Why I am flying to Lesvos, Greece

In two days I fly to Greece and the island of Lesvos to volunteer for the next couple of months with the refugee relief efforts currently under way and coordinated mostly by local island residents. I prefer to keep this blog separate from the fundraising efforts I underwent to fund my basic living expenses while I am there. However, I thought everyone might appreciate reading the updates I posted on my GoFundMe campaign about the work I will be doing (any of my actual fundraising pleas have been cut out to avoid unintentional guilt-trips for my blog followers.) I plan to blog about my experiences and the people I meet along the way.

What follows are the posts from my fundraising campaign that lay out what I am doing and why I feel so strongly about going.

“My name is Karina Hunt Zeier. I am a freelance writer from Portland, Oregon and Appleton, Wisconsin. I will be going to the small Greek island of Lesvos in February and March of 2016 to volunteer with the relief organizations that have been overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of refugees arriving on their shores. My plan is to stay for at least 4 weeks, and hopefully longer (up to 6 weeks), volunteering with the relief organizations and local people of Lesvos as they help shelter, feed and provide medical care to the refugees. I will pitch in with whatever needs to be done, everything from joining emergency mobile teams that assist the boats and rafts as they reach shore to distributing dry clothes, food, and supplies to helping with the basic running of the refugee camps.

I could certainly just donate money to a relief organization, but they desperately need volunteers on the ground to help distribute supplies and assist the relief workers. While the people of Lesvos have been amazingly generous in their volunteer efforts, they are shorthanded (and frankly overwhelmed) and need help.

The organizations on the island do not have resources to house or feed volunteers as all their donated funds go to house and feed the refugees that they are trying to help. Citizen volunteers must arrange their own housing, transport and food. I am asking for any monetary help anyone would be willing to give. I can cover my plane ticket and 2 weeks on the ground, but am hoping to maximize my impact by staying longer, up to 6 weeks if possible….

…As someone not tied to a specific job or schedule, I have the luxury of time to give. I have watched for months as the largest refugee crisis in Europe since WW2 has overwhelmed the Greek Islands beyond the capacity of the local Greek communities to handle. Yet they continue to assist the men, women, and children desperate enough to risk their lives crossing the sea from Turkey. I can no longer sit back and do nothing, so I am going to help, as I feel I am being called to do, and trust the funds necessary to make an impact will be possible….”

“Update #1: I will be based on the northern side of Lesvos in the town of Molivos for 6 weeks, arriving on January 19. My volunteer role will include everything from helping to meet the refugees as they arrive on shore, exhausted and soaked from their sea voyage from Turkey, to sorting through the boxes and boxes of donated supplies and clothing, to simply making vast quantities of food. I currently have the funds to cover 5 of the 6 weeks I will be there. I am amazed and humbled by everyone’s generosity.”

“Update #2: In two days I fly to Greece; by Tuesday I will be on Lesvos and meeting with the team of locals and citizen-volunteers I will be working with for the next 2 months. I want to thank everyone, though words will never be enough, for your support in making this possible.

I will be staying in Molyvos on the north coast of the island, working with a local volunteer crew that have taken the initiative in the past few months to fill in the gaps where relief agencies are mostly absent, spotting the boats and dinghies as they come over the sea from Turkey, rushing to meet them on shore, assessing their immediate medical and physical needs, providing dry clothes and water, and pointing them in the right direction as they head onward to Mytilene to register with the Greek government.

I will keep everyone updated, sharing stories of the people I meet. I ask for prayers – not so much for me, but for the people I will be working to help who have already experienced more grief and fear than I can imagine.”

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About chronictraveler

Chronic Traveler starts as a dream, one that I thought I had lost, but that has slowly changed into a mission to realize and live that dream every day. In December 2007 I became seriously ill and the doctors did not know what was causing my illness. I had to stop teaching as my life tumbled into a never-ending nightmare of doctors, hospitals and tests. Finally, in May 2008 I was diagnosed with a chronic condition - fibromyalgia. I was only 26 years old at the time. I have had to give up teaching, and now work part-time at a performing arts center as I learn how to manage my condition and improve my quality of life. What helped me through the months of uncertainty and sickness, and continues to inspire me, was a new focus on what truly mattered to me: family, friends, gardening, the arts, and especially travel. I have always fed my soul by traveling, ever since I first stepped off the plane at age 16 in Kathmandu, Nepal to help with an orphanage's building project. Meeting new people and experiencing how they live and how they view the world infuses my life with a richness I was so afraid I would lose when the doctor first said, "You have fibromyalgia". This blog is my story, as I begin to forge a new path. I am embracing my life as it is, with the fibromyalgia pain and fatigue, and learning to do what I love regardless. It may mean I have to go slower and take more naps or breaks! But I am determined to learn how to travel and experience the world, and hopefully what I learn will help others like me who believe their medical condition stands in the way of their travel dreams.
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