It’s been a busy last few days. I have gotten soft working 9-5’s at Samos, the late night/early morning beach patrols have definitely wore me out. There are four other members from A Drop in the Ocean that have joined me down here. Therese, who is one of the directors for A Drop in the Ocean, also worked with me for a week in Samos is here. She brought her daughter and one other from Norway. There is one other American from my hometown of Oshkosh, Molly Freid. Before I had left I had told here about the refugee crisis and what I was intending on doing. She was taking a semester off of school because she was not sure what she was going for, nor wanted to spend the money for school for no reason.
She had intended on traveling and finding herself, so I approached her with the opportunity. Really happy to see another American make their way over, for she can help raise awareness, plus the eye-opening experience it will give her.
My first few days have been meetings trying to establish Drop here on Kos. It was some work, nothing in comparison to the attempt on Samos. We had a 4 hour meeting on the codes of conduct with the UNHCR which was useful, but for many of us who had been sent from other NGO’s it was a bit redundant. The other meeting we had with the UNHCR was a meeting with all of the coordinators on the island. Almost all of the NGO’s we have worked with on Kos, Samos, Chios, and Lesvos. Those meetings for us, Therese and myself, were focused more on networking and finding out where we are needed the most. One thing that works against me is my appearance of young age. I’ve found that in every aspect of my life, but looking 20 years old works against my favor when I’m meeting with coordinator and director heads of different NGO’s. Youth to them looks like lack of experience, and I really have no interest in introducing myself with a long list of personal accomplishments.
Mercy Corps has contracted out a local restaurant to feed the refugees, and the orphan boys from war-zones. Everyone is served at the Boomerang Steak House, a beautiful Greek restaurant. There the staff makes a meal of rice with a vegetable based soup/stew on top with fresh bread. The children are served macaroni with bread as well. Everyone gets to sit down at a table, and we come out of the kitchen with their meals on trays, serving them like we would have served anyone at this proper restaurant. Sometimes there is enough for the refugees to even have seconds.
It’s an awesome experience to see the refugees given the dignity and respect that they deserve, instead of seeing queues of them standing, waiting for their styrophone cup of soup. At the end of each meal the refugees also take a cup of chai, and often sit out front relaxing for a few moments. This is where we can interact with the families and children the most. Many of our tables can sit 8-12, so we reserve those especially for the families.
Once all of the refugees have eaten, all of the volunteers take supper as well. Often there are some families still there so we mix the time eating and interacting with them and the children. The volunteers that have been helping with the supper are from the NGO’s: A Drop in the Ocean- Norway, Humans to Humans- Sweden, Team Sweden, a few independent volunteers, and the staff of the Boomerang- Greece. It doesn’t take us to long to clean up, it’s more of a networking and bonding experience. Serving dinner is the beginning of our day for the volunteers.
After dinner Drop, Humans to Humans, and Team Sweden all sit together and figure out the plan for beach patrols for the evening and early morning. It does not make sense for three different groups to work simultaneously on the same stretches of beaches. We coordinate who group will work what stretch of beach at what time, share phone numbers, and continue building rapport among the different groups and individual volunteers.
Beach patrol here is much easier than at Lesvos. The beach road on one side of the island is flat and runs within 10 meters of the shore. The other side of the island we drive on a main road within 10 meters of the shore line as well. There are about three spots one each side of the island that we can stop and look for boats.
Until Drop sends more volunteers and equipment, we must wait more for boats to arrive on shore rather than looking for them. We have no night vision, or thermal scopes here yet, so most of the time we wait for a boat to arrive on the beach, or drive up and down, actively searching for refugees who are walking down the road looking for help. This gives the volunteers time to talk and get to know one another since we are in a car for 4-8 hours at a time in the pitch black.
This gets me to the success side of one of my missions here on Kos. A few weeks ago a family that had crossed to Lesvos and made it to Germany made contact with volunteers that had worked with them. They used WhatsApp and Facebook to find and contact the volunteers. These volunteers then got in contact with A Drop in the Ocean, and told them this story. Their relatives had been attempting to make the cross from Turkey into Greece. Most boats are loaded with the children first in the center, and then the adults. Right after the children were loaded onto the boat, the Turkish police showed up. They began arresting the smugglers and refugees on the shores, so the boat, partially filled, immediately took off and landed on Kos. There were two children on board, ages 4 and 7. They watched as the Turkish police showed up, as their family was being arrested, as the shores of Turkey where their family was at shrank as their boat moved toward Greece.
We were able to find the girls. We were relieved to find out that their uncle, Mustafa, was with them as well. He was deeply concerned and we were able to contact the girl’s father via WhatsApp and allow them to speak. The uncle had lost his passport and his money since it was with the rest of the family in Turkey. He seemed somewhat relieved to know that we were there to help, and that we would not leave until the family was re-united. Two nights ago as I was on beach patrol, we came across a group of 13-14 refugees who had just come ashore under cover of night. They were immediately ushered onto the UNHCR bus to be taken for registration and then rooms at the Hotel Oscar. The next morning, I woke up to Therese telling me that in the group of refugees that had come in, it was the two little girl’s family.
We were able to see the re-united family last night at the Boomerang Steak House. It was all smiles there. The uncle, Mustafa, looked so relieved and happy to have the burden of responsibility lifted. The girl’s dad, Osama, who spoke English very well, was all smiles as was the rest of his family. He could not thank us enough, even though there was no reason for a thank you. Instead of feeling like we should receive gratitude, we want to give more, knowing what each one of them has been through. It has been a huge honor to have been part of this process. Though we have only had a few boats come in since I have arrived to Kos, seeing a family re-united is the sweetest part of this entire chapter of Kos.