In December 2013, I spend three wonderful weeks in Togo with the association “Afrique Positive”, who organized a Christmas work camp for the children of the village of Kouma-Apéyémé. There, I met my dear friend Edem, who supervised the camp, ensuring its smooth progress and always watching over us volunteers. I have always admired his dedication for these children.


Edem and me after preparing the children for the Christmas parade

He kindly accepted to tell me more about how he contributes to improving people’s lives there.

My name is Edem Ahialey. I have been a volunteer for the association “Afrique Positive” since 2008. I have first heard about it through a friend who had invited me to one of their meetings. I found there an occasion to bring my contribution to children’s education in rural areas. So I became a member straight away.

My activities in the association consist in:

  • organize and give school support classes to children with the participation of foreign volunteers and locals,

  • organize “Christmas for everyone” work camps during which we play games and distribute presents to the children with the participation of foreign and local volunteers,

  • to distribute school supplies to underprivileged children who are sponsored and to collect their report cards to then send them to the sponsors

  • to assist the long-term volunteers (2 to 12 months) in the progress of their mission.

My main motivation is the education of children in these areas where many of them don’t have access to school. I think it is difficult to develop an area if its people are not educated.

Of course, I see a clear improvement of the level of children in the villages where the association is active, in particular during the last three years. That’s what encourages even more the people of the villages.

In my opinion, to become a better person, we mustn’t be selfish and share what we have with others.

The main project of the association is to attract more foreign and local volunteers so that its activities can grow in even more villages, with the goal that more children can enjoy them.

If I had one message to spread, it would be not to ask yourself if we’ll ever have a perfect society or not. Not wonder if we’ll ever be able to heal all of society’s wounds. What matters is to do the best we can, in all simplicity, to create a better society. We mustn’t underestimate the positive impact of our contribution to it.

Original version in French:

Moi, c’est Edem Ahialey. Je suis volontaires bénévole pour l’association Afrique Positive depuis 2008. J’ai connu l’association par un ami qui m’avait invité à une de leurs réunions. J’ai trouvé là une occasion d’apporter ma contribution à l’éducation des enfants dans les milieux ruraux. Du coup, je suis devenu tout suite membre.
Mes activités dans l’association consistent:
– à organiser et à donner des cours de soutien scolaires aux enfants avec la participation des volontaires étranger et togolais,
– à organiser des camps chantiers “Noël pour tous” au cours desquels nous jouons à des jeux et des cadeaux sont distribués aux enfants avec la participation des volontaires étrangers et locaux
– à distribuer les fournitures scolaires aux enfants défavorisés qui sont parrainés et à collecter leur bulletins de notes pour les faires parvenir aux parrains.
– à assister les volontaires de long terme (2 à 12 mois) dans le déroulement de leur mission.
Ma motivation principale est l’éducation des enfants des milieux ruraux où beaucoup d’enfants n’ont pas  accès à l’école. Je pense que c’est difficile de développer un milieu si ses habitants ne sont pas instruits.
Evidemment je vois une nette amélioration du niveau des enfants dans les villages où l’association intervient en particulier ces trois dernières années. C’est ce qui motive davantage les villageois.

A mon avis pour devenir une meilleur personne, il ne faut pas être égoïste et partager ce qu’on a avec les autres.
Le projet principale pour l’association c’est augenter le nombre de volontaires etrangers comme togalais afin d’étendre les activités de l’association dans de nouveaux villages dans le but que plus d’enfants puissent en profiter.
Si j’ai un message à passer ce serait de ne pas se poser le question de savoir si on aura une société parfaite un jour ou pas. Ne pas se demander si on peut soigner toutes les plaies de la société ou pas. Ce qui importe c’est de faire du mieux qu’on peut en toute simplicité  pour améliorer la société. Il ne faut pas sous-estimer l’impact positif de sa contribution sur la société.

Has anyone been kind to you today?


A few weeks ago, I had to take a night train from Belgrade to Budapest. Once I got to the train station, after getting lost in the city and counting on the kindness of locals to guide me there, I was confirmed what two friendly guys from my hostel had warned me about: there was some construction on the train tracks at the border, so the journey wouldn’t be a direct one.

The first train was packed, mostly with refugees. The wagon was clearly separated: the “normal” passengers on one side and them in the back. It was like no one wanted to come near them, in fear of catching some mysterious disease or something. After a moment of surprise, I decided to sit on their side. They all looked tired, they all looked like they had gone through a lot, and they all had a hint of sadness in their eyes. I was touched and curious: I wanted to know their stories. But it is delicate to talk about those things, especially with so many people around. So at first, I just smiled and said hello. Some of them looked really surprised, maybe to see a girl there alone, at night, maybe because they were not used to being smiled at by people in these strange lands.
I started an interesting chat with two Syrian brothers, one was 15 years old and the other 18. Their parents were not with them; I didn’t ask why. They looked so young and so brave… I couldn’t imagine what they had must gone through, and yet here they were, smiling at me. They told me a bit about their tough journey, without going into the details, of course. As we were talking, someone sitting behind offered me cookies.
Shortly after, some border control officers appeared and asked everyone for their passports. Two young men on my right started getting agitated; something was wrong. And indeed, when it was their turn, they had no piece of identity to show the man. He took them away. After that, we had to get out of the train and take a bus to cross the border before taking another train, all of this in the middle of the night. That’s where our paths separated: the group of refugees was taken somewhere else, who knows where, and I got on the bus.
I don’t know where these people are now, but I hope they are in a good place, a better one than the one they left. I hope they will meet kind people like themselves, and that those people will help them survive in the harsh society waiting for them.

Unfortunately, I am afraid they’re not. I am not in that society anymore, but I see the reaction of people on social media; I see all the fear, the concerns and sometimes even the hatred towards these people. It terrifies me. I see people make big theories about how only the ones who don’t deserve it come to Europe, how we are welcoming terrorists or how these people are not grateful enough once they are there.
Have these people spoken to one of them, even once? Have they walked in a refugee camp? Have they asked them their story? Do they know what they’ve been through, what they’ve seen, what they’d like to forget but never will? How its feels like to flee from a country in war only to arrive in a place full of ill will towards them?
I bet they haven’t, I bet they don’t. I bet they found all their arguments on some article online, I bet they didn’t even bother to verify its sources. I bet they haven’t tried to imagine what they’ve been through, what they are still going through, because no human being with even the slightest hint of compassion in his or her heart could react so coldly if they did.
Yes, the situation is difficult. We may not have all the right infrastructures and may not be fully prepared for that amount of people arriving all at the same time in our countries. But something we all have is a heart to feel compassion and love with, and a brain we can use all together to find solutions, instead of wanting to push the problem away. While we’re at it, we could try and use it to think about the reasons and causes behind those wars, and maybe realize that we have our role to play in that horrible staging.

What I haven’t said is that, that same evening, I was tired, scared and little bit sad too. Not for the same reasons of course, and certainly not with the same intensity. Travelling, especially alone, isn’t always as easy as one may think. But sharing those conversations, those smiles and those cookies made me feel much better, made me feel happy, made me want to share even more of those conversations and smiles and cookies with everybody else I would meet on my way.
I have been travelling for almost 5 months now. I sometimes arrive in places where I know nobody and have no idea where to go, and in every single case, I have been lucky enough to have crossed the path of many, many kind people who have helped me, who have offered me a smile, a hand, some useful information and sometimes even food and shelter without expecting anything in return. Most of them probably didn’t have much material wealth, but were all incredibly rich anyway. I am in South Korea now, and I’ve been blessed with so much generosity since I am here. I feel so grateful for it every day and I hope to be able to give some back in the near future. My only regret is that this generosity shouldn’t surprise me; it shouldn’t be an exception. Kindness should be the norm, for everyone and everywhere. What does a smile cost?


We are one people, we share one earth. We’re all in this together. We may all have different stories and backgrounds, we still all go through the same emotions and moods in life. We are all animated by the same aspirations: being in a safe place, where we can feel loved and accepted, where we can do what fulfills us. We all have love and kindness in our hearts, along with hatred and fear. Which one you fill yourself with – the choice is yours. I’ve made my decision long ago. You can choose too, you can choose to roll your eyes and think of me as an idealistic and naive person, close this page and go back to whatever you were doing. Or you can stop for a second and think about this story, about what an act of kindness can do. This is not only valid for the refugee crisis. If after reading this, you go out of your house and give a smile to the person with a sad look on her face or reach out to a stranger who looks like he needs a friend, or even think that after all, those people from the middle east asking for shelter are maybe not all the monsters you thought they were but just human beings with the same aspirations as you and me, then my goal will have been achieved.

The situation is bad, and changes have to be made. But the first change happens in our minds. Remember what one brave little girl said once:

“No one has ever become poor by giving.”