Some people want to know more about my upcoming trip to Lesvos. Here are a few questions that I am hearing a lot (with answers).
How did you find out about this?
As I said in my last post, I don’t remember exactly what it was I read first. But heck, I’m a librarian, and I’m pretty good at finding information. So once I heard that independent volunteers were assisting with refugees in the Greek islands, I connected with the Information Point for Lesvos Volunteers group on Facebook. There are FB groups for most of the other islands that receive refugees as well: Kos Solidarity, Samos Volunteers Discussion, Leros Solidarity Network, Information Point for Chios Volunteers, Immigrant and Refugee Support Group in Kalymnos. For mainland Greece you can join Forgotten in Idomeni or Immigrant and Refugee Support Network in Athens.
The Lesvos Volunteer group is very active. They have put together an informative and frequently updated google doc for volunteers. I read that document and started following the FB page. Then in December a friend of mine from Oregon, Joanne Feinberg, went to Lesvos to volunteer, and I followed her story closely – she is the one who inspired me to set up a crowdfunding appeal.
What group are you going with?
I am not going with any group, and I am not sure yet with whom I will be working for most of the week. Currently, aid on the island is provided by a mix of NGOs, informal voluntary groups, and independent volunteers. I am going by myself as an independent volunteer. People like me can choose a voluntary group to connect with either before or after arrival. The information doc mentioned above recommends working in a warehouse or with a group called Dirty Girls to start with to get a feel for the different organizations before settling on one. I have booked accommodation on the north shore of the island near the Dirty Girls facility; after a couple of days I may continue with them or join a different group nearby. A new law states that all volunteers must register with the local police but it is (rather shockingly) an easy on-line process.
What will you be doing?
Most of the pictures you see of volunteers on Lesvos show people in reflective vests pulling refugees off dinghies out in the water. Chances are that is not what I will be doing. Rescue work on the beaches is of course the first step and makes for exciting newspaper copy, but there are many many other essential but low-profile jobs to be done such organizing donations in warehouses, delivering supplies, and working with refugees in the camps. Most of the bigger roles are filled by long-term volunteers who commit to a month or more, so in my short visit I will definitely be doing unskilled work. Right now I am thinking I would like to work in one of the kitchens (a surprise to no one, I am sure). I renewed my commercial food handler card, but also refreshed my CPR and first aid training just in case.
How did you decide to do this?
This sounds a lot like “how did you find out about this?” but I think that what some people are really asking is “why are you doing this?” There are so many different answers to this question, and they are all true.
The easy answer: Because I can. I have the time off, Greece is only two hours away, and I have enough money to travel. Volunteers are needed there and I can go.
The “all about me” answer: Because sometimes when I feel the weight of the world is getting to be too much, I have to shift my shoulders. My response is to go do something. It’s just a tiny drop in a giant bucket of need but I really don’t want to look back on this time in history and know that I chose to do nothing. I feel it will help me to be a better person (and heaven knows, my karma can use some help).
The payback answer: Because I and people I care about are only here because people helped them along the way. I would venture to say that there are very few Americans without immigrant or refugee ancestors who received some kind of assistance from somebody. I want to return the favor.
How can I help?
There are ways to help that don’t involve getting on a plane. There are groups to donate to (you can find links to them on the island volunteer Facebook pages). You can be politically active and work toward making things easier for the refugees that way. You can spread the word to others.
If you want to go in person, join one of the Facebook groups listed above. Become informed by reading about the refugee crisis and the #safepassage movement. Then – set up your fundraiser, book your tickets, and go!