I promise that there was a moment where it all made sense. But I still can’t tell you why, or how. I can only tell you that it did, and that I went. One crisp January morning I departed England and boarded a one-way flight to an Island I’d never heard of, to witness a current humanitarian crisis and volunteer in a refugee camp.
The island was Lesvos, Greece – just 10km off the coast of Turkey, and it was midwinter. In 2015 alone, 1,015,078 refugees arrived via sea in the Mediterranean. 5,022 were reported dead or missing.
In my imagination, I pictured a tiny chunk of land, devoid of houses and desperate limbs swimming in seas of mud. I had decided I was going before I even knew which country this island was on. With a background in emergency medicine, I knew I could contribute – I just had no idea how.
The plan was to test the waters, lend a hand for a week. As soon as I arrived I extended that to a month. By the time that my three month visa was up, I was still there. Clawing desperately for ways to stay, but ultimately leaving the country with a crushing case of a broken heart.
Still, somedays I think I could’ve stayed forever.
I spent only ninety days, but it’s a different world out there. Time stands still and moves in different ways. My three months felt like I had lived five lifetimes within it. With every moment that passes since I left, the pull to return is stronger. Most heartbreaks heal with time, but not in this case.
There is still so much story to tell, to share, to process. It’s been three years and this story continues to unfurl inside of me. This is by no means conclusive, there are people, places, stories, tragedies and hope for me left to share in longer form. But here lies what is only the beginning of my brief time spent witnessing what can only be described as a humanitarian crisis.
These are all blogs I wrote at the time, in the moment. Some edited for context, but none written with the power of hindsight. Please feel free to reach whichever calls to you, or to follow the journey from the beginning, start from the first and work your way through.
In the Beginning, Crisis Awaits.
In the beginning, I flew into Athens and caught a ferry over to the Island of Lesvos, 10km of the coast of Turkey. It was here I would experience two very different refugee camps – the beloved former summercamp Pikpa, and the much larger former-prison of Moria.
Working Beach Rescue
Within a few days I’d settled in, and spent a month with my time between overnight beach rescue work and a very special small refugee camp.
Moving to the Mainland
After a month on the island, I moved to mainland Greece to work for two months at the Greece/Macadonia border in considerably larger and less structured refugee camp holding upwards of 10,000 people at once, and a post-apocolyptic gas station turned makeshift transit camp.
A Humanitarian Crisis: On Reflection
After three months, immigration dictated that I had to leave. With a heavy heart I made my way north into Bulgaria to integrate, process, and reflect on what to do next. It’s difficult to know what the solution is to such a large scale humanitarian crisis, and everyone has their own theories. I don’t have the answers (or even one of them) but I hope through more visibility and compassion we can all worth together towards a solution.