A model community

To be here in Mitilini is to see the power of people working towards a common goal – helping their fellow humans gain a foothold in a new land. There are over a thousand people here helping in any way they can, from pulling people out of the ocean, to offering blankets, to teaching them English and Greek and other subjects; finding them nourishing food, giving their time and money to make a difference. In the absence of aid from governments and large agencies, individuals are filling the void. It is amazing. The other day I heard of a yoga class for volunteers. They ask for a donation of 5 euros in order to pay for refugee bus tickets to take yoga. This is how people think here. What can we do to help the newcomers, and not to make profit for ourselves.
Some of the ngos operating here are:

Better Days Greece

This is the group that we REAL volunteers work with most. It comprises three projects:

GEKKO School, providing classes in Math, English, Greek, and Computers as well as other workshops for the teenage unaccompanied minors.

Athletics for boys and girls

Environment and Ecology: this project is actively looking for an environmental science – ecology teacher volunteer.

One Happy Family – OHF

This amazing place provides a way for people from the camps to get away for the day. It provides food and drinks, a large blacktop for sports, a work out area, a playground, a toddler room, a library, a women’s room, a large garden, and a school for the kids run by School for Peace, which is a collaboration of Israelis and Palestinians. It is built from love and shipping pallets. We started a knitting workshop there today, providing yarn and needles and lessons which we brought here in our luggage, and about eight women joined us to practice knitting. Lois, another REAL volunteer who arrived yesterday, will visit every day for the three weeks she’s here. My sister Sally and I will also help.
As we were leaving One Happy Family, they were serving everyone a hot meal. There must have been 250 men lined up patiently to receive a plate of rice and chicken. Women and children got theirs first. I love this place.

More about other ngos next time.

First day back on Lesvos

Hit the ground running on Monday. I had a one day overlap with the previous REAL volunteer and she wanted to show me everything that I need to know. I saw a few people that I knew last year, and met a lot of new people. One of my teaching positions will be at a women’s safe place in town. Young women and mothers are referred to this house if they are experiencing trauma or have greater need for a supportive environment during the day. Babies and toddlers up to age 2 are welcome. This house is a true refuge. Women may take showers, fix themselves a snack and make tea and coffee, relax, and learn English. I will provide lessons every day from 11:00 to 2:00. The seven week course starts next Monday. This house is only open during the day. Women must return to the camp nine kilometers out of town at night. Because of the crush of new arrivals, buses are overcrowded to the point that 500 people try to get on one bus. One incident had the driver beating people off the bus with a stick. This makes it very difficult for the women to reach town to come to the house at this time.

The other danger of leaving camp during the day is that one may miss an important appointment or even a transfer to the mainland. The authorities are trying to move people as fast as possible due to the overcrowded camp. To date there are 13,000 in a space made for 3,000.

Tomorrow another new REAL volunteer will arrive who will share my apartment.  My sister Sally and I will pick her up at the airport and get her settled.  I will find her a placement at an organization on the island, and help acclimate her to the life here.

In other news, the weather is balmy, the sea is calm.  The people and volunteers of Lesvos are amazing.  And I feel very much at home.