Changing hearts & minds | Story

The last post I wrote was quite a while ago. Quite frankly, I felt overwhelmed by the current refugee crisis and the increased attention to it (finally!). 2015 was a very tough year for millions of people. More people have been forced to leave their homes and countries than at any time since World War 2. More than 1 million people have crossed the Mediterranean, risking their lives to escape from war and persecution.

In light of all of this, my story felt so small and unimportant. People are struggling now to survive. People are fighting now for their lives. Why should I share my story then – I’m now safe, happy and live a comfortable life. Why would anyone care?

A lot has happened since my last post. At Google (where I work), I initiated a global donation matching campaign to raise money for the refugee and migrant crisis. What all started with just an idea, turned into a huge monster of a project. We asked users in 37 countries to donate and we would match their donation up to €5 million. And incredibly enough, in just 2.5 days we reached our target and we raised €10 million.€10 million! This money went to four nonprofits (e.g. Save The Children and Doctors without Borders) to help them provide basic needs to refugees, such as water, food and shelter.

To announce this matching campaign, I decided to share my personal story with the world. Can you imagine how scary it is to do this on the Google company blog that has such global reach? But I knew it was important to help more people understand what it means to be a refugee, and the only way I could do this is by making it really personal.

The responses I got to this blog were overwhelming. I saw my name popping up in articles all over the world (OMG!). I received the most heartwarming messages from colleagues, current friends, old friends, family members and strangers from all over the world.

Responses 1What struck me most were messages from people telling me that my blog changed their perspective on the situation, and that it opened their eyes. Not everyone was aware of my past and people believed it helped to humanize the crisis to them. That it made them rethink their opinion on refugees and how to deal with the current situation.

Last week, I had the opportunity to share my story and my role in Google’s refugee crisis response with ~800 other colleagues at Google. It was the first time I spoke to so many people on such a large stage – you can’t even imagine how nervous I was. Will I remember what to say? Will I break down in tears? But once I stood there, I felt overtaken by a willingness to tell the story that thousands of refugees wish they could tell. And so I did.


Again, people were sending me so many kind messages of support and encouragement. One note that I was really touched by was from a friend to whose Facebook post I responded a couple of months ago. After my talk, he sent me this message below (big kudos to him – this takes a lot of courage!)

Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 9.35.59 PM

It made me realize that if my blog and my story can change the perspective of even just one person, then I need to go on. If it will help others to have an open mind and treat people better – then opening up and being completely vulnerable is all worth it.

So, let’s continue this journey.

I still don’t know where it’s going. But I hope you’ll stick along.


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