Brice, Katie and I woke up somewhat early on Thursday and we headed straight for the beach to greet and help incoming boats. What a day! My friends who had volunteered a few weeks before had described their experience on Lesvos as “boat after boat after boat” and they weren’t kidding. Although I heard it was a somewhat “slow” day, there were many boats that came in. We helped many people to shore, to safety. I didn’t know what to expect really, but I found it interesting how each boat had a different tone about them.
We could tell which groups had a traumatic experience and the boats that had a lot of elderly or small children aboard were definitely more grave than the boats with mostly young adults. For example, the first group to arrive was terrified with screaming crying children & women. And then we had other boats full of people cheering & taking selfies with us as we pulled them ashore. They must have asked 100 times if we were in Greece, just total disbelief and relief they made it. They still have a long journey ahead… Everyone on every boat was wet, to be expected. And almost every group reported engine troubles, even the ones who made it to shore without assistance from the rescue teams on the beaches. It was crazy to me how close Turkey was, my Turkish sim card worked in my phone on the beach. We could see the coast and we could almost see the boats as they departed those coasts (even without binoculars). We were told, just look for the orange life vests! As we waved people to shore with left over life vests and lit black inner tubes on fire to create smoke to lead them to a landing point, more and more boats came into our vision. My heart raced for every boat I saw, but I knew they would make it to safety. All but one of the boats that we greeted were smaller rubber dinghies built for approximately 15-20 people. Most of them had 20+ people aboard. All of them had motors and people waiting on shore to take the motors rather than help the people inside the boat reach safety. The beaches were COVERED in life jackets.
Once ashore, we helped everyone change clothes or get warm if possible, and then we sent them on their walking journey to the nearest bus stop to be transported to either Oxy or one of the camps (Moria- mostly for non-Syrian nationals, and Karatepe- mainly for Syrian nationals). I was amazed to hear stories of refugees using GPS to guide them on their journey but then be utterly clueless as to where they had found shore. Perhaps they were just in shock; one man told Katie after she confirmed where they were, “I love Greece”. Unfortunately this was just the beginning of a very long journey ahead. Volunteering on the beaches was very emotional and included a LOT of clean-up. I wonder where in the world they take all of those life-jackets, thousands and thousands of life-jackets.
There was one very rocky landing in particular where I carried a grandmother to shore, she was covered in vomit. It took every ounce of brain power to not drop her as I was silently gagging. The things they go through for this trip, the stories are unreal. A lot of people were on a large wooden boat today; they said their Turkish captain jumped out of the boat & left with his buddy in another boat the SECOND they crossed Turkish into Greek waters. Nobody knew how to drive the boat, but they somehow zigzagged to our volunteers waiving them down on our shores; can you imagine, what would you do!? We helped a family today (pictured above) & they were by far my favorite people we helped all day, especially the youngest little girl who kept coming in for smiles, hugs, and high fives.
After 5 hours at the beach & a massive life vest beach cleanup among other volunteers and a small presence of media and photographers, we switched gears & went down to the Harbour (where we had worked last night) & spent the rest of the day there (5 more hours) organizing donations in the dark & getting coastguard rescues into dry clean clothes. It was a very busy, physically tasking, long day, but so fulfilling. Today, the volunteer team received 10,000 thermal sleeping bags for the camps ABSOLUTELY AMAZING & people definitely slept a little better that night. The numbers of deaths & missing persons were very wrong in the news reported on the shipwreck from yesterday (low). Actually there is no way of knowing/accounting for all of the people who make the trip by sea because there is no real count when they send them off on the raft; the traffickers don’t care about anything but the money. We heard a lot of stories of people being forced on boats at gunpoint. They are selling unrealistic dreams to people & then shoving them in an undersized, overcrowded dinghie & slamming the door shut behind them, so to speak.
It was amazing to check in online at the end of the day, exhausted, to find many more donations and words of encouragement; but sadly, it was still not enough. We ran out of shoes, socks, hats, and jackets again today but the situation was a bit calmer than last night over all. Tonight I go to bed fully exhausted with a beaming heart. We are here giving everything we can until Monday. Tomorrow I hear there is an official inspection of one of the refugee camps to assess conditions, lets cross our fingers they recognize the gaps & attempt to help & fix them with a legitimate plan of action…
A beautiful video & accurate portrayal of a day in the life of a volunteer here, by the Al Imdaad Foundation *Please note, this is NOT my video, I just wanted to give you guys a better visual:)