As I settle in here and talk to locals and volunteers, I hear so many amazing stories. The community of Lesvos has made a difference in the lives of so many and has itself been profoundly transformed by the refugee crisis.
Natasha is a single mother of two who works every day in the warehouse in Molyvos, folding and sorting clothes for the refugees. When we are having dinner together, everyone who walks in the restaurant runs to her with open arms and expressions of joy. She speaks with a sort of poetry describing how the community has changed. “This is the time of our lives not for money but for humanity…We don’t think about anything else any more.” She explains that people in Molyvos go home at night rather than gather in cafes to dance and sing as they used to. “But we are grateful. We see that people who have lost everything smile and thank us. We learn so much from them.”
Yanos owns a bar on the harbor road called “Pirates”, a favorite watering hole for young volunteers. He describes the day a boat filled with 250 refugees broke apart just outside the harbor while tourists and locals sat at cafes. This happened during the period before there were medics and lifeguards here, so fisherman in the harbor went out to meet the boat and dozens of local residents ran to the harbor to help. He worries about what the recent changes in the political environment will mean for other lives.
Michael works at a bakery in Kolloni on the road where the refugees who arrived on northern beaches once walked for 40 miles to Mytilene. He says now that the refugees have transportation to Mytilene, he misses the opportunity to be helpful by sharing loaves of bread and bottles of water. He gives me giant bags of bread to take to the refugee camp.
Aphrodite owns a hotel on a beach where hundreds of boats landed in 2015. She recounts dressing children in the clothes of her own son and daughter, of 50 people showing up to help her family clean up broken boats on the beach, of a soaking wet baby who stopped crying by sucking on her neck. She laughs about the boatload of musicians who arrived on her beach and announced “We are a special boat!” as they video taped their landing. The musicians made it to Germany and now internationally known for their music and their escape from Syria. http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2015/08/19/432584553/syrian-rockers-fleeing-war-find-safety-and-new-fans-in-beirut
The people of Lesvos have welcomed more than a half million refugees in the past year and helped them on their journey. There are no stories here of terrorists or crime or rage but there are a endless stories of compassion and mutual understanding.
Lesvos is a living lesson in humanity. Indignity and hopelessness are breeding grounds for extremism. If we want to be safe from war and terrorism, we should support the people who have lost everything in their search for a hopeful and secure life.
“Thank you. This is the first time in two months anyone has smiled at me.”
Refugee arriving at Eftalou Beach, Lesvos.
One of the enduring mysteries to me is how all the folks and organizations- both local and international – cover the costs to help these refugees. Can you explain that sometime?
Good question. I understand that most of it comes from small private donations, either to small NGOs here or to individuals. Some of it comes from giant NGOs, like Mercy Corps and Medicins Sans Frontiers and the International Rescue Committee (a darling of American investment bankers) and the UN High Command for Refugees. Keep in mind the people of Lesvos got almost no help from any large NGO or government until recently. Many residents here contributed funds and literally the clothes off their back for many months.
Thanks you to Natasha for her unselfish gifts, thank you to Yanos for his “spirit revival” for the volunteers, thank you to Michael for the “staff of life”, thank you to Aphrodite for her warmth and shelter in the storm, thanks to Khebez Dawle for telling the world about the suffering through songs. Thanks to you Kim for spreading the word and sharing your love. The world is watching and listening.
These are beautiful stories, Kim. Thank you for listening, watching, helping, sharing.
Thank you for your inspiring post. What a wonderful community. I LOVE your cottage and I am so glad you are there, right now. Thank you. If I wanted to donate to help there, who/how should I proceed?
If you want your donation to be tax deductible and to a small local organization, I would donate to Dirty Girls (be sure to add “Lesvos” and “laundry” when you google it). There don’t seem to be any other American nonprofits here except the giant ones, who will not use your funds most efficiently. If you don’t care about tax deductible, I would send to Better Days for Moria (Swiss) or Starfish Foundation (Greek) or Public Action in Housing (Scottish), all of which are doing amazing amounts of work with little. You can also send me funds on paypal and I will buy one of two things that are hugely needed here: shoes or oranges. The refugees walk so much in such difficult terrain that many arrive with shoes that are barely servicable. And most are not getting enough calories or fresh produce. I can buy these things on the island, which helps the economy here.
Forgot to ask – can I share this on my FB? And, if you give me a link to an organization for interested folks to donate to, I would be happy to share it.
Yes of course — please do all of that — we all want the world to know what is going on here!
Glad to hear Mercy Corps is sending help. They are suppose to be one of the better charities at using donations for the actual need and not for administration. I asked all the groups we support, to only solicit us once a year. Mercy Corps is the only one that does it. Also, you can request where you want your donation to go, like the refugee crisis in Greece, or earthquake relief in Nepal. I recommend sending donations to Mercy Corps.
Yes Mercy Corps is great.
Thanks for continuing to transport us and open our eyes, minds and hearts.
It is my privilege to be here. Thank you for your note and I am enjoying your posts as well!
Dear Kim, I read you always even if I don’t comment. How much to buy 5 pairs of shoes and 200 oranges?
And what is your paypal account? Love.