October 30, 2019

CONTIKI’S EVOLUTION: Meet Hesham, The Syrian Refugee Tour Guide in Berlin

Words by Matt Leedham

24-year-old Hesham Moadamani is a Syrian Refugee and now Berlin resident and tour guide who is inspiring young Australian travellers to savour the world and live in the moment.

During Hesham’s first year of law school in Damascus, the Syrian revolution broke out.

Hesham quickly got involved in the peaceful uprising as a citizen journalist reporting the news to local and international agencies before later becoming a war correspondent.

As part of the migrant crisis in 2015, Hesham was stripped of his official documents and forced to flee his home country of Syria by swimming from Turkey to Greece.

Hesham wrapped up his three prized belongings — his passport, laser pen and mobile phone in plastic and nylon bags, stood at the edge of Turkey and surveyed the Greek island in the distance before slipping into the freezing night waters of the Mediterranean and beginning a six-hour swim towards Europe.

On the journey across the Aegean Sea, Hesham lost all his possessions and almost drowned before a Greek coastal guard pulled him out of the water.

When the coastal guard asked him for his documents he realised that without a passport he wasn’t going to be counted as a human being.

What’s the challenge?

When was the last time you met a refugee? Have you ever met a refugee that you know of?

Hesham’s experience is not unique. Losing his passport and feeling as though he didn’t matter as a human being is one that most of us could never begin to imagine.

The true gift of travel is meeting people from all walks of life and hearing otherworld stories that change your perspective and outlook on your own life.

Aside from the fact that it’s normally extremely hard for refugees to find their place in society, it’s also rare that they get the chance to share their story via a platform where they can affect positive change too.

Most refugees have escaped hideous situations and left family members behind without the prospect of being able to return home or in many cases, even communicate with them again.

Hesham’s incredible story is one of the many and the lucky.

“They gave us papers and we went to Athens and from there to Thessaloniki. From there we had a long walk. We reached the Macedonian border at 3am. Our feet were really cut and sore. We managed to get into Serbia and from there had to think of how we’d cross Hungary without being obliged to apply for asylum there. We booked tickets for a bus to the border. After spending a night in the forest, we changed into fresh clothes so we wouldn’t look like migrants. But we were picked up by the Hungarian police and taken to jail in Budapest. That night they let us go. A taxi agreed to take us for €500 per person from Budapest to Germany. After two hours we were in Germany. After just a few metres we were met by the police, who immediately arrested our drivers and asked us: “Are you Syrians?” We said yes we are. “You are welcome to Germany,” they told us. They were smiling and I felt relaxed and safe. Finally, I’m in Germany, living in Lübeck and waiting to get a residency permit and to start learning German so that I can pursue my education and find better opportunities.”

What’s the solution?

Now a resident of Berlin, Hesham works for Refugee Voices Tours who have teamed up with Contiki to show tourists around the city and draws parallels between his native Syria and the German capital, once a place to flee but now a place to flee to.

Hesham is also currently completing a B.A in Ethics and Politics at Bard College Berlin, where he also works for the civic engagement office and co-manages “Campus Conversations”, a place for students, locals, and refugees to discuss important issues and practice languages.

Contiki has handpicked conscious travel experiences like this Berlin Tour with Hesham especially for travellers aged 18-35.

The aim is to give Contiki-goers a fresh perspective while also giving something back to the communities visited on their trips, and delivering to the growing trend for conscious and ethical travel among Gen-Z travellers.

What will the positive impact be?

The commitment to sustainable travel and tourism isn’t new for Contiki – it’s all part of making travel matter, supported by its Contiki Cares initiative and working with the TreadRight Foundation to support key projects globally.

The mission of Contiki Cares and TreadRight is to protect people, wildlife and the planet, and this is the philosophy driving the inclusion of the new conscious travel experiences on their latest trips.

You can meet Hesham and hear his story on Contiki’s: ‘Berlin to Budapest by Train, 8 nights/9 days’ trip.

Find out more:

How can you travel to change the world?

Congratulations! By reading this post and taking some of these insights on board, you’ve already made a difference.

Now you can easily create your impact by sharing your new-found knowledge with other friends who you think would also be interested.

Ultimately, responsible travel comes down to common sense – stay curious, keep yourself up-to-date with the challenges at hand and make yourself accountable for your actions on your travels.