Today I had patrol on Skalla beach, we only had one boat come in down by me. Most of my team were working a few kilometers down the beach at Lighthouse where a boat came in comprised mostly of babies and children. They take precedence since they are more susceptible to bodily harm from being cold and wet. From what I hear they had their work cut out for them.
I worked with Tony and one other volunteer, Shaamia, who spent most of her time at one of the transition camps since she could speak fluent Arabic. Tony and I really could do nothing but be in the way so we took it upon ourselves to do beach clean-up. Though this isn’t very exciting, it, like every other job, is very important. Our host island is known for its scenery. Rubber dinghys, orange life jackets, and trash all over the island will destroy the tourist economy which the Greek locals worry about. We also have to be mindful of the environment/eco-system here.
We spent a good three hours hauling boats out of the water by hand and hacking them apart with kitchen knives to make them moveable. It was back-breaking work, but it was sprinkling which helped keep us cool.
Keeping the beaches clean is a way to keep positive relations, but it is also important because we need clear beaches so that we can bring new boats full of refugees to shore. If the shore is full of obstacles it becomes difficult, almost dangerous, especially when carrying infants over the rocks all over the beaches. These are not sandy beaches. The locals did take notice which was both important and rewarding.
They were happy to see volunteers taking care of their island. For many of them, it’s their front yard where refugees are coming in. My NGO is highly respected because we are known for picking up trash our consistency on patrols, and being there. Many NGO’s show up for a week or two, take pictures, play the hero, and leave without actually participating in the rest of the infrastructure. They take selfies with a crying baby and then sit and drink coffee while watching trash waft in the air and float into the ocean.
The situation on the island can change, and does change, often. Politics from the EU, border closures, Turkish pressure to keep refugees from escaping from them, etc. There are over 2000 volunteers here. While it is nice to have this many people here, most of them just end up on the beach. Often the amount of volunteers trying to help a boat is triple the amount of refugees on the boat. Then include the 50 journalists, photographers, and videographers shoving lenses into everyone’s back. It becomes very chaotic and probably almost a shock to the refugees. Several of us were considering going to Chios, another Greek isle, because we had heard they needed help.
As I said the situation changes; the group of us that were going to go to Turkey were volunteers planning because we felt that we could be utilized better. At our evening meeting we were asked if there were any volunteers that would be willing to go independent and go to the island of Samos which is south of Lesvos. They apparently have only 6 volunteers so we immediately knew what needed to be done. It looks like myself and at least 4 others will be going there by the end of the week. We will have to break off from our NGO and go as independents, but “A Drop in the Ocean” will still be our mother NGO.