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Dry shoes waiting for wet feet

“Philotimo” refers to a set of Greek values that might be described as a drive for goodness that transcends self-interest.  Lesvos has way more than its share.  

The volunteers here work 12 hour shifts and don’t eat regular meals.  They take care of each other. They have done such a good job of taking care of the land, you would hardly know that almost 500,000 homeless people have passed through here in the past year.

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What do you do with a half million life vests? The only piles on the beaches are there to signal incoming boats about safe places to land. The rest have been hauled to a special graveyard on the hill.

Welsh ex-pats, Eric and Philippa Kempson are local heroes as leaders of the efforts to support the refugees.  Their idyllic stone house across from Eftalou Beach is headquarters for a lot of the work on the Northern part of the island. Their yard has an artist’s workshop, olive trees and dozens of stacks of plastic boxes of warm clothes, diapers and medical supplies.eric_and_wife

The non-local volunteers are mostly European, mostly young. They live in a handful of local hotels that offer them special rates. The Belvedere, where I am staying, has also donated a room called the Watchtower that overlooks the water where volunteers look for boats through telescopes 24 hours a day. Because the hotels are not normally open in winter, the rooms do not have adequate heating for the freezing weather here this week. No one seems to notice but me.


Sweet Cookie

One of my neighbors at the hotel is Cookie ,who left her job and gave up her house in England to volunteer here full time. She expressed gratitude to the refugees for teaching her what is important in her life.

This morning I took the 6am shift along Eftalou Beach. I was alone because of a miscommunication between the volunteers.  I listened to a podcast of “This American Life” and checked my whatsapp every few minutes for notices of boat sightings. Because of the extremely cold weather, no boats have arrived for two days, which is very rare — the average on Lesvos in December was about 2,000 refugees a day.

While I sat in my car in the dark, a car full of young men on their way to the next watch station stopped to see how I was doing.  Satisfied with my response, the driver put the car into gear and nodded:  “You look like you are alone but you are not. God is with you.”


Tikkun Olam
—  from the Hebrew Mishnah, meaning “repair of the world”

Thanks to Gary Mankin for sharing this phrase






  1. Happy new year, and please keep these stories coming, daily if possible. I can see you there in the car freezing your ass off with a smile on your face. Thank you for doing this. We are all paying close attention to your work and stories – you are my headliner news each day. Sending you warm love but I wish I could sent you a heater as well. xo – Laura


  2. Wikipedia lists at least 80 types of tourism. They include ecotourism, microtourism, fashion tourism, dental tourism, even jihadi tourism. The closest I could find to what you are doing is voluntourism, which is a cute term, but perhaps not descriptive enough. I think we have to create another word: mitzvahtourism.

    Thanks for continuing to share your experiences. Especially at the turn of the year, when many of us think about what we can do to improve our personal world, you are showing us how it is possible to do that along with improving the greater world.

  3. Kim, you have more than your share of philotimo as well. It’s so amazing that you are there helping out and reading your posts is definitely a highlight for me. You are doing such good work! Xo Janet

  4. Thank you so very much, Kim, for sharing a viewpoint of this epic crisis that is not covered in the media.

    I want to share Vic’s comment…you are now my hero as well. Stay safe, please and thank you.

  5. Hi Kim, It just occurs to me that “Tikun Olam” could also be translated as Everlasting repair or everlasting correcting. I think you have found your spiritual calling. Love you so much.
    Who Is Gary Mankin? Introduce me.

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