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My Unexpected Volunteer Trip to Greece

 

This story began when my amazing 80+ year old friend, who is an avid traveler, adventurist and humanist began posting stories of refugees crossings the Aegean Sea.  As my heartstrings were heavily tugged, I found myself arranging a trip to Chios, Greece. 

With a simple search on the internet, I found a link for those wanting to volunteer.  I went solo, not connected through any organization and without knowing anyone in Greece, I just knew I had to go! Having been pulled into travel like this before, I am familiar with this part of my deepest self that randomly arises and sends me in a “no way out” direction that I couldn’t have known. 

I delayed booking a ticket for many weeks, but the thoughts kept remaining. My finances really do not allow me to wander the world at will, but strangely, I had 30,000 airline miles on one account and this is exactly what I needed for a roundtrip fare from Portland, Oregon to Athens, Greece. 

In the second half of February, nearly 24 hours of travel and 4 air flights later, I arrived in Chios. Prior to my trip, a FB page dedicated to volunteers, provided names of possible accommodates. I booked a room at a lovely small guesthouse “Chios Rooms” and within 10 minutes of my evening arrival at this guesthouse, I was invited by another volunteer to view the main refugee camp “Souda Camp”.  My worries of knowing where to go and what I was able to do were easily disbanded. 
 

Souda Camp
Souda Camp
Dipethe Camp
Dipethe Camp

The next morning, with very vague directions (I asked my guesthouse owner), I walked maybe  6 kilometers looking for the “People's Street Kitchen” - a fully funded and run volunteer kitchen that provides food to the refugees at the camps.  Was I going down the right road?? Starting to doubt, I decided to walk a bit further and arrived right in front of a small roadside building where a handful of people were chopping vegetables and preparing large pots of hearty nutritious soups for the lunch meal. 

“I joined in chopping and did so for the next few weeks.”

I also was able to be at the camps during lunch and/or dinner and partake in distribution.  Sometimes it was pretty hectic, serving fast 650 hungry people…

For me, it was an incredibly humbling experience to look into the eyes of people, who through dire circumstances are now solely dependent on others for one of the most primal necessity of life.   As I handed out cups of soup and bread, meeting eyes one by one, I experienced deep gratefulness.  I received many  “thank you’s”.  I also came upon sad and broken eyes and heard stories that no one should have to tell.  The children are the gift of the world; as most are fortunate (in this one way) to still possess their wondrous child-like nature and they can easily be distracted with play.
 

Myself in front of the kitchen
Myself in front of the kitchen
Warehouse
Warehouse

Towards the end of my 2 week time in Chios I was able to help out in the warehouse sorting donated items and I also distributed shoes and clothing a few times at one of the camps I tried to imagine how I would respond if I lost everything and had to rely on being given someone else’s worn shoes and clothes; not having a choice to chose. Not everyone was able to receive what they needed for basic warmth or have proper shoes.  And there were some that received or found discarded shoes and had no choice to accept ones that did not fit. The donations went so fast with the inflow of refugees arriving. There was always a deficit. I was able to make a large cash donation to the kitchen, by the generosity of many friends from the US.

On the morning of my last full day in Chios I helped with the arrival of a boat by assisting a few families with the changing of wet clothes of their little ones into dry donated garments.
 

Pygri
Pygri

I did enjoy one lovely day of travel in the south of Chios, visiting the beautiful painted village of Pyrgi, and the lovely beach town of Karfas.  I also celebrated my 65th birthday feasting with 10 other global volunteers at an amazing restaurant in a beautiful old stone house/inn, just south of Chios town in a rural area.  Where, I have no idea!

“The day I left Chios, I really didn’t want to. I truly wish I could have stayed.”

As most are knowledgeable and know the stories, I won’t say much about the living conditions or situation for the refugees.  I visited there during the “better time”.  Although there were many challenges and inadequacies, there was hope and dreams. Shortly after I departed in early March is when things drastically changed for the worse.