Help the Refugees in Lesvos, Greece

$14,720 of $20,000 goal

Raised by 142 people in 40 months
Dear friends, family and strangers,

For those that do not know us, our names are Arzo Wardak (Washington, D.C.) and Jasmine Afshar (San Diego). We are both involved with advocacy and policy work. When we first learned of the plight of these poor refugees in Lesvos, Greece, our hearts sank. All we could think of is what if they were our family members? What if those refugees were our friends? Then it occurred to us that they once were. Many of our family members have been through that same terrible journey. Some were lucky to have survived it, some were jailed and tortured for having been caught, others died along the way or were simply killed. Our parents were some of the lucky ones and it is because of them that we were blessed to have been given a privileged life. But now that same privilege affords us the opportunity to give back and help those facing the very same journey. 

So this is our plea for your help. Not help for us, but help for the thousands of Afghan and Syrian refugees that arrive each day in Lesvos Island, Greece. These refugees have faced their boats capsizing, their family members drowning, dangerous medical conditions, all resulting in an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. As the weather deteriorates drastically, the situation becomes even more dangerous and the conditions are more life threatening than ever before. Unfortunately, there is a shortage of both medical and humanitarian aid, as well as volunteers. And we intend to help with both.

You see, there are currently only two Afghan volunteers that can help translate for the Afghan refugees but they will soon be leaving. We will be traveling to Lesvos, Greece to continue the work of these amazing Afghan volunteers. We will each cover our own travel, food and accommodation expenses and not one penny of donations will go towards any personal costs. All funds raised here will go directly to helping the refugees in the following ways:

-Purchasing food from local sources (this helps stimulate the local economies of the island, which is already facing a crisis of its own due to the huge influx of refugees.
-Emergency aid and equipment (this will be determined once I am there and will be based on the immediate need at the time)
-Warm clothing and shoes (refugees arrive with soaked shoes and clothes, resulting in poor health)
-Special help for pregnant women, new mothers, and babies
-Feminine products 
-Hygiene Kits
-Blankets and sleeping bags
 
Why is it so important that we go? Because there are too few volunteers as it is and the Afghan refugees do not have anyone to translate for them. The language barriers continue to be a significant problem as 40% of the refugees speak Farsi and are from Iran or Afghanistan. Providing them with medical care, humanitarian aid, advice, directions, basically anything, has been a significant challenge because no one speaks Farsi. Having someone there that speaks their language will not only help an emergency crisis situation, but it will also help ease the trauma of this terrible experience they're going through. It can save the families from significant hassle if they can receive the help and guidance they need in their own language. 

We are going to devote our time to do this work but we need all of your help. We need as much help as we can possibly get. And we will document all of our purchases and expenditures and will update all our donors accordingly, as well as post up videos and pictures so you can all see the meaningful impact your contribution will have made.

Whatever you can contribute is greatly appreciated. Even if you can share this post with your networks, that will also be helpful. Thank you so much for your consideration and help!

Love,
Arzo & Jasmine
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Dear supporters, my apologies for the multiple updates. I realized that I never finished sending out the last two updates to our donor family. I wanted to make sure everyone received every update I posted on my Facebook page and since not everyone is on there, it was important that I post it here as well. For those on my Facebook page, my sincere apologies for the repeated information!

I wanted to share a very special video with you all. It's a video documenting our experience in Lesvos. I highly recommend that you watch it in HD since the video consists of video clips taken with my iPhone and the quality is a bit lacking - my apologies for this!

For many of you that have been asking, we are still accepting donations! As the situation continues to deteriorate, the refugees will need our help more than ever before. Only this time, we will also be assisting the refugees stuck at the Macedonian border (Idomeni Camp), as well as the refugees stuck in Athens. If anyone would like to join these efforts, please reach out to us at TranslatorsForHumanity@gmail.com. Your generosity, support and contributions are the sole reason why our last trip was a success. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. But the work is yet to be done. We hope you can support us once more. Please stay tuned on details on our next trip! Thank you all!
Video highlighting our work in Lesvos
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Lesvos Diary Entry 10 (2/12/16): I have never been so emotionally overwhelmed and bewildered as I am today writing this tenth diary entry for Lesvos. I have been away from home for nearly a month and it is time for me to return so that I can recharge and resume our work for the refugees. Even after spending nearly 3 weeks at the Moria Refugee Camp, I am still unable to fully grasp all the things I witnessed, the stories I heard, and all the politics the refugee crisis is engulfed in. I don't know how I will process these experiences in the coming weeks. The whole situation was unbelievably horrific. It has broken me to a depth that would almost cause me to question the goodness of everything I ever believed in. Almost.

When I first arrived, I was prepared to offer a service. A service of translating both Dari/Farsi and Pashto. I was also prepared to manage donations and supply refugees with things they needed. And I was prepared to do this while remaining emotionally strong the entire time. I told myself that there would be no room for weak hearts and minds. That we needed to remain on top of our emotions. Not for us, but for the refugees.

I was wrong.

It is nearly impossible to do any of this work without feeling the true weight of the crisis on your shoulders. Without having your heart shattering into pieces almost every time you meet a new refugee or refugee family. You embrace each one of them as your own family. You begin to feel responsible for them and take care of them until they have been fully processed with Frontex and are ready to depart for Athens. And by then, they have stolen your heart. Saying goodbye becomes difficult because you know you can't be there for them during the rest of their journey. And the worst part is when you see fear in their eyes because they too are scared that they won't have someone they trust guiding them. They are still many weeks of hard travel away from their final destination and as more borders close everyday, their future becomes more uncertain. It’s terrifying for them, as well as for us. It’s a painful cycle that we go through almost every day.

Despite all the painful scenes, Moria Refugee Camp truly became home to me. I never viewed any of our work as "work", if that makes sense. Even when we had to take a day off to rest or take a break, we still found ourselves at the camp or at the port handing out food or at the shops reloading on supplies. If the refugees weren't getting a break, we weren't either.

I do want to highlight a positive part of my experience. I made so many incredible new friends. I have experienced things with these folks that I have never experienced with anyone else. We have forever been tied and bonded together with memories of this camp. I will truly miss them all.

The people of Lesvos have also been some of the most hospitable and welcoming people I have ever met in my entire life. Growing up in an Afghan household, we know firsthand the importance of true hospitality. We will give you the last $5 in our pockets if you need it. We will feed you before we feed ourselves, even if we don't know where our next meal will come from. We will house you, clothe you, and care for you before helping ourselves. This is what our culture has always been known for. And the people of Lesvos have shown the world nothing short of this. These people have provided a safe haven to the refugees. Not only have they helped the refugees, they have helped anyone serving the refugees. The hotels, restaurants and local shops have all given us discounts when they learn that you're a volunteer assisting the crisis. Even when we first arrived at the airport, we were asked if we were volunteers and when we said yes, the official humbly lowered his head and thanked us. It was a nice way to feel welcomed.

Much of this is due to their own history of migration. Many of the islands inhabitants were children or grandchildren of folks that escaped from Turkey. They escaped by boat and arrived in Lesvos as refugees themselves. It's amazing to see how they have now provided a safe haven for our own people. On almost every corner you’d see the words, “Refugees Welcome,” in graffiti or paint. This undeniable spirit of hope and hospitality was present everywhere. It was the one thing that kept Lesvos from being an island of anguished misery and despair.

Our work is not over. I will be returning to Lesvos with my husband next month iA. In the meantime, I will be staying busy with some advocacy work. The quality of dialogue amongst world leaders, the UN, the Afghan government, as well as our own Afghan community leaders in the states as to what to do is so disconcerting to me. This is a true humanitarian crisis at an unprecedented scale. How could the world be so blind to all of it. We must prioritize establishing safe and legal routes to asylum for these refugees. No soul chooses to embark on this journey. No soul chooses for their education, their careers, plans for their future to be interrupted so brutally. No soul chooses to give up everything they have to go across the dangerous Aegean sea, while also preparing themselves to die because of the thousands that have drowned before them. Just as many of our parents didn't choose to be refugees, these people didn't either.
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Lesvos Diary Entry 9: I want to quickly address all of our donors. I don't know what we would have done without you and your generosity. With your contributions, we have so far fed hundreds of people. If the ferries were running (they're on strike half the time), we'd pass out food like bananas and apples, bread, dates, bottles of water, juice boxes, crackers and pastries at the port. Many times we'd walk over to a restaurant and buy everything they had ready to carry out. From kabob sandwiches to spinach pies - we'd wipe out everything clean! The food truck guys especially loved us because we'd buy so many kabob sandwiches and other snacks on a daily basis.

Jasmine and I also hit up the bigger shops and bought backpacks and large sturdy shopping bags in bulk. You'll always see refugees hauling around a ton of stuff because they simply don't have a backpack to carry it all in. There are a few trucks near the camp that sell backpacks for around 40 euros, which is a total rip off! We purchased the exact same thing from the shops in downtown Mytilene for 11 euros a piece. So it's important to have these bags in your inventory. You'll always run into someone that is in need of it.

Yesterday, Jasmine, Lina and I went to another shop and purchased a large supply of thick leggings, fleece lined sweats, long sweaters (many females want tops to come down to mid-thigh), children's fleece sweaters and pants, and tank tops. We haggled as best as we could. At the end, we got a good deal on everything.

We've also purchased a large number of ferry tickets for refugees. Ferry tickets cost 45 euros and bus tickets from Athens to Macedonia are another 25 euros (children 5 and under are free). This has been one of the most important things you could spend money on. Because the goal is to get as many refugees as possible out of the camp. If you don't process them out quickly, more refugees will arrive and overcrowding will begin. Many will be squeezed into the compounds, tents will run out and hundreds will have to sleep outside. Purchasing ferry tickets for a family will instantly help lessen this problem.

There were also many instances where Jasmine and I gave families or certain individuals money. This was not always an easy task because we wanted to be responsible with our donation money at all times. But I want to assure every single one of you that we did this for those who were in desperate need. We determined someone's need by the number of days they were at the camp (thank you for this very helpful advice, Humah), as well as a couple of other factors. If they had money, they would leave the camp as soon as they received their registration papers. Those that stayed behind were usually without funds. They had either been robbed by the smugglers, fell into the water with all of their things and nearly drowned, were robbed blind at the camp, or just had enough money to arrive in Lesvos and hoped to find a way from there. In almost every case, none of the refugees ever asked for financial support. They would actually understate their dire need. They wouldn't even take an extra pair of socks if they already had a pair on. In fact, we found that those who were the most quiet about their troubles were usually the ones with the most need.

Thank you for believing in us. I will continue to share updates on how our donation money is spent. Many have asked if we are still accepting monetary donations. The answer is yes. Although we met our gofundme goal, the need is greater than we had anticipated. And it will only continue to grow as the days get warmer, unfortunately. This trip to Lesvos was only our first. We will be returning to continue our work for as long as the need is there.
Children's fleece clothing sets.
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Lesvos Diary Entry 8: One of the unfortunate realities of working in a refugee camp is all the politics intertwined with it. You have to work with many complicated and ever-changing rules. Everything is just so unbelievably bureaucratic here.

For example, Moria Refugee Camp is located both on government and private property. The government side of it is essentially a former juvenile detention center. On one side of the jail is the compound that houses the Syrians comfortably. On the other side is the compound that houses both Syrians and Afghans. These compounds fill up very very quickly, which often times leaves many Afghan, Iranian, and families from other countries to sleep outside in tents. The single men get the worst treatment as they sometimes have to sleep outside with nothing more than a blanket around them. The tents are both inside the compound as well as outside the government property, which is considered the "Afghan Hill."

Afghan Hill is a campsite on private property (it is rented from the owner) and it is 100% run by volunteers. None of the NGO's operate here. All of the major orgs (UNHCR, Doctors Without Borders, Danish Refugee Council, and Starfish) are located inside the compound. And to get inside the compound, you must be registered with one of the orgs based there.

It wasn't always this way. You use to be able to go in as you please but some of the orgs based inside the compound have complained about independent volunteers and unofficial NGO's. They don't want us to help the refugees because it takes work away from their orgs. There are other reasons for this too but basically, they have all become extremely territorial. I don't get it because we are very much needed inside. For instance, Doctors Without Borders is one of the orgs that has a clinic inside the compound. But they only have ONE doctor in there and the clinic is closed after 10pm! Our Health Point Project clinic, which was initially inside the compound, had many patients around the clock and many were brought in late at night for serious illnesses.

Boats arrive at all times of the day and night and some refugees will arrive with severe hypothermia cases. If we weren't there, there would have been no one else to treat them. Sadly, we were forced out of the compound during our first week in Moria and had to set up shop at the Afghan Hill, where the government doesn't have as much of a say (they still try though).

Even after we were forced out, we would get calls from the orgs inside the compound about refugees needing medical assistance. So one of our doctors and one of us translators would go run up the hill and into the compound to treat the refugees. They pretty much call on you as they please. This happens all the time and it's just so frustrating.

We didn't let this stop us, however. We did a lot of outreach work everyday. Outreach is when a doctor and translator would go out into the camp and compounds and look to see which refugee(s) needed a doctor. Many refugees don't even know they can receive free medical assistance or that there is even a clinic there. So we go out and talk to folks, introduce ourselves, let them
know there are services available to them. And usually, the doctors will treat the refugees right then and there if it's a matter of a persistent cough, cold, etc. Because of the politics and sudden rules changes everyday, we don't do this work openly. We literally go in undercover and try to blend in with refugees (I wish I was kidding). Otherwise, the cops stop you and demand identification. It's maddening.

When Dr S Hasib Sana and I ventured out into the compound to do some outreach the other day, we came across families that had just arrived to the island by boat. We met one family that had 14 members. They told us they were really hungry and hadn't eaten in so long. It was 2:30pm and lunch was already passed out at 1pm. Dinner wouldn't be provided until 8pm and that was just too long for them to wait. These people looked so exhausted, dehydrated and weak. The problem was that the food trucks were located outside the compound so we risked not being able to get back inside. We asked one of the family members to go with us so he can bring the food back in. We bought them a lot of kabob sandwiches and burgers. As I turned to look at the entrance gate, I noticed one of the Greek police officers on guard again checking everyone's ID's. We obviously couldn't go back in.

If you are coming to volunteer here, expect for this to happen A LOT. It doesn't mean you can't help, it just means you have to work a little harder. Wait until a guard isn't paying attention, walk in with other refugees and try to blend in. Once you're in, you're good. A few of us are also trying to figure out a way how to help future volunteers gain more access (there will be a separate post for this). In the mean time, you can easily walk up to families, ask them if they're doing okay and if they need anything. If you notice them coughing a lot or looking ill, let them know there's a clinic with doctors that can treat them. Most of the time, they'll just ask you for some tea or a pair of socks or new shoes. Other times, they just want to meet a friendly person that they can communicate with in their language. You'd be surprised at how much comfort this provides them.

I am afraid to leave Moria because I have been so proud of our work here and worried about there not being enough people to carry it on. Translators for Farsi, Arabic, and Kurdish are so desperately needed. You just can't have enough. It's not going to be easy work but it is certainly going to be the most rewarding journey of your life.
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$14,720 of $20,000 goal

Raised by 142 people in 40 months
Created December 3, 2015
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$500
Anonymous
32 months ago
LM
$250
Lida, Mizhgan Matthew
38 months ago
1
1

We pray that they all make it to safety.

$100
Anonymous
38 months ago
RO
$100
Romance olumee
38 months ago

Your contribution and diaries are really moving. I hope this small donation can help those families, it breaks my heart.

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