This little hand belongs to a wise soul. I just listened to the long blasts of the ferry horn as it leaves, taking her and so many more I’ve come to love onto the next stage in their journey. Oh how I will miss her kisses each morning! ❤️ The children I work with in Camp Moria teach me about love, purity, and resiliency. When I look in their eyes, I see the courage of powerful spirits, and I’m encouraged and reminded to not be too sad. The world may be a dark place, but these innocent eyes l look into each day light up the world and remind me to always live with hope. And they make it easier to do so. 💕🌱
The weather is quickly changing as fall rolls in here on Lesvos. Although the temperature hasn’t dropped too low, wind and rain has made for some chilly nights this past week. We had a request from our friends at the Hope Project warehouse to send over volunteers to help pack up summer clothes and start unpacking the winter gear.
The Hope Project warehouse was set up last year as conditions in the camp were inhumane, with many families and individuals in Moria still living in summer tents. The warehouse began to provide hats, gloves, scarves, socks, snow boots, blankets, sleeping bags, strollers and basic hygiene supplies. An average of 30-40 families are being served everyday!
As the weather changed to a brilliant Greek summer, families with a new need for t-shirts, shorts, and swim suits starting coming in. And now we are back to winter prep. Most of our days were spent sorting through current racks and bins to keep the warmer clothes and box up summer ones.
As families and individuals from Moria camp come into the warehouse, they are given a hygiene kit full of basic needs. Then they are presented with shoes and various clothing items that they get to choose from. It’s always a pleasure to see new families leave with bags full of warm clothes and supplies for the winter!
As volunteers in Camp Moria, we often are exposed to opportunities that are simultaneously joyful and melancholy. One experience that stands out is distributing underwear to the women fifteen years old and older in Section A of the camp. We started by sorting the donated underwear into sizes and counting to see how many we had. Once we could guarantee that each woman could receive at least one pair, we began weaving our way through various tents, children, and projects to distribute the underwear.
Having been in Section A for a little over a week, we thought we had seen and talked to the majority of the women who live there. However, this was not the case. We quickly discovered just how many families are housed in each tent and/or ISOBOX (“rooms”). Anywhere from seven to ten women live in one room with the rest of their families. The women who received underwear vary from young girls to mature women. Several of these women were pregnant, have extremely young kids, or in one room, had just given birth.
As we went from room to room, it was enjoyable to see how excited and grateful each woman was to receive a new pair of underwear. The women eagerly searched through the stacks to find the perfect pair for them. Something so simple reminded us how relatable these women are to us as volunteers. It was eye opening to listen to many women mention how few pairs of underwear they owned, or how one woman owned none. It can be hard to wrap your head around the fact that something as simple as a pair of underwear can be difficult to come by (and keep). Due to the high demand for underwear, there were even two young boys concerned that their mother would not receive a pair as she was away at an appointment in Mytilene and would not be back before we completed the distribution. They continued to follow us through the section until we reached their room where they could pick out a pair for their mom. This experience made the struggles of people living in the camp more apparent, and showed how often these individuals (even children) have to look out for each other. Overall, though there may not have been enough underwear for every person, the joy on the faces of those that did was gratifying and impactful.
Sometimes people ask me if I’m safe where I work. One of the things that helps me to answer yes is the wonderful people in these pictures. The world calls them refugees. I call them friends, and know they would each have my back at a moments notice. They are businessmen, psychologists, police men, social workers, entrepreneurs, and some have worked in humanitarian aid and refugee camps themselves in the past. More importantly, they are sons, brothers and fathers, and it’s a privilege to teach and spend time with their children. And it’s fun to watch you play football. ⚽️😊 To those leaving Camp Moria and the island this week-our hearts and prayers go with you. To those remaining, I stand with you.
Curry pasta, Greek yogurt, and ice cream waffles- a curious spread for a weekend brunch. As volunteers on the island of Lesvos, Greece, our first official weekend finally arrived, and we were ready for it! We were all thrilled to have a day to explore the city of Mytilene and fully immerse ourselves in the Greek way of life. That meant walking through the harbor and exploring the island shops; an activity that we all enjoyed. Full immersion in the Greek way of life is also not possible without the instituted nap that occurs from 2-5 pm daily.
Following our nap, we made a democratic decision to go and explore the Hope Project Warehouse. We left our house with vague directions, little Greek, and high hopes for this expedition. Here on the island the people and volunteers take the bus just about everywhere. After getting off on our stop, we quickly realized that we were going to need some help to get to the right place. Eventually we made our way to the warehouse. However, our journey included some minor disorientation, climbing a large dirt hill in our sandals and flip flops, and making a small group of Greek men laugh at our efforts as they watched our clearly misguided, but successful, attempt to reach our destination.
We were relieved when we saw the Hope Project sign and were unsure what to expect. The warehouse has been serving as a refugee outlet for many to come and express their feelings through art, whether through sculpting, painting, or drawing. It has restored hope to many refugee’s and volunteers on the island. Within moments of our arrival we were greeted by a man named Joseph who we had become friends with while working in Camp Moria. We received a personal tour of the art collection and an in-depth explanation of the paintings on display and the stories behind them.
The overall feeling in the warehouse quickly turned to a somber state as we empathized with the sorrow and hardships of the trails that many refugees have encountered for years. Joseph, an artist of many of the paintings here, quickly reminded us: “Remember to always have hope.” A saying he closed with uniting his hands as if saying a silent prayer. Every piece of art in the room was also an amazing reminder of the power of hope.
A few moments later, chairs were distributed to each of us and three refugee men began testing microphones for a musical performance. The music began at a slower pace, the first piece was a song on Piano, “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion. Slowly the music became unrecognizable and the pace and rhythm picked up to a much more upbeat tempo. The guitar, hand drum, piano, and vocals formed together to create music unlike anything we had heard before. The music was some of the most beautiful we have ever heard. In some small way each song allowed us a slight insight into the pain, happiness, and hope that comes with being a refugee.
One of our favorite parts of the night was the dancing that happened after the music. We learned several traditional African dances and had such a fun time “shaking it” on the dance floor. At the end of each African dance we would form a circle and each member of our group would take turns entering the circle to show off our dancing skills. It was so fun to watch everyone, especially the refugee men who were extremely talented dancers. We had an amazing first day off in Greece and could not have spent our time any better!
HELP International Greece Team 2018
Jordan Dearborn & Amanda Hernandez
All of our volunteers have arrived! The Help International Greece Fall 2018 program has officially begun! We could not be happier to have a wonderful team here. We will continue our efforts with refugees here in Camp Moria, where we are involved in many social projects, such as teaching kids education classes, adult English classes, and football activities. We also work in a refugee community center nearby where refugees can come for meals, classes, a gym, a playground, to see a barber or tailor, etc.
The second day here we took our volunteers north on the island to a city called Molyvos, where there is the life jacket graveyard. We learned that day that the current count of people who have died in the waters between here and Turkey is now 48,000. To see the mounds of life jackets, and think about the lives they represent, was a powerful experience. The visual of all those life jackets helped us to think about what all the refugees we work with in the camp have been through.
To be able to work here in such dire situations is truly a privilege. And while it can be incredibly challenging and exhausting, it’s a wonderful feeling to be working in the pursuit of a better world, combating the evils that surround us. It’s very eye-opening and heart-expanding to work with people who are escaping from terrible circumstances that they did nothing to deserve. These people need a voice. And they need a shred of normalcy, education, safety, exercise, laughter, and love. My heart feels overflowing with that love to give to this part of the world, and I already don’t want to think about how it will feel to leave here.
Traveling to Greece, I had a lot of time to think about the work I would be doing here with refugees. On one plane, I put aside the articles I was reading, and just thought for a moment. After about a minute I found myself feeling angry. At first sad, then angry. Thinking about how I would come for just 3 months and then just leave. That I would be able to leave, while thousands of refugees remain in terrible conditions. And why, just because of where I was born? While others have had to flee homes, family, land, culture, and everything familiar, just to be caught in this broken system, run by fear. I felt this way, hardly knowing anything. Then I arrived. The day I toured Camp Moria taught me more. I stood in the new arrivals section of the camp, a camp designed to hold 2000 that now has 10,000 refugees, and observed people who have been sitting, some for days, just waiting to be admitted into the camp. And then here they will be, sometimes for years. I had to keep my sunglasses on as my eyes began to tear up at the pain I observed in the eyes of those around me, then feeling guilty because those same people around me, in true dire situations, weren’t crying.
In his email this week, Garrett wrote: “the word compassion literally means ‘to suffer with others.’ If we have compassion for someone, then we are willing to take a portion of their pain, to give a part of our heart and mind to them. We should not observe somebody else's problems and then just pass them off to Heavenly Father in prayer asking to help them.” The powers of a faithful prayer cannot be underestimated, but I believe pairing it with action is true compassion.
As I entered the sections of the camp we work in, I observed many things in many people. But then I taught an English class to a group of children whose childhoods have been ripped from them. When we got out the cups that they had each planted seeds in, i watched their eyes light up in delight that the seeds had sprouted. I saw so much joy and innocence in those eyes and smiles. And so while I don’t understand the injustices of the world, nor can I fix them all, I decided to choose hope, and to each day choose compassion, and to feel whatever that brings.