Q&A With Natalia: The Internal & External Gifts of Activism
"I remember all the children...
"I remember all the children...I held in my arms...and they keep me going—regardless of how hard it gets."
NAME: Natalia Papadopoulou
Natalia is not exactly loyal to one particular form of activism, nor does she shy away from the more difficult causes. Over the course of the last few years, she’s taken on issues ranging from health to education. We’re here to highlight her work with refugees. Natalia has been working in a camp of refugees from Gaza, replacing Asbestos roofs for about 150 families, providing food packages, blankets, and heaters in the wintertime, bringing Bidna Capoeira (a Brazilian dance therapy) for about 120 children, working with the disabled children at the Rehabilitation center, and the list goes on.
All written out, it sounds like a lot—and it totally is. In her continuously open heart and hard work, Natalia proves that impact comes with persistence (problems aren’t solved overnight), resilience (you don’t always get the results you want), and empathy (to be moved to make a difference in the first place).
In other words, she’s a grade A bad-ass. Evidence below:
What inspired you to begin working with Refugees from Gaza?
What inspired me was the 2014 conflict which had killed so many innocent people. I remember scrolling through my Facebook feed and thinking to myself "what is another share or comment going to do to help them?". And I figured it did nothing. So, I started gathering the information necessary and began visiting the Gaza Camp, located in the outskirts of the city of Jerash in Jordan.
How did the idea of a pre-school present itself to you?
Well, it presented itself to me a long time ago, but I was always caught up in some other project. My biggest project thus far was the We:Tech Computer Lab which was completed in March of 2016. I collaborated with the Canadian embassy, Orange and Wings of Hope, for it and it was an absolutely incredible experience. It even won an award for being one of the top three Advanced Placement research projects worldwide. So after seeing the impact the computer lab had on the children, I became passionate about giving more refugees access to educational resources.
I feel like humanitarian work..
...has helped me realize things much more quickly than my own reality would. I lived in a bubble and humanitarian work helped me escape from that.
Is there a team behind the building of the pre-school?
Sort of. I consider all the donors to be my team because it wouldn't come to be without them. But in terms of hands-on team, it's myself, my driver (who is kind enough to take me there almost every weekend), and Mahmoud Hajjaj--an incredible teacher who is a refugee himself and lives in the camp. Mahmoud helps me with all the communication and coordination aspects. So, we're a team of three!
Which of the projects you’ve created/participated in stand out to you as the most striking?
I believe the We:Tech computer lab was the most important project considering it was my biggest one yet. The mere thought of enabling children who previously had no access to computers and the internet gives me goose bumps! It took me about 9 months to put together, but was worth every moment. I hired a computer science teacher to teach 20 students who would then teach another 20 so that the lab could be self-sustainable.
Soon after I had completed this project, however, I was off to university and had a hard time controlling the progress of it. Thankfully, my school, American Community School of Amman, had decided to help me out and they collaborated with SEP to help sustain the purpose of We:Tech. The computer lab is now fully under SEP's control and I am truly grateful for their help in maintaining my vision and the children's educational futures.
What is one of the most common obstacles you face in any of your projects in Gaza?
Lack of hands-on help. I've come to realize that most people would rather help over a phone screen than in person and sometimes that's hard to accept. But that doesn't go to say that that may have ever hampered the completion of a project—because it hadn't. Every project always worked out in one way or another. I truly am thankful for all the help and trust that people put into the various projects over the last few years.
Do you think that “social media activism,” or advocating for causes online, is effective?
Hmm...this is probably the heaviest debate I have with myself on pretty much a weekly basis. Yes and no.
Firstly, yes, because if one is looking for help with a physical project, I think social media is the most effective way to reach people and spread the word. Opportunities like crowdfunding and “donate” buttons have made it so easy to give direct support to a cause and I am definitely a huge supporter of that aspect of online advocacy.
And the no aspect? I think because social media is just such a bombardment of information, pictures, and ads; it makes it hard for something to become important or visible to somebody on an emotional level. Somebody may "like" or "share" a cause and intend to help out—but what's intention without action? Nothing, unfortunately. I wish I saw a bit more selflessness online, but it was designed in a way to make people selfish, and that's one of the consequences that NGO's and individuals such as myself face in the online world.
"Anyone who is not content...
...with themselves should consider focusing on something much bigger than them like the refugee crisis."
How is your humanitarian work helping you find yourself/grow into yourself?
I started when I was about 16 years old, so I was very young and naive at the time. I feel like humanitarian work has helped me realize things much more quickly than my own reality would. I lived in a bubble and humanitarian work helped me escape from that. It also then set me on a path that allowed me to grow on an emotionally intelligent scale, which I believe is one of the most crucial aspects of reaching self-actualization. I can confidently say that I feel content in my life--something I wasn't able to say about a year ago. I believe that anyone who is not content with themselves should consider focusing on something much bigger than them like the refugee crisis.
What do you think is the best way for young people to get involved in activism today?
Doing what they do best: following pages on Instagram and Facebook, and staying open to opportunities that would allow them to get involved. Simply messaging an organization, or even an individual who may have a connection to an organization, is the first step. That being said, young people: come to me, and I will help support you in any and every way I can. I'm a DM away on @humansofgazacamp.
How do you motivate yourself to keep going when progress is so inconstant?
I remember all the children I held in my arms; all the smiles I embraced from them, the hugs of gratitude I had received from mothers, and the cries of help I had received from the troubled... those memories, they're with me for life, and they keep me going—regardless of how hard it gets.