I have been on Lesvos only a few days and already I am blown away by the scale of the human need and the determined compassion of the volunteers who have gathered from all corners of the Earth to be here to meet that need. Morgan from Arizona, on her second spell of coordinating teams to meet the boats as they land on the beaches in desperate conditions. Flocks of young people from across Europe working with Starfish to meet the boats, assist the wet, weary refugees with landing, warm clothes, and information as they move onward to the transit camps on the island. The Norwegians manning the towers scanning the horizon towards Turkey and directing teams to where the boats are headed. Cookie, a whirlwind of energy, overseeing the repair and refurbishment of a shuttered hotel -the Hope Centre – to be used as a warming center for people just off the boats.
Only this week the importance of the Hope Centre project was magnified by the tragic deaths of 2 refugees newly off the boats -one a young woman my age, another a young boy, no more than 4 or 5 years old. They arrived alive on the shores of Greece after their harrowing journey on overloaded boats, barely more than rubber dinghies, soaked through by the frigid waters of the Aegean Sea. It is winter here and thus freezing, snow in the mountains. Hypothermia is a constant risk. Despite the efforts of rescue teams to save them, both the woman and boy succombed to the cold.
Disheartening for everyone on the island, as the news travelled lightning fast among the volunteers and locals.
I have thrown in with the Hope Centre project, and the bad news only strengthens my resolve that I am where I need to be. Located right up from the beach, this shuttered hotel is being repaired and refurbished to be used as a temporary way point for refugees fresh off the boats. Here they can walk up from the beach to a warm, dry place, get changed into dry clothes, receive medical evaluation, make food, have a hot drink, rest with their families, and prepare for the next step in their journey as they head to Mytilini to register and await a ferry onwards.
For the last 3 days I have scrapped off rust, painted walls, cleaned rooms, sanded and stained newly constructed shelves….I am only one of many determined to see this place open and ready, a resource of warmth and hospitality.
I am not currently assisting the rescues on the beaches or working at the refugee camps. I have met many volunteers who are. We are all drops in the ocean, many becoming one in purpose to help save as many lives as possible. All these tasks, large or small, form a chain of love for these people desperately seeking a safe harbor.