Volunteering on Lesvos: Week 1

In January 2016, Jane traveled to the Greek island of Lesvos to help in with the refugees arriving by boat from Turkey. She worked with the organization Lighthouse Refugee Relief — visit their website to find out how you can help with the refugee crisis. Below are Jane’s thoughts from her first week on Lesvos.

Day 2  |  Thursday, January 14, 2016

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Refugees arriving on the rocky beach.

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Children’s “lifejackets.”

Six boats arrived this morning between 9:30 and 11 a.m. (more came earlier, in the wee hours). It’s a beautiful day today, the last one for at least 10 days. Rain, wind and cold temps to come. The whole thing is hard to describe — sopping wet people of all ages, packed into flimsy boats, and with flimsier lifejackets. (Would you head across a three-mile span of open ocean with your child in water wings or a Disney princess swim jacket?) Grateful, thankful people, touching their hearts and smiling at us, speaking thanks in their language, hugging and shaking hands. I said “welcome” more times this morning than I have in my whole life.

Day 3  |  Friday, January 15, 2016

12525125_1013929535332420_8698494866699290104_o 12484683_1013929451999095_1654531800080193963_oOnly two boats today at our camp. Busy at the medical clinic with all kinds of issues — many aches and pains, colds, stomach upset, unstable blood sugar, dizziness, and hypothermia. Working with a doctors from Egypt and Italy, and nurses from Denmark and the U.S. I wondered what happens to all the wet clothes. . . well, the “Dirty Girls” make the rounds of the island picking up the blue trash bags, and then hit a really big commercial laundromat. They spend 1,000 euros a day doing laundry. What a job, but oh so vital. Other photo is of the beach with deflated boat and lifejackets looking toward Turkey.

Day 7  |  Tuesday, January 19, 2016

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The snow-covered Turkish coast.

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The inside of the “life jackets.” They would not float at all, I am sure. . .

After three days of heavy rain, high winds, and eventually snow! (several inches in the higher elevations, and in Turkey), boats began arriving again. The sun is out, but it’s cold — 30s (F) to low 40s. The first boat to arrive was all young men from Pakistan, freezing cold. We have a “heating tent” with a woodstove and propane stove pumping out the heat. The men all needed to get out of their wet clothes, and into dry clothes. As a woman, I was not welcome, but spent my time fetching the dry clothes, and cups and cups of tea (discreetly handed through the door to the male medical workers). One the men were dressed, I took over my nurse role, holding hands, smiling, and assuring them they were OK. The second boat had families again with many women and small children. Rinse, repeat. They just need dry clothes, and some reassurance that all is well. Weather is supposed to be calm and sunny, but still cold for the rest of the week.

On another note, now that I’ve been here for a week, and most of the medical team has left, I am the experienced one! New doctors arrive on Thursday. Everything keeps on evolving.

NPR did a story yesterday about the arrests of several lifeguards who were rescuing people in Turkish waters. Because they brought the drowning people to Lesvos, they are accused of smuggling. Currently, they are out on bond. There are rumors of a government crackdown.