She's Living Proof That We're Not as Powerless as We ThinkNone By Matt Alesevich
In a world where it seems like a powerful few control the fate of the world, it’s no surprise that many people deem their philanthropic dreams unrealistic and overambitious, and continue on with life as usual.
Trude Jacobsen could have been one of those people.
Just two years ago, Trude was your average working mom in Oslo, coordinating customer relationship management efforts at a Norwegian television company while raising five children.
But something changed all that, ultimately snowballing her into a life of philanthropy: overhearing a few stats about Europe’s growing refugee crisis.
Today, the 45-year-old runs Dråpen i Havet, or A Drop in the Ocean, a Facebook group turned NGO that provides aid, services, and activities for refugees in three Greek refugee camps.
To help prove that everyday people (we’re looking at you!) can start small to make a big difference, Happify caught up with Trude, the original drop in the Dråpen i Havet ocean.
What were you doing professionally before getting involved in the refugee cause?
I have a degree in relations management. The prior six and a half years before I started A Drop in the Ocean, I was working for Norway’s leading cable television company.
Did you ever imagine taking on something like this?
I would never imagine I'd be working in the humanitarian sector at all. I had no previous experience with refugees, and I'd never really given the situation of displaced people very much thought.
What changed that?
On August 21, 2015, I heard a discussion on the radio that was all about numbers—130,000 [refugees] had reportedly arrived on the European continent through the Greek Islands in the first six months of 2015. In Norway, the politicians were fighting about how many [refugees] Norway could receive. Something just happened inside me. I can’t explain it. It was like someone saying, “Do something!”
So what did you do?
Eight days later, I was on my way to Lesvos (the Greek island near Turkey where many refugees enter Europe via boat) with 130 kilos of supplies, and no idea what I would do there. There were no humanitarian organizations, and only a handful of volunteers like me handing out water, clothes, and diapers. Between 1,500 and 2,000 refugees arrived every day—some had war injuries, some were pregnant, some were carrying nothing but their children. I felt I had to tell the world what was going on.
How did you get the word out?
I created a Facebook group. Within four days, the group had 11,000 members. I received hundreds of messages from people who wanted to help. Three days after my return to Norway, we sent the first group of Drops (as A Drop in the Ocean volunteers are called) to Lesvos. The need for help in Greece increased rapidly, so we worked hard and fast to set up a legal NGO. In our first 18 months, we sent more than 3,000 volunteers from over 35 countries to Greece.
Why did you choose the name A Drop in the Ocean?
I didn’t plan to start an organization when I chose that name. The group was originally meant for my close family and friends. A Drop in the Ocean seemed to be a good name for the small contribution I hoped to get from each person. There are many preconceived notions about refugees.
Did you have any before you started this work?
The picture I had in my mind from the media before meeting the refugees myself was that they are mostly young, single men searching for a better future and wanting our jobs. The truth is that of the refugees currently stuck in Greece, more than 50 percent are women and children. Many of [the refugees] are highly educated people who just did what we all would do if our country was under attack—escape to save the lives of our children.
There are many people out there who’ve dreamed of quitting their jobs to do what you’re doing. What can you tell them?
You’re more likely to regret things you have not done. Being an actor in the humanitarian sector affects everything I do—and I would say only in a positive way.
How can people get involved?
For the ones who have the opportunity to travel and work as a volunteer, I say to come volunteer with us. You will get the necessary training on site, which will be [useful] for life. Millions and millions of people around the world are forced to flee from their homes, and we cannot just sit back and watch the suffering.
What about those who can’t realistically leave home?
Of course, a lot of people are not in a position where they can travel. As a young NGO, we are always in need of financial support. All our work is funded through private donations from individuals and companies, and our administrative fees are very low.
But overall, I would just encourage you to meet refugees settling down in your neighborhood with hospitality, curiosity, and love. Remember that nobody leaves everything they have unless they must.
There are many studies showing that volunteering and helping others increases one’s happiness. Does your experience confirm that?
Definitely. Having the opportunity to do something for others is the greatest gift. My hope for my children used to be that they get a good education and a good job. Now I hope more than anything that they find a meaningful mission in life.
Matt Alesevich is a New York-based journalist and travel writer. He can be followed on Instagram and Twitter.
You May Also Like: