the car as well, someone took it too. Well, they have more need of it than I do. ”Do you still have blankets?” a man approached us, and we said no. ”I’ll give him mine, I have two,” said D and walked away towards his tent. ”A true Turkish gentleman,” shouted another young man, S, after him. ”KURDISH!”, D shouted back. ”Wups,” S started laughing. ”You are crazy,” the volunteers told him. We were all laughing.

And then, everything was done. We stood around the car, just breathing and looking at the camp which was now empty, without people outside. It had been a hard night – especially for the volunteers who were actually doing things. I was just confused. Apparently, it’s not like this every night, luckily. D and S comforted us, ”you did a good job”.

”Is your car locked?” S suddenly asked me. ”I think so, why?” I went to the side and checked the door. It wasn’t locked. They looked at me. ”The other guy said that he saw two people take something from the car, check if anything is missing,” S told me. ”Jessica, you have to be more careful,” D added. How embarrassing. ”I’m not sure,” I said, ”I didn’t have anything important in the car. I cannot find my bag but maybe it’s at the warehouse. Anyways, there is nothing important there, only some biscuits (of course), and my phone charger. If I lost it, I’ll buy a new one tomorrow”. ”I’ll give you mine,” said D. ”No,” I answered, ”thank you”. He still went to grab it. ”I cannot accept it, I don’t want it!” I tried to explain, but some people are just too good. Really, I don’t know what to say.

I drove home, it was maybe 3 or 4 am. ”I should really brush my teeth,” I thought for some seconds before I fell asleep.