a mother's perspective on her daughter's work with refugees

Good Turns Across The Generations

A mother’s perspective on a daughter’s volunteer work

The fact that Tara Cort’s daughter Eliza is spending the summer working with refugees on the Greek island of Samos makes her “beyond happy,” she says. Part of the management staff at the Hotel Tivoli in Tivoli NY, Cort says she’s excited that her daughter is so enthusiastic about the work she’s doing, but she’s also aware that the changed perspective such work brings can sometimes complicate the task of turning your attention back to your everyday life.

Eliza studies human rights and Arabic at Bard College, where she’ll be a senior this fall. On Samos she is working with an aid organization called Samos Volunteers that assists refugees from a wide range of countries—Syria, the Congo, Afghanistan, and more—while they are housed in camps during the process of seeking asylum. Eliza volunteers her time there, but to get to Greece she applied for and won a grant from Bard. That’s when the hard work began.

“She’s heartbroken. She’s starting to feel close to the children, but she can’t get too close because she has to go back to school.”

“When she volunteered, she thought maybe she’s just be doing laundry, maybe she’ll just be serving food,” Cort says. “But she’s a go-getter, and so she’s teaching English class. She teaches an adult English class, and she says there’s a journalist from Palestine who is well known and so intelligent, and she as a 21-year-old is teaching him English. And she says there’s lawyers and doctors. That class is very interesting for her. And she’s started the first women’s fitness class ever on the island. And she’s teaching an art class, and she’s working with children every day.”

The work is engaging, but the situation on Samos is challenging, to say the least. “She’s heartbroken,” her mother says, “She doesn’t know how she’s going to leave. She works with a lot of children, and she’s starting to feel close to the children, but she can’t get too close because she has to go back to school. So she is taking on more than she ever expected.”

A busy volunteer life runs in the family, Cort told Good Turns recently. When her children were younger, they accompanied Cort on a busy schedule of volunteerism. “I used to run the library program, so they were always helping there. We were pretty active in our church for quite a while. I was always the PTA president, so I was always bringing them with me to work, work, work, work, at every little function,” she says. “Certainly there were quite a number of instances we went down to the city or even Poughkeepsie to work in women’s shelters and things like that.”

“My parents were the same way,” Cort recalls. “We were always running around doing thing, small-town things like the library. I had my first child at Eliza’s age, so my volunteerism ended up morphing into normal parent volunteerism, such as Scouts, and school functions. I did take it to an extreme.”

Cort’s enthusiasm infected Eliza’s older sister Emily as well, who spent time working in South Africa. “When Emily came back from South Africa, she was a changed woman,” Cort says. “She was about the age Eliza is now. She struggled, very much so, coming back and going back to school. She was in a sorority and played field hockey. That was hard. I know Eliza is going to have the same trouble after. She is supposed to go on a little vacation once this is over, just around Greece, and she said she can’t, she’s going to have to cancel it. She said , ‘After what I’ve experienced, it doesn’t feel right to go on vacation.’ I said, ‘No you don’t. You can take three days and enjoy yourself.’ So I know she’s going to struggle coming back.”

That struggle makes a good example for the rest of us. It isn’t necessary to work as hard as Tara Cort and her daughters, but if you can take the time and effort to help someone, it’s worth whatever struggle it entails.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Ithmus

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