Rather than receiving gifts this Christmas, Lesley Vaisanen asked her family to assist her in going to the Greek island of Lesvos. It is there that she wants to use her emergency medical training to help Syrian refugees as they come ashore from Turkey.
A wife and mother of five children, ranging in age from 11 years to 24 years, she was moved by the pictures she has seen of the families fleeing Syria.
“I told Pete what I wanted for Christmas was to go there. I feel it is a calling,” explained Lesley Vaisanen.
Her husband Peter Vaisanen was not surprised that his wife would want to go and help.
“She has that giving heart and she is empathetic to people’s situations,” he said. “She is quite an adventurous person and takes on different projects.”
Volunteering her time is not something new for this Summerland woman. Now that her children are older, she feels she is in a position to do more.
“It’s just my nature and now it’s time to expand it internationally. I feel very fortunate. To me it is like I can…so of course I would,” she stated. “My thought was for just a little blip in time, to be able to do at least a little something to help in some manner.”
Lighthouse Refugee Relief is a non-profit initiative that has accepted her application to help. They provide relief for refugees arriving on the north-eastern coast of Lesvos, through their camps, clinics and mobile teams. These teams work throughout the night at a lighthouse, where rafts full of refugees most often land. It is a very rocky area with steep cliffs, which makes landing very dangerous. The lighthouse, meant to warn of the dangers, instead acts as a beacon for the refugees. The light can be seen from where they are departing from in Turkey. Many that do arrive safely are suffering from hypothermia and often require medical treatment.
Lesley Vaisanen feels it is important for the western world to have a presence there and to be on hand to help treat these desperate people.
In order to give the community of Summerland the opportunity to also help her cause, she will put gift baskets at local businesses, where for a donation people can enter their names into the draw. She has also started a GoFundMe campaign.
Although Lesley Vaisanen is paying for her own travel costs and will be staying in shared accommodations for the five weeks she is away, she is hoping to raise money to purchase toques, mitts, socks and shoes for the refugees. Her plan is to take the funds with her and purchase the goods on the island, in order to help out the Greek merchants and the economy of Greece.
“It’s really a beautiful two-fold way of helping out,” she said.
Peter Vaisanen sees his wife as a “self- sufficient, confident person, who doesn’t get rattled easily.”
Seventeen-year-old Noah Vaisanen is confident his mom will be able to handle working in the camps, and his eleven year old sister Emma is proud of her mom for going because it is a “good cause.” At the same time they can’t help but be somewhat apprehensive about her up-coming trip at the end of January.
“I think it is generous of her to want to go, but of course I’m concerned for her safety while she is there and also for the repercussions,” said Peter Vaisanen. “I see the bigger picture. It’s a small sacrifice for us to have to make and we’ll all pull together.”
Lesley Vaisanen is trying to prepare herself and says she will take the advice of others and be sure to take days off, while she is there.
Not only is she trained as a medic, but she also has her Food Safe Certificate. If she feels overwhelmed while working in one area, her plan is to go to another camp and perhaps cook, help with laundry or do art and crafts with the children.
“That will be my way of diluting out the impact of what I might see on the shores,” she said.
Individuals or businesses wishing to contribute can phone Vaisanen at 250-462-1576 or donate at gofundme.com/f4erhs8c.
If you know a positive story about someone in our community, contact Carla McLeod at email@example.com or contact the Summerland Review newsroom at 250-494-5406.