It’s 8 am in the morning and on a flight back to the US. I do not even know how to sum up the past few days. I felt so depressed and scared about going home. Had I not booked my return-flight in December for today I would still be on the Greek islands…
It was five days ago that I returned to Lesvos. There were several people coming back for a few days, and several of us were to meet up to plan the next mission. Initially we were to all go to Lebanon the first week of March and stay there until August, so we really needed to figure out logistics. I was really looking forward to seeing them all: Kristina, Mari, Todar…
We only spent two days together as they immediately planned on flying to Lebanon three days ago. I really did not spend much time with them since they were busy planning on their trip. Most of them were going for a few days, others were staying there for several weeks/months. Those going for a few days are capable of raising large amounts of money that can be used to help the refugees there as well as support the refugees. It was just a stressful two days, I feel I should have stayed on Kos rather than come back to see them.
What I can take away from my third trip back to Lesvos and my experience on the other islands is that things have changed. Back in December and earlier, volunteers were needed to fill the voids and to do the job that the large, international NGO’s were failing to do. Kos and Samos are completely run by UNHCR, WAHA, MercyCorps, Medecines Sans Frontiers, and Samaritans Purse. Each of those islands only have one grass-roots NGO. On this final return to Lesvos I was able to look at it from an outsiders view. I was less emotionally attached to Lesvos than those that were still there. Things had been put in place, structure and order had come to Lesvos.
I feel that the only reason the large NGO’s are not fully functioning on Lesvos is because the grass-root NGO’s are to emotionally attached and will not let them. Per example, the first day back on Lesvos, No Borders Kitchen was told to pack up. Instead they made a post asking for volunteers from around the island and the other NGO’s to stand in solidarity with them. It’s no longer time for the unpaid volunteers to be here cooking food, let the paid workers of Mercy Corps, MSF, or Samaritans Purse feed them. It’s their job, that’s what they are paid for. Of course Lesvos is much larger and receives more refugees, but 3000 refugees can easily be handled by the UNHCR and the other international NGO’s.
Todar and I had a conversation, halfway online, halfway with each other. Volunteering is becoming a thing or trend to do on one’s holiday. Partially because people want to do something bigger than themselves. Partially because they want the attention, to play a hero. You could tell that it was Norway’s mid-winter break this week. A Drop in the Ocean at Lesvos went from 5 volunteers up to over 20 in one week. Todar and I had talked about the “holiday volunteers” and how they will fill the gaps if we move on to the next mission. It brought up another subject. Money of course, or rather the waste of funding on holiday volunteers. Over the New Years holiday season, at any point in those 4 weeks there were 2000 volunteers on the island. Assumedly 3-4000 volunteers during the holiday season were on Lesvos. If each had raised $3000 to cover flights, accommodations, food, etc. relatively $10 million was raised for all the volunteers to do the same job at the same time.
The dilemma is all the media, volunteers, and funding is directed to Lebanon, but then, without them awareness could not be met. On the islands we have begun to see clothing donations slowing down, funding slowing down. Donors are getting weary, bored off Lesvos and the continuous messages for aid. When the next natural or man-made disaster help, aid is going to switch to there. We must begin to look at more sustainable means of helping the refugees on the Greek islands.
This brings me to the point of Lebanon. This is the next mission, I hope within three-four weeks I will be there for 2 months minimal up to the end of August. One in three people living in Lebanon are refugees. 10% of the refugees there are Palestinian, they are on the third generation of refugees living in the camps there. 20% of the refugees in Lebanon are from Syria. These are the ones that could not come to Lesvos, they could not make the migration into Europe. According to the UNHCR there are just under 1.2 million refugees in Lebanon.
I’m hoping to figure out my funding and book a flight back out within the week. The farther I fly away from Greece and the refugees the more I feel hopeless and without a drive in life. Three weeks, that is all I will allot myself at home.