I did not know what to expect when I decided several months ago to travel to Lesvos, Greece.
Like many others, I had been watching stories about refugees struggling to make their way to Europe via a dangerous crossing from Turkey to Greece and wanted to do something to help.
Before and after I arrived, I started to contact various agencies, both NGO and small independent ones, to see where my services could be used.
One group I had correspondence with, called “I Am You” formed by a Swedish lady, works in one of the refugee camps in an area called Moria.
I joined them and have been spending my days there. At the camp we act as assistants to a larger NGO called Danish Refugee Council.
Our daily routine starts at 9 a.m. This is when, weather permitting, we have the refugees who spend the night in the camp clear out of the huts to allow for the cleaners to come in.
We ask if the occupants plan to take the ferry that day, if it is running, and see what else we can do to help them out.
Many times this requires the assistance of translators. Conversations range from needs of food, clothes, shoes, boat times, etc. But always these end with smiles and thank yous.
The day goes on until 5 p.m.
At times new people come in and need assistance finding doctors, huts to warm up in, clothes, tea and more.
The evening is when we bring donated items such as backpacks, shoes, jackets and food to the ferry port to top up their needs.
This is where a lot of hugs, pictures and hopes travel onto Athens for their next leg of the journey towards the Macedonian border.
At times this border closes for days and people are left out in the cold with very little to no local assistance.
They are full of hope so I can only share the same notion and pray for the best for them and their families.
In the early mornings, from 4:30 to 8 a.m., I am at the shores doing what I can to assist with arriving boats. Depending on the weather up to 1,500 people can arrive in one day.
The days are long and we all feel like there is so much more that needs to be done.
We are one big team here and people just do their best to work together; even through the differences no one can over look the purpose of why we are all here.
The locals are of two minds and sadly, the supporters are in the minority. Police are overheard talking how they wish they never came and make little attempt to help even on the shores as they look on.
Corruption is rampant with rumours of Turkish coast guards taking payments from smugglers to ensure “safe” passage. Meaning, if they pay off the coast guard then they won’t sink boats.
I watched a video of this very act filmed by one of the refugees. Two boats sank that day, killing more than 70 people.
This on a calm, perfect day to make the trek.
The Greek side is no better with Mafia standing by at the shores alongside rescuers. They take the wood out of the boats used for making them more rigid as well as the motors. These are the same people at many landings. Their trucks are full of these items.
The Greek police are right there when they do it as well and Frontex. None of us say a word in fear of what would happen.
There are wonderful reunions that happen at the camps and that is what I try to focus on when I am feeling overwhelmed.
This issue is not an easy one to solve I know, but I still think we can do better.
Fearing these people is a non-issue for me. I fear them no more than any other stranger.
The world will always be full of those who commit horrible acts on others. Thankfully, as I have seen here, there are always more of those who allow love, kindness and compassion to rule their lives in spite of that fact.
Lesley Vaisanen of Summerland is working on the Greek island of Lesvos, providing assistance to Syrian refugees as they come ashore.