Written By A Wild Dove
As a jaded business executive, Kim Proal felt herself getting caught up in the New York bubble. So one day, she decided to pop it.
In 2012, she took her first volunteer trip to India, where she assisted an orphanage for special needs children. “I was a bit of a close-minded, self-centered New Yorker and I knew it,” Kim said.
“I needed perspective and I needed to do more than send money to various organizations. India started me on my volunteering path.” Following her life-changing trip, Kim went onto volunteer at another orphanage in Ethiopia and just last summer traveled to Chios, Greece to aid Syrian refugees with a Norwegian based organization, Dråpen i Havet. There, they distributed food, set up activities for the children, cleaned the beaches and gave out shoes and clothing. She recently returned from her second trip there, where she checked in on all of the friends she made, who are still living in terrible conditions.
We’ve been fortunate enough to know and love Kim for years, so when we she told us about her last trip to Greece, we were so inspired that we had to share it. Kim was also kind enough to detail how we can all get involved and that although it might appear overwhelming, helping others is easier than we think and one of the most gratifying things we can possibly do.
We are so moved by your work. Can you describe the "trigger moment" in realizing you wanted to volunteer?
There were a few triggers – first with wanting to volunteer around the world and then the moment I made the decision to volunteer with refugees. My first volunteer trip was at a Special Needs Orphanage in India in 2012. I was consumed with too many material items and knew I needed balance and perspective in my life. I was at the house of my former boss and we were chatting about life and our desire to volunteer and the conversation led to the book, “Shantaram,” a novel set in India, this was absolutely the greatest book recommendation that I ever received. I read the last page, closed the book and a few months later I was on my way to volunteer in India.
My trigger moment with working with the refugees happened in March 2015, listening to an NPR segment as I was getting ready for work one morning. We were so removed from the Syrian Civil War and the Syrian Refugee Crises for so long, although this war started in 2011. The NPR broadcast had a young Syrian man, still in university, speaking from inside a depilated building. There were missiles and bombs exploding in the background and he was so very sad and so very horrified. He became emotional, as did I. I knew I could not go to Syria, but I knew that there were so many people fleeing that needed help. This is when I decided to work with the refugees.
Wow, those are some amazing memories. If someone came to you wanting to get involved, what are some practical tips you’d give them?
Do your due diligence. There are so many wonderful volunteer organizations doing wonderful things and filling in the many voids the governments are not handling. But some don’t take short-term volunteers and when you have limited vacation time, you need to maximize your time spent. Research the work the organizations do, talk to former volunteers and become comfortable with how the NGO is supporting the cause.
That makes sense. Can you tell us something you've learned on your journey?
I have learned so so much in the process and I use it to educate others. I really enjoy being a voice for so many whose voices has been taken from them. I like people to know that I have near and dear friends sitting in refugee camps and they are the kindest, caring, most generous people.
I like people to know that they were former business men and women, professors, college students, etc. They are children that can’t go to school or play on a playground anymore.
And after all that they have been through, we continue to shut our doors on them. But one of the biggest takeaways is the hope and courage and fight in all of them.
How do you prepare for these trips? Mentally and physically?
That’s a tough question because you can’t really prepare for some of the gut wrenching stories you will hear – stories about loss of family members, devastation and destruction. You also can never prepare for how tough it is to leave and hard the adjustment to life back at home can be. But when you are there, you are running on adrenaline, trying to be as productive as possible. When I return home, it is emotional and I need to take baby steps back into the "real world."
How has this experience changed you and what's next for you?
Well I have the most incredible friends that are in refugee camps, people I talk to more than my friends here. We speak on a daily basis. I will never understand why war had to bring us together, but I am so lucky to have them in my life. I am upset with our administration and saddened that the world can be so cruel. No one chooses to be a refugee, you are a refugee when you have no other choice.
I plan on returning to Souda Refugee Camp (on the island of Chios) this summer, it will be my third time there. I will continue to work with the NGO and support in any and every way I can. I will continue to fight for human rights, alongside the refugees.