It’s a hodgepodge of people who have traveled to this Greek island to help— all attracted here from the pain and suffering they witnessed in the media, mixed with permanent residents who call the place their home.
But they are all united in their desire to help people in need.
The numbers are staggering. In the past three weeks alone, more than 100,000 people have landed on a 10-kilometer wide stretch of shoreline on the north side of the island. The arriving refugees— mostly from Syria then have to make their way to the island’s main town for registration and eventual departure via a government-sponsored ferryboat that departs nightly for Athens.
But there is a backlog and many refugees arrive needing urgent medical attention. Pregnant women have arrived, as have elderly and countless infants. People arrive on crutches, in wheelchairs. The images are shocking but are a testament to the great lengths these people will go to flee their home towns.
The California Mom
An American mother of a two year old had a revelation one day while lugging her child in her arms during a routine trip to the grocery store and realizing how heavy he was. Then, captivated by the photo of a small Syrian child who had washed up on a Turkish beach while trying with his family to flee to the island of Kos— where her husband’s family is from— Crystal Logothetis had her very own “eureka moment.”
Reading the news reports and seeing so many photos of refugee moms carrying their children, walking for miles and miles across borders and through rough, wet— and sometimes dangerous terrain— I had a thought to gather baby carriers and send them to Greece to offer them to these parents.
From that single moment, a movement was born and Crystal’s vision grew and expanded to Carry the Future, an organization supporting parents with young children by providing baby carriers, food packs and other items to help ease the pain and suffering of refugees in Greece. With the help of thousands of people throughout the world, Crystal raised more than $40,000 via an Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign and received thousands of baby carriers that she and a team of volunteers took to Greece and handed out to refugee moms and dads.
Crystal’s story was picked up by the national and international media, including The Today Show, which helped spread the word throughout the world and although not technically on the island, her team is greeting arrivals from Lesvos at the port of Piraeus where the thousands of refugees continue their journey to continental Europe.
The Australian Nurse
Helen Zahos used crowd-funding to raise more than $20,000 from her family and friends and decided to come to Lesvos to volunteer for five weeks at a medical clinic set up by Médecins du Monde (Doctors of the World). For five straight weeks, day in day out, Helen has offered her nursing expertise to the volunteer doctors.
Helen has witnessed horrific scenes but nothing prepared her for the October 28th capsizing that left dozens dead.
“Last night we had a tragedy off the coast. A single boat packed with 300 people crumbled in rough seas then another boat rammed into it. Over 100 people were lost at sea. Children were pronounced dead on arrival and volunteer doctors resuscitated as many as they could with what means they had. It was such a cold night. Even as we waited for the coast guard to bring more people in, our hopes for survivors had faded. Distraught mothers were searching through the crowd of people in the hope of finding their babies.
“Locals scrambled to find dry clothes and babies that had been found with no parents were changed and cared for by local Greek grandmothers until authorities could take care of them. Churches were suddenly turned into a makeshift clinic with injured being attended to. The local priest kept coming in and out of the church carrying blankets and dry clothes, his wife was getting people cups of tea and comforting distraught mothers. Police were busy trying to get names of the people missing at sea, ambulance officers were stretched to the limit transporting only the critical to the hospital in the city of Mytillini (an hours drive away) while volunteers nursed the other injured.”
When Helen isn’t volunteering at the medical center she’s shopping for toys and other items to help the most vulnerable of the refugees– especially the young ones. She’s also lending a hand, where needed, for other vulnerable groups, including a group of LGBT refugees.
“Today I was reminded that the vulnerable groups of the refugee crisis is not limited to unaccompanied minors, babies, pregnant women, disabled and elderly. I met some beautiful Gay and Transgender people fleeing the war today who feared for their safety in the line up to get registered by certain groups of people. So proud to be part of a gay friendly organization and that we were able to collaborate with other NGO’s and organize a speedy registration and safe place for these people to stay in and rest before they continue on in their journey.”
A troupe of American clowns from the organization Clowns Without Borders has descended upon Lesvos with a single aim in mind— to make people laugh. Their goal with their antics and pranks is primarily aimed at children, but for many of the adults participating in the shows, along with their children, it’s the first time they’ve laughed since fleeing their native countries.
The group puts on random shows where refugees gather to wait for food and registration.
According to their website, they have performed 26 shows for more than 6,000 people in a few days on the island.