It’s Not Just You Against The World

They are nineteen and twenty-two, their parents are still in Syria and they fled with their older brother and two younger brothers to Izmir. They all volunteer with the group I’m here in Izmir with, to help their fellow Syrian refugees.

To help their family they both got a job at a local restaurant. At the end of the first month their managers said they had to work a “month in hand”; at the end of the second month they said the boss hadn’t got the money and they would get it next week; then they said that the next week until the girls had worked there more than three months without being paid. So they had no choice but to leave.

Their oldest brother went back with them to the restaurant to demand the money, but the two managers sat behind their cashier desk and pretended to text the boss. Eventually, the three of them felt helpless and left without the money.

I showed up one day this week for work to find that twelve of us were going to march down to the restaurant and do a little direct action sit-in, non-violent, protesting until they got paid.

Which is exactly what we did.

We caught the two managers casually sitting at one of the tables in the window by surprise. All twelve of us marched into the restaurant and calmly took up seats around them, while the eldest brother explained what we had come for. We had no desire to cause disruption or draw attention to our cause, but that we would remain until our request was met – some of us had phones and would video whatever happened and of course, occupy all the tables.

One of the managers got up and ran out, leaving the other manager nervously texting into his phone – and an empty seat opposite him.

I couldn’t resist the invitation. I moved in to sit opposite him.

I’m not going to lie, it felt good sitting there holding him accountable, directly, face to face.

They paid up. Or at least part of one month’s wages. We have agreed to come back for two further instalments.

Two girls alone can be exploited. Even with their brother, the sisters felt powerless in the city. But as part of a little growing community, together, they were simply stronger. Not just stronger on this occasion, but connected and stronger because they are beginning to feel part of something bigger than just them.

I guess that’s the definition of community, it bridges loneliness and disconnection and together we can pool our strength and share the work and responsibility, in a way nobody can by themselves.

I guess I really like being a part of making that. All the knight in shining armour stuff feels pretty good, it does, but it feels like the most daring thing is to create a community in which the terrible feeling of being just you against the world is not necessary for anyone in it.

It has changed everything for the two girls. Not only did they think they would never get paid for the work, but this meant their family went without. You should have seen the smile when they realised there are other people in the world at their side.

One Response to “It’s Not Just You Against The World

  • Lala Woods
    3 years ago

    Such an uplifting story, full of quiet determination and humanity, showing us that all things are possible. Thank you.

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