I have been working as a Civil Rights Advocate for about 3 years. What that means is to help US green card holders apply for citizenship along with voter registration, guiding and giving referrals to asylum seekers and refugees. I am not a lawyer or a person with a legal background, I felt like I was a compassionate human and cared about the community so I was a good fit for this job. But the truth was that sitting in the comfort of my office that was air conditioned in beautiful California, was comfortable and had nothing to do with compassion. When I couldn’t help, I just handed out referrals to people in need. I was as lovely as could be, trying to make them feel like they weren’t alone and that I would help them when needed, but that wasn’t enough.
One day I felt sick to my stomach. A family of 5 had come in to see me and asked for help, that was something beyond my expertise. So as usual, I turned to take out my list of places where they could go for assistance. As I pulled out the list, the mother of 3 young children, began to cry and said, “Please don’t give us another list or address where we should go, can’t you just help?” I stopped for a minute and felt like shit. I couldn’t help her because I didn’t know how to, but the truth was I wasn’t even trying hard enough. At that moment I felt ashamed of myself. I decided to do something where I could be more productive and learn how better to use my skills to assist people in need.
I started looking for oppurtunities, and just like it was meant to be, I found an organization called CESRT- Chios Eastern Shore Response Team in the beautiful Greek island of Chios. They are a team of volunteers, who supply warm clothes, food, shoes, showers and a play area for refugees either coming straight off a boat and/or once they start living in the camps. I contacted them and decided to go in the summer, but for some odd reason it didn’t work out. I was a bit down about it but continued to do my work as best as I could. Around November I checked again and found out that they needed volunteers for January, which was perfect for me. It was between semesters, my kids would be off, and I had family visiting so that I could go. I asked a friend if she wanted to go.
I planned to leave on the 1st of 2018, to start the year off in a positive tone. Once I arrived at the island, I was taken by surprise many different ways. Firstly because there was so much raw beauty on the island, the beaches, the city and the sunsets were stunning. The people were so warm and generous, even though they were going through difficult times, economically. The other thing that surprised me was the dedication of the volunteers, who work day and night to help these families feel a little better.
The way it works is that once the refugees arrive at the island which is called a “landing”, the volunteers are there on the coast right behind the police and the paramedics. They provide warm clothes, shoes, tea and a place where the families can relax for a bit. Another aspect of the work is that CESRT has a warehouse where they get donations, and everything is sorted out ready for when it is needed.
My favorite part was that they had created a “Children’s House,” this is for families that are currently living in the Vial Camp. The families take buses to come to the Children’s House where they get to have a nice shower, get clothes, shoes, toiletries, food and a safe space to play. I am still here and writing from the beautiful island of Chios, Greece.
My heart is sad at the horrific situation that these families go through and yet the love and dedication of the volunteers; provides warmth to my soul. I learned that during World War 2, MERRA (Middle East Relief and Refuge Administration) ran camps in Syria for refugees coming from Europe. Which proves no matter how different we feel from people across the globe, we all need each other. We are connected through the unseen bond of love and humanity.