Volunteering on Lesvos: Week 2

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 second week on Lesvos. Click here to read about week 1.

Day 8  |  Wednesday, January 20


Lifejackets headed for the lifejacket graveyard. Those lifejackets were from our camp alone.

Chaos today, though some like to call it organized chaos. 8-9 boats within a very short period of time this morning (I lost count). 39 degrees. Rain started just as the last boat arrived. Tragedy struck: A baby died of hypothermia. A near-tragedy also struck: A four-year-old boy was trampled by others trying to get off a boat. He stopped breathing, but was resuscitated. I sat with him, and his very upset mother, until an ambulance could come to take him to the hospital. He will be fine, I think.

We ran out of men’s shoes, jackets, hats, and gloves. Couldn’t keep up with the demand. Blankets disappeared left and right as people tried to stay warm awaiting the vans to take them to the next camp. Everything was sopping wet.

On a brighter note, the sister of the trampled boy left wearing a hat I had made, and this sweet little boy (in photo above) had on the blue mittens I just finished yesterday, I can’t knit fast enough!

Now I’m ready for dinner and a rest! Who knows what tomorrow will bring.

Day 9  |  Thursday, January 21


A boat arriving.


The camp mascot, an orphan lamb named Carolina. She stands around and observes, and eats what drops on the ground.

What a difference a day makes! Beautiful sunny day, no wind, temps in the high 40s (F) and low 50s. Just as many boats as yesterday, and just as much chaos . . but everyone was fine, everyone was joyful. Many tears, lots of hugs, no hypothermia. I learned of another death (of a woman) yesterday afternoon, so I am so grateful for the beautiful weather, and that everyone landed safe and sound. Only some colds and some minor injuries at the clinic.

Worked with a delightful doctor, Shima, from Malaysia. She and I had many interesting conversations over the day — about religion (she is Muslim), about raising children, and about age and adventure (she asked my age and was astounded that I was doing such a thing “at my age” — ha!).

Among the joy was a sweet little boy, maybe 3 or 4 years old, who kept running up and hugging me. I have no idea why — I had not done anything for him — but with a twinkle in his eye, he would charge me over and over again. Sorry I don’t have a photo. I will just have to remember him in my heart.

Given the deaths yesterday, I asked what was done with the bodies. A group of Muslims (from somewhere) pooled their money to buy a piece of land and establish a graveyard. An imam has come to the island recently to provide graveyard services for those who die in the crossing. I was relieved to hear this.

I also learned that the Romani people on the island come to scavenge the boats. They are completely on it and organized. They have a boat taken apart, deflated and packed up sooner than we can get the refugees into dry clothes. They take the motors, too. Then . . . they sell them back to the smugglers? Or?

Day 10  |  Friday, January 22

12473652_1017493904975983_636155626587865896_o1397186_1017493781642662_2760463679230830423_oBad weather returned, cloudy skies, heavy seas. Many very cold people, so the heating tent was busy. A few women had to be carried in on stretchers, but they revived with soothing words (that they could not understand), a hand on their brow, a smile, and some dry clothes and tea.

So many children and babies. Many did not have life jackets, but were in the center of the boat with life-jacketed people on the outside. Boats heavily loaded. Passed out a whole lot of lollipops and made many children smile! So heartening. They don’t need medical care, just some love and some fun.

Both yesterday and today there was a woman with her seven children and no other relative with her. (Seven children! I sound like The Sound of Music.) I cannot imagine what that must be like, to travel so far and so dangerously with that brood of kids.

New doctors today — Stephan and Mustafa — from Sweden. They got thrown into the deep end of the pool, so to speak, but they did great. Looking forward to working with them for the next week.

But tragedy struck elsewhere: An overloaded boat capsized not long after it left Turkey, only 12 rescued, and another boat broke up as it neared the coast of a nearby island, very few rescued, and none of the children. May they rest in peace, and their parents (if they survived) have the strength to go on. And guess what, NPR just reported this.

This cannot go on. I wrote the White House last night (not that that will do any good. . .) and maybe you can, too. So many people get out of a boat and bow down and kiss the ground. I would, too. So I sit in my cold hotel room every evening, and post to Facebook, and try and recover knowing I will just do the same thing tomorrow and the next day and the next day. Luckily, Greece makes excellent red wine. Cheers!

Day 12  |  Sunday, January 24

It is with a heavy heart that I am headed home early. A couple of days ago, I fell and either cracked or bruised ribs. The pain is getting worse and I’ve been unable to sleep much. The doctor said it would take at least two weeks before I started to feel better, and since I was leaving in 10 days anyway, it just makes sense to go now. (And, at least, be able to try and sleep in a warm bed!)

I am so grateful for the opportunity to come here, see this crisis firsthand, and to tell all of you about it. In both the pain and the joy, it’s been amazing, and an experience I will never forget.

Thank you for sharing the journey with me.