Meet Janne Henna, a mother and a business owner who is helping refugees in Chios, Greece.
My interview with her
Tell me a little about yourself?
My name is Janne pronounced “Yana,” and I am from Norway. My husband and I have four adult children and own a company.
Why did you choose this cause?
When I first heard about the refugee situation in spring 2015, I was really upset and wanted to help. My children are all grown up and have moved away so I had the freedom of doing whatever was needed. I contacted a few organizations like UNHCR and asked them how I could help, the work they had was mostly administrative office work but I wanted to be actively helping at the front lines. In Jan 2016, I left Norway and came to Greece, and became the coordinator of a wonderful Norwegian organization called A Drop in the Ocean. I stayed there for about 10 months. Working with this organization I learned so much, I worked in the camps, distributed food and clothes and I got to see the refugee situation first hand.
Why volunteer with CESRT(Chios Eastern Shore Response Team)?
After working there for some time, I felt like there was a huge need for a place where children could be children. I felt like they were not given the opportunity to have a normal healthy childhood. One thing that was alarming to me was that, the kids didn’t cry if they got hurt, I felt like it could possibly be because they had either gotten used to the pain or they felt like no one cared, the parents were dealing with so much trauma on their own. Being a preschool teacher, I really saw the need to create a children’s center where kids could play and where parents could just be parents. I started to work with an organization from Switzerland and asked them if they felt there was a need for a children’s house and they said yes, I also asked the refugee mothers what they thought about it and they totally agreed- it was a great idea! All the work and planning for the Children’s House was done was done with the help of the refugee mothers.
But we needed someone local, who understood the language and so I contacted Toula of CESRT and asked her what she thought about the idea for the Children’s House and she said she loved it and wanted to support it. So we all worked together and opened the Children’s House on Jan 2nd 2017.
If you can use one word to describe yourself, what would it be?
One word would be “Mother” because I feel motherly towards people and worry about their well being, I try to take care of people around me.
What have you learned about the refugee situation that you didn’t know before?
Before working with the refugees, they seemed like they were unreal- something that was distant from me. But once I started working with them I realized that there wasn’t much difference between us, little Noora and Muhammed were just like my children. I got to meet Maria from Syria who was a medical student and had to leave because of the bombings in her city, like me she had dreams and hopes for the future. It also made me realize that when someone leaves everything they ever own behind for the safety of their family, what awful things they must have endured in their own country. They leave their entire “universe” behind and get on small boats with nothing, some parents send their children alone because they fear for their safety. I feel so blessed that just because I was born in Norway my fate is different from these families, and my heart breaks for them.
How do you plan to raise awareness in your community about the refugee crisis?
It makes me sad that we have so much space and money in Norway to take care of these families, yet the government has decided “that there is no crisis.” But I try my best and share the news and images on Facebook, I talk to my friends and family and with the help of a Norwegian organization have raised 1500 euros.
What is your message to the world?
I believe we are all one and we need to start taking care of each other and this beautiful little planet that we live on!