Greece: Volunteering for Syrian Refugees

     “Tell me, what is your plan to do with your one wild and precious life? Mary Oliver

I love that question. My friend, Alice Mendoza, a retired 40 year Bainbridge Island public school teacher regularly quotes it from her mother’s favorite poem. Alice admires Eleanor Roosevelt and each year her students had the privilege of learning how the former First Lady of the United States promoted and modeled the importance of community and global service. Alice also spent two years teaching in an international school in Morocco shortly before she retired. And so it was no surprise when she announced two weeks ago that she was traveling in February to the island of Lesbos in Greece to volunteer with Seattle’s Salaam Cultural Center assisting with the Syrian refugee crisis. She’s using her one wild and precious life to help save the wild and precious life of others.

Lesbos is the nearest island to Turkey and for the overloaded and/or defective rubber rafts carrying the flood of refugees, its the first safe haven that many of them reach after a dangerous six hour crossing of the Aegean Sea. They arrive scared, cold, wet and hungry; some of them with immediate medical conditions. Some don’t live through the dangerous trip. It’s winter on the Aegean and Alice’s update today reported that several babies died of hypothermia on the rafts that landed this week.

Lesbos 3

A variety of NGOs, including the Salaam Cultural Center and their volunteers, along with the people of Lesbos have managed to create a temporary infrastructure that tries to accommodate the refugees’ needs as they arrive by the boatload, sometimes thousands in a given day. In January of 2016 alone, 18,000 refugees made the trip. Lookouts watch the Aegean Sea 24/7 for signs of incoming rubber rafts. Once the raft lands the shaken passengers are given dry clothes if the volunteers have a supply, food and a medical checkup if needed. This is where Alice will be volunteering. They’re then bused to the port on Lesbos and put on a ferry for an eight hour trip to Athens for more formal refugee processing. A social media global campaign has been mounted on behalf of the Greek Islands to award them the Nobel Peace Prize.

Alice is self-funding all of her expenses, but set up a GoFundme account here to raise $10,000 to buy needed supplies for the refugees as they land- childrens’ socks, shoes and hats; dry sweatpants, raincoats, warm coats and thermal blankets. I donated; its the least I could do with my one wild and precious life. She got the Senior Center on Bainbridge Island to knit warm hats to take and has been speaking to groups to raise funding and awareness. Alice was an elementary teacher and knows in her volunteer capacity in that short window of time she has to comfort a traumatized child whose language she may not speak, she needs a translator. Beanie Babies. I have boxes of them (a collection discarded by my peregrine son when he moved on to collecting real pets). Tiny bean stuffed translators; all of them are accompanying Alice when she leaves in February.

Tell me, what is your plan to do with your one wild and precious life? Mary Oliver