We are down to our final week here in Greece! We have been blessed with better and more widely available internet, so we have been able to do lots of mini-updates on social media. We will try to fill in the gaps and create an entire perspective of our time here in this post.
We arrived on the island as volunteers on January 15, with 4 weeks planned to work as many shifts in the various refugee camps as possible. Our team was eager to see firsthand the crisis so widely publicized and talked about back home and abroad. After 52 hours of travel, we drove 1.5 hours across the island from the airport to arrive at our home for the next month: the medieval port city of Molyvos (also called Mithymna). Our accommodations at Belvedere Aeolis Hotel have been such a huge blessing to us. The hotel is hosting numerous volunteer groups at half price when it would normally be closed for the winter offseason. The same goes for many local businesses – restaurants, coffee shops, car rentals, specialty shops, and more – that have kept their doors open this winter and welcomed the flood of volunteers. It has been rewarding for our team to know that our money is going straight to local family businesses! But enough about Molyvos – we will post some pictures at the end, but you want to know about the refugee camps, the real reason we’re here.
Our refugee camp experience started at Moria – a stage 3 camp near the capital of Mytilini, an hour drive away from us. The camps are categorized into “stages” based on what they are designed to do. Stage 1 is the beachfront where refugees are first taken off their boats and step foot in the EU. Stage 2 camps are transitional camps that provide some immediate needs like food, dry clothes, and possibly a night of shelter, but focus on getting the refugees on busses to stage 3 camps.In stage 3 camps like Moria, refugees are registered into the system and housed until they can get transportation off the island to Athens via the ferry from Mytilini. In Moria, our team worked in the family unit under the volunteer organizations i58 and EuroRelief. The family unit consists of 3 housing blocks, 8 rooms each, each room able to hold 25 comfortably. We regularly had to stuff them full of 40-50 people when the camp becomes backed up because of good weather for crossings or ferry strikes. Our duties varied depending on the shift, but generally consisted of cleaning out the rooms in the morning, admitting families back into the compound each afternoon, serving dinner, handing out clothes, making baby bottles and food, tidying, organizing and optimizing the volunteer areas, and all the while staffing the busy tea tent just outside the family compound. Cold refugees love their hot sweet tea! So that’s the basics of what we did during our 10 eight hour shifts in Moria, and there are a few stories that stood out to us from our time there.
While it was just us two staffing the tea tent, for 2 nights in a row an Afghan man would come and try to teach us Farsi. He spoke no English and we spoke no Farsi, so it was slow going, but it was fun trying to figure out what each other was communicating. Eventually we learned that he was a policeman in Afghanistan, and he fled with his family after the Taliban attacked them and a rocket nearly missed his face. This story was all too common. Actually, nearly all the refugees in Moria are Afghanis, fleeing from the Taliban. We were surprised to see so many of them versus Syrians for which the crisis is named.
Another story that we won’t forget is admitting a jam-packed line of refugees into the family unit one afternoon during a ferry strike. The camp was beyond capacity, so we had to be extra selective in giving our warm bedrooms to the most at-risk people only: small children and their parents. This does not include extended family or even older brothers/sisters. Through thick language barriers we had to deny some people entrance and split up some families. It was very difficult, but for each able bodied man we referred to another area of the camp, a small child got a warm room for the night. Our time in Moria taught us organization and communication within our team, to other volunteers, and to refugees. It also taught us how to stay patient and firm in our responsibilities under stress. Our team often received comments of how different we seemed than the non-Christian volunteers for our constant smiles and grace in situations.
After 10 shifts at Moria at all times of the day and night, driving 2.5 hours each time, our team was pretty fatigued. We requested some shifts at a camp that was only 30 minutes away, and received our next 6 shifts there. Sikaminea is a stage 2 transportation camp one kilometer away from the beachfront at Skala, which is situated at the closest sea crossing from the Turkish shore (10km). So far, our shifts at Sikaminea have been very quiet – a stark contrast from the hustle and bustle of Moria. But it has been a welcome respite for our team to experience a different area of the island and of the refugees’ journey. God has spoken for our team to rest and wait on Him during this slow period and recharge ourselves for what is still yet to come in the next 6 days in Greece and then 4 weeks in Berlin. We are God’s hands and feet – available, ready, and waiting at Sikaminea for refugees to arrive, but it is almost a good thing that few are risking the cold, stormy, winter waters currently.
While our time in Greece was mostly spent working in the camps, we did get to have a lot of fun as well! We enjoyed several runs around and through the town of Molyvos, went on a few walks in Medieval towns and hikes on the coast and in the mountains, and ate a lot of delicious food! We have truly cherished our time on this magical island. It is one of the most beautiful places we have ever been and we would recommend it to anyone for a visit! The diverse landscape, friendly people, delicious food, and rich history have made a big impact on us, and we will never forget any of it! We hope you enjoy the pictures below and hopefully they give you a little taste of Greece that will inspire you to book a plane ticket to come here!