Supporting Refugee Relief

Yassas from Leros, Greece! As many of you know, I am in the midst of 4 weeks on Leros volunteering as a nurse with Kitrinos Healthcare in a refugee camp. It is a long way away from Washington D.C. - or anywhere you may be reading this message from. 

The refugee crisis in Europe is far from the eyes of the media but it is no less urgent than before. People still arrive by the boatloads each day and resources are dwindling. An experience like this makes me feel very, very far from home, but then I realize that the people I care for are also far from home - any home, old or new. In a few short weeks, I'll head home and the refugees' struggle toward any home will continue. And you have a chance to make their journey a bit easier. All of the money donated to this campaign will be given to non-profits working directly with refugees - Kitrinos Healthcare, Hope Cafe in Athens, and One Happy Family on Lesbos. 

Thank you for taking the time to read and for the consideration of a donation - any amount helps!

It is hard to know where to begin. I did not anticipate the overwhelming feelings of walking into and out of a refugee camp every day. Completely unsure of what to expect, I had hoped for, and have found, an incredible team - unbelievably passionate individuals who provide healthcare, humor, and advocacy in a dire situation.

We work in two camps. Both camps are considered to be "very nice" refugee camps (the bar for “very nice” is very low). At the Hotspot, in the shadows of Mussolini's old vacation house, there are shipping containers for shelter, not tents. It is an open camp, meaning people are free to come and go during the day - they are able to go to the market, go fishing, or to the pharmacy if needed. And Pikpa is an old psychiatric institution now housing the island's most vulnerable refugees (families with young children or the medically frail). Both places are melting pots - refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Cameroon, Burundi, Cote d'Ivoire, and New Guinea. We have cared for those fleeing religious persecution and ethnic cleansing, those seeking political asylum, running from civil war / unrest, all seeking a peaceful and prosperous life for their families. Regardless of where they are from, their communities are torn apart by powerful ideologies beyond control or reason.

Despite heartbreaking tales of loss and terrifying stories of flight, I am moved by the hope I encounter. Strangers helping one another, sharing what little resources they have with others, and carrying big burdens to help the less able. I am incredibly impressed by the people I meet.

Abdulhadi is our language and cultural translator, and a Syrian refugee. He was in his 3rd year of medical school in Damascus when the fighting became too much. He and his wife made the difficult journey from Syria to Turkey to Greece by boat. Abdulhadi began volunteering at the Hope Cafe - cooking free meals for 500 refugees each day. He took English classes and quickly became fluent in a new language. He then started helping others as a translator. He met the founder of Kitrinos Healthcare in Athens, and he now works with us here on Leros, providing translation in the clinic and beyond. In our volunteer house, we are like family - cooking delicious Syrian/Greek food, learning from one another and sharing space. Abdulhadi loves Mumford and Sons and sharing photos or videos of his son, Karam. He dreams about continuing his medical education here in Greece in order to serve the growing population of Arabic-speakers in Europe. Abdulhadi's story is one of resilience and optimism. He is dedicated to finding success and stability for his family, and to helping others. It is quite a lot of life for a 25 year old man.

And there are so many others: Bushwar is trying to reach her 16 year-old son in Holland but is awaiting an asylum interview in the camp jail. Her older son was killed in Syria; her depression is palpable but she is relieved to be in the company of others, of strangers, in the clinic. She comes daily for her headaches. We give her water and coffee, she gives us hugs and thanks. Mbia is fleeing political persecution in Cameroon. He has Type I diabetes and requires regular insulin injections. He is out of insulin needles but the red tape is complicated and the EU / Greek-funded organization can’t order more until next week. For a mere 3 euros, we can temporarily solve this problem, and we do. But this is not a long term solution. I cross my fingers that we can resolve this soon and me (and my euros) will eventually leave. And the list goes on and on: Mushtaq, Mahta, Naïf, Desirae, Shalya, and on.

It is not all so heartbreaking. Last Friday afternoon, a van full of adorable children tumbled out and into our clinic, noisy and tumbling over each other. They needed their Tubercuolsis tests read in order to process asylum paperwork. They are unaccompanied minors. Each kid hugged me as I determined whether or not he or she needed chest x-rays or were clear from Tuberculosis. They giggled, I giggled - it was pretty cute.

There are moments too intense to process today or even tomorrow. For example, on Friday morning a boat of refugees landed on a nearby island and these 44 people were brought to our camp for processing. There were refugees from Syria and Somalia on board. There were language and cultural barriers. There was anxiety and excitement. And there was lots of European bureaucracy, paperwork, and processing. It is hard to imagine how terrifying life must be to push people toward an open sea with only a life vest. To leave behind family, friends, and community. To hope for something better but to know "something better" is still many, many struggles away.

There are moments of wonder - a multi-step translation from Farsi to Arabic to English to Greeek and all the way back around.

And there are moments of humanity - friends recognizing each other from back home, hugs, handshakes, and for a moment, relief from a life so foreign.

It is hard to pinpoint what is most interesting, most hopeful, most unsettling - each day brings a new experience. I am grateful for the Kitrinos Team, for a slightly moldy, but really welcoming house, and for the freedom to walk into and back out of a refugee camp on my own free will. I know that this small volunteer project does not solve for the root cause of migration (forced or otherwise). I can only hope that this, and the hundreds of other projects like it, alleviate a bit of suffering and bring a little joy to those who are victims of this crisis.

If you are still reading, wow, thank you. This is not a light read and there is much, much more to share. I am happy to answer any questions you might have. If you are really curious about the European refugee crisis, I highly recommend The New Odyssey by Patrick Kingsley - it is a very comprehensive overview of what has been happening since 2013. Thank you again for reading and hopefully for a donation.

For those who are seeing this campaign through GoFundMe, my name is Julien Guttman, I am a Registered Nurse from the United States. I am currently volunteering in Greece supporting refugee relief work. I know these organizations personally and feel confident in their abilities to ensure the money is responsibily used to benefit those in need.
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Julien Guttman 
Washington D.C., DC
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