Imagine grabbing your little ones and placing them into the hands of a smuggler, a stranger you've never met before, who finds room and squishes them into a crowd of 12 on a flimsy rubber dinghy bobbing up and down in the water. You tighten your life jacket, which you're unsure is even real, though you have spent a fortune on it. You pray that it works should the worst happen since you can't swim. Family members and friends who've attempted the journey in have perished, but you look over the ocean and then back at the distant fire blazing on land. You jump in. This is the harsh reality for the 190,000 refugees (UNHCR 2016) who have made the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean in 2016 alone, who are fleeing from war, persecution, and violence in their home countries.
Just to put everything in perspective, per the UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency), 1, 015, 078 men, women and children crossed the Mediterranean in 2015. Of this number, more than 4,000 women, men and children have perished attempting passage. The number of daily arrivals has drastically decreased after the EU-Turkey deal was put into effect on March 18, 2016, but despite the new legislation, refugees are still coming and more than 54,000 displaced refugees remain in Greece, who are waiting on legal and asylum papers and need help securing access to food, water clothing and healthcare.
After hearing stories of refugees in the European crisis on NPR on the way to and from work everyday this past year and seeing photos of their plight in the news, I simply couldn't NOT go. As a first-gen child of immigrants in the US from Taiwan, I can identify with their search for greater opportunities for future generations. Actually, every person in the States can identify with that notion-- your grandpa, grandma, great grandparents or even great-great-great-grandparents had to have immigranted from somewhere on the same notion of seeking freedom of thought, of speech, or financial freedom. Fortunately, I have not had to face the adversity that they have in their struggle for security and safety, and am deeply inspired by their hope and preserverence. I'm equally frustrated by the barriers they are now facing, both legally and financially, as so many are detained in squalid conditions without basic necessities and in many cases, without the dignity of feeling human.
Bootvluchteling's support for refugees is multi-faceted consisting of a field team, a medical team and a search and rescue team that continues to patrol the coast. They provide relief and address needs of the most vulnerable refugees like the women, children and elderly. As a field worker with Bootvluchteling, I will be responsible for various day-day tasks in shifts. Tasks between the camps range from distributing food and clothing from tent to tent, accompanying the medical teams into camps to ensure that all needs are addressed, transporting refugees between camps, night patrol at Kara Tepe camp, environmental cleanup of life jackets on the island, playing with children and engaing with the resident refugees and more (since these are always changing depending on need).
I will require a rental car (and gas) to get from the volunteer residence to the camps (which are also used to transport refugees between camp and where their legal papers are processed or medical facilities). Additionally, I will be staying in a volunteer complex, where we have nightly debriefing meetings and eat together. Part of the the funds raised will go towards donations of culture-specific clothing (headscarves, long sleeve tunics), feminine hygiene materials, and activities for the children at the camps that I will bring with me abroad and buy locally to support the island's economy.
I really can't thank you all enough for your support in this enourmous endeavor. I hope to be able to make even a tiny bit of a difference in their lives in the capacity I can help them feel like they're not just a number, and can only hope to begin to understand the tip of the iceberg of this immensely complex crisis. This will absolutely be an experience that I carry with me the rest of my life, and also as a future PA.
Please feel free to message me with any questions you may have (and any advice volunteering with vulnerable groups if you have any)! You can follow me and my updates from Greece this summer at:
You can also find out more about the Boat Refugee Foundation online at: http://bootvluchteling.nl/en/projects/lesvos/
or at their facebook site: