I’ve just started my month-long intersession semester teaching “Mystery Writing Unmasked” to a dozen college students at my alma mater, Washington & Jefferson College, in southwestern Pennsylvania. I loved my last teaching experience here and am convinced this one will be even better.
It might even inspire me to write a different sort of book, though whether of “The Shining” or “Shining Through” breed is yet to be determined. :)
I thought to write a piece on my time here so far, but then this week I received an email from a writer friend of mine on Mykonos, Stacey Harris-Papaioannou. Stacey received a commission from a global organization to write a series of articles on asylum seekers in Greece for its magazine. Her first article focuses on the volunteer groups that have recently mushroomed in response to the masses of refuges arriving each day on Greek shores.
Stacey’s article offers web links to each group, and methods of contributing to their good works.
I thought sharing her article a far more relevant concern for the world than a regaling of my tales of Washington, Pennsylvania.
Thank you, Stacey, for agreeing to share—so that we all may share as well.
Generosity on the Ground in Greece
By Stacey Harris-Papaioannou
A sea of separatism between Europe and not-Europe is present in the 6 mile crossing from the Turkish coastline to the closest Greek border on the island of Lesvos. The human flood of refugees fills the channel daily. When weary travelers, soaked by the salty sea, seeking solace and safety, set foot on dry land, they find generosity on the ground in Greece. In the land that invented the notion of hospitality to foreigners, “philoxenia,” remains alive and well on the shores of Greece as more than a million asylum seekers have crossed into Europe in 2015. From the islands in the Aegean to the port of Piraeus to the northern border town of Idomeni, taking care of these fragile travelers has been the incentive that has created more than a hundred groups of volunteers, large and small, to soften the harsh journey. While European governments bicker acrimoniously about borders and migration, Greeks, weak from teetering on the precipice of economic collapse for more than 6 years, have opened arms, hearts and homes to men, women and children who can no longer live in their own countries.
Generosity is not an institution that is mandated. It grows from the hearts of the empathetic and the compassionate. Ad hoc groups have sprung up throughout Greece and Europe to assist where governments have failed. Their kindness and chutzpah have put them in the center of the human flood on the ground in Greece transforming their generosity of spirit into dry clothing, good walking shoes, a warm meal, a back-pack of basic toiletries, warm gloves, on-line and printed guides to help lead the asylum seekers to being properly registered and vetted. Who are these extraordinary groups and what are they doing and how can we support them?
Sensitive souls instinctively feel a call to action. What can be done to help? The majority of these groups are requesting monetary donations at the present time and able volunteers. At the present moment gathering used products-clothing, baby apparatus, etc-to be shipped makes no sense. There is certainly not the manpower to sort it or facilities to store it. It is much better to make a financial contribution, giving the volunteer organizations the ability to purchase supplies locally. They infuse the Greek economy and they buy what is actually needed as it is needed.
And for those who are considering giving of themselves on the front line, a qualified volunteer means several things; having language capabilities, enduring long days of physically demanding work in all kinds of weather, having a useful skill, working effectively as a team member and being self financing.
Listed below are a few of these amazing groups, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that have banded together to support refugees.
On The Islands: Lesvos, Kos
http://www.asterias-starfish.org/en/ Help for Refugees In Molyvos
Founded by Melinda McRostie, the owner of Captain’s Table restaurant in Molyvos, Starfish hands out food and clothing to refugees and helps refugees with logistics at transit camps.Starfish began in 2014 as a collection of local individuals and international volunteers working together to support refugees arriving in Molyvos. Starfish has grown ever since and registered as an NGO in October 2015. Refugees arriving on the island receive a warm welcome, food, water, dry clothes, shelter, information and access to medical support. They also support refugees to access transport to Mytilini where they can access papers for onward travel.
Hellenic Post Office of Kalloni, C/O Starfish Foundation 81107 Kalloni, Lesvos GREECE
Dirty Girls Lesvos https://www.facebook.com/dirtygirlslesvos/?fref=ts
When the refugees arrive on Lesvos in unstable, overcrowded boats, they are drenched with sea water. They are given new clothes and their perfectly good, but wet clothes, are discarded and have mostly been trashed, therefore adding to the environmental problems of landfill on Lesvos. Dirty Girls of Lesvos collect the clothes which are laundered commercially. They are sorted and distributed so that they can be reused. The project can cost up to €800 per day on laundering the clothes that refugees have to discard when they arrive wet from their dangerous boat trip from Turkey.
€100 will mean that 150 warm jackets for children can be collected, washed and redistributed to keep 150 children warm as the weather is cold during the day and very cold at night.
€40 will mean that 100 people will have clean dry socks to exchange for their wet socks.
http://oallosanthropos.blogspot.gr/ O Allos Anthropos (The Other Human)
Community Kitchen https://www.facebook.com/koinonikikouzinamjt
The impetus for O Allos Anthropos, a community kitchen, was an unemployed middle aged marketer, seeing all levels of humanity sorting through the discarded seconds at Athens farmers' markets in an effort to gather food that they could not afford to buy. Kostas Polichronopoulos could no longer watch children fighting for scraps of food in the streets of Athens. Initially food was prepared in homes and distributed for free at the farmers' markets. Vendors donated products. Eventually the food was prepared and eaten communally to combat the shame of receiving a free meal. “We eat together and we live together; lunch with our fellow man on the street.” The volunteer operation branched out beyond Athens and traveled to Lesvos in August to assist with the ever increasing numbers of refugees. The number of meals made daily has gone from 300 to 3000.
Plataion 55 & Paramythias Metaxourgeio GR10435 Athens
Athens +30 6940 882 355, Mytilini +30 6978 550 168
http://en.proactivaopenarms.org/ Proactiva Open Arms Lifeguard Beach Safety
Proactiva Open Arms, a NGO from Barcelona, is a group of volunteer Spanish lifeguards, dedicated to saving lives in the sea. They came to Lesvos in September to assist the refugees that arrive on the Greek coast. They are also on Chios. They arrived in Lesvos with €15.000 from their own pockets, with no public funding. They began financing rescues for a month. With that budget they assisted in disembarking more than 20 boats per day, carrying 50 people each, including babies, kids and elderly people. In total thousands land on the beaches every day.
http://drapenihavet.no/en/ A Drop in the Ocean
The Norwegian volunteer group helps refugees as they arrive, including administering first aid and medical treatment. One of its volunteer nurses delivered a baby on the beach in mid-October. There are also volunteers on the island of Chios and in Athens. A Drop in the Ocean runs its own camp for just-arrived refugees, particularly families with small children, where it provides food, tents and donated clothing.
Donations: Dråpen i havet Account number: 1503 67 54327
http://bootvluchteling.nl/en/ Boat Refugee Foundation
This Dutch NGO assists refugees as they arrive on land with food, dry clothes and medical care in
Lesvos, Leros, Kos and Athens. They provide emergency aid and supplies to boat refugees. They focus on the most vulnerable among them: pregnant women, breastfeeding women and children under age 9. As a foundation they work with UNHCR, Red Cross and local volunteers.
Stichting Bootvluchteling Postbus 214, 3890 AE Zeewolde email@example.com
http://www.lighthouserelief.org/ Lighthouse Relief Lesvos
They met in Skala Sikamineas on the northeastern coast of Lesvos in September 2015. This area suffers the highest influx of refugees per day yet lacks both sufficient infrastructure and financial resources. None of the larger organizations are based here and help is urgently needed. These volunteers decided to start their own initiative. At present they provide hundreds of refugees everyday with emergency aid such as heated shelter, healthcare, clothes, food and water. The main priority is to protect the most vulnerable groups such as children, women and the elderly
Helping Refugees Lesvos Island Skala Sykamineas
In the village of Skala Sykaminea there are several thousands of refugees arriving every day, with a normal population of 300 locals in the summer and 50 in the winter. The village is working hard to help the refugees day and night and at the same time trying to maintain a normal life, which can seem impossible in those conditions. But they do, and still with a smile on their face and love to give. Without any government organizations, they are alone. Recently they have had help from private volunteers and smaller organizations who travel there to offer assistance.
https://www.facebook.com/lesvoswinterproof/ Lesvos Winter Proof
Lesvos Winter Proof makes camp Moria in Lesvos ready for winter. Inspired by setting up major outdoor festivals, Lesvos Winter Proof fills the gap in terms of shelter, security, logistics, crowd management and production. It is done working in the event industry and as far as possible in collaboration with other, often small organizations.
https://www.facebook.com/pikpalesvos/ The Village of All Together
Coexistence and Communication in the Aegean
http://kos-solidarity.com/ Kos Solidarity
The need for the Kos initiative was sparked by the arrival of refugees in boatloads in late spring of 2015. People were arriving from Bodrum in unseaworthy boats and dinghies in urgent need of food, water, tents, warm clothes and shoes, backpacks and help in establishing their legal status in order to travel safely by ferry to Piraeus. Kos Solidarity works in cooperation with other agencies like UNHCR and MSF etc. All the locals participate on a voluntary basis, daily and most have day jobs. Kos solidarity needs cash donations and volunteers.
firstname.lastname@example.org +30 6946 085 065
http://kosrefugeesneedyourhelp.com/ Kos Refugees need your Help KRNYH
Kos has been receiving daily arrivals of people mainly from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, who are in the process of making their way to Central Europe, to seek refuge. Generally, upon arrival in Kos, they begin the registration process (permitting there are no technical delays,) and refugees stay on the island for 3-4 days. Once they receive their registration papers, refugees continue their journey by ferry from the island. With the boat ride to Kos costing thousands of dollars, refugees often arrive with little money, and what they do have must last their entire journey. KRNYH offers daily distribution of hot meals (rice, vegetables, lentils) and bread/milk, provides for rooms for the vulnerable and distributes shoes and backpacks.
On the Mainland: Piraeus Port, Central Athens
https://www.facebook.com/groups/204202716585823/ Immigrant and Refugee Support Group in Athens
https://www.facebook.com/vereinsoliba/ Project Soup Port
The Swiss volunteers from Project Soup provide hot tea and soups - prepared and offered on the spot at the entrance of the refugee welcoming station based in E1 passenger terminal in the port of Piraeus. A group of Swiss residents in Greece have organized to bring soup to the port as a part of the meet and greet as travelers disembark the vessels at the port of Piraeus. The organization is devoted to the care of the refugees with the supply and preparation of food. 2or 3 small trucks with a mobile kitchen included go to exhausted refugees to offer a warm meal.
http://www.gcr.gr/index.php/en/ Greek Council for Refugees
The Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) is a Non- Governmental Organization, which has been active since 1989 in the field of asylum and human rights in Greece. On a daily basis, GCR welcomes and offers free legal and social advice and services to refugees and people coming from countries who are entitled to international protection, while special emphasis is put on vulnerable cases, such as unaccompanied minors, victims of trafficking etc. GCR’s Refugee Reception and Interpreters Unit handles the first contact with our beneficiaries since it is consisted of a group of multilingual receptionists, interpreters and political scientists. The interpreters, by conveying the social-historical-cultural features that characterize each case, contribute significantly to the proper function of the Service while they also participate in visits to detention centers, courts and hospitals in order to facilitate GCR beneficiaries’ access to services and good.
25 Solomou Str., 10682, Athens +30 210 3800990-1 F: +30 210 3803774
The Non-Governmental Organization “METAction” was founded in December 2009, its primary aim being to promote a rational system for managing mixed migration flows, while encouraging respect for human rights, national and international legislation, through the development of actions for the reception and integration of immigrants and refugees in Greece, as well as of actions of support for their voluntary return and reintegration in their countries of origin.
http://www.salvationarmy.gr/ The Salvation Army in Greece
The Salvation Army is an international Christian movement that operates in 124 countries worldwide. In Greece, the Salvation Army has been operating as a nonprofit company from January 2011, standing by the homeless, elderly, young families with infants and victims of trafficking. They are assisting refugees in central Athens as well now.
61Kodrigtonos 10434 Athens
email@example.com program coordinator
http://www.notara26.info/blog/?lang=en Home for Refugees and Immigrants Notara 26
This project stands for a self-organized solidarity project, wherein locals and refugees-immigrants decide together. Official “squatting” in an abandon public building in Athens at 26 Notara, volunteers cover the refugees/immigrants immediate needs: shelter, food and medical help. The decisive body is the squat’s open assembly where everyone is welcome to participate with no exclusions.
Notara 26 runs a collective kitchen. Materials contributions are welcome and/or your help in the collective cooking.
+30 6947 908 121 +30 6978 873 643 firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks again, Stacey.