Hi friends! I am leaving today to spend three weeks in Greece. It was an unexpected destination but I couldn’t be happier things worked out this way.
Since I didn’t have work scheduled for October, I figured I would go back to Central America to pick up where I left off last spring — I could visit the next three countries heading towards South America: El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. I’d been making notes all year on possible itineraries and places to see in each of these countries. In fact, a fellow travel blogger just visited this area and her posts have got me so excited to go there.
But I held off on booking it. Part of my hesitation had to do with a book I read last month — Lynsey Addario’s It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War. Lynsey has spent the past 2+ decades shooting images in war zones throughout the Middle East, covering genocide, and documenting sexual violence against women in Africa. Her images have graced the pages of New York Times, Time Magazine, National Geographic, and many more publications. She has won a Pulitzer and a MacArthur Genius Grant. Like me, she’s from Connecticut. And she’s my new hero.
After reading about her steadfast dedication to documenting the political and humanitarian crises of our time, something deep inside me recognized this as the type of work I am meant to do: to use my photography and travel skills in tandem to shed light on social issues happening around the globe. I knew I needed to take small steps in that direction and test the waters.
How could I move forward with this new information? It felt somewhat inauthentic to book a trip back to Central America, even though I still very much want to explore more in that region. I thought about seeking a place to volunteer down there and working it into my itinerary. Or there are plenty of worthwhile causes in our own country. But then something came across my Facebook feed at just the right moment — my friend Carrie posted about making her second trip since July to a Greek island just off the coast of Turkey that receives boats of refugees almost every night. She found a grassroots organization there that really makes a difference helping refugees access clothes, food, and shelter after fleeing the terror in their home countries. I knew right away I wanted to help.
The Greek island is called Chios (pronounced Kios), and here it is on a map — as you can see, it’s quite east of mainland Greece, and very close to Turkey.
Chios’s proximity to Turkey makes it an ideal location for smugglers to drop off refugees by boat. From there, the refugees can wait a long time to be processed by the Greek government, or continue the long journey deeper into mainland Europe.
The organization I’ll be working with is called CESRT — that stands for Chios Eastern Shore Response Team. Here is what they are all about:
CESRT is a locally organized team of international volunteers dedicated to providing both immediate and long term support for refugees on Chios. We work closely with other groups on the island to provide support in many areas:
- Responding to boat arrivals by providing immediate care and alerting relevant medical / rescue teams when necessary.
- Responding to the needs of refugees on the island through distributions of necessary items including clothes, shoes, shampoo, washing powder, and sun block.
- Initiating and supporting long term projects: youth educational programs, activities for adults, and distribution of milk and fruit to compliment the meals provided by volunteer-run kitchens.
- Providing financial, material, and personnel support for unaccompanied minors at the local orphanage.
- Facilitating the availability of legal information for refugees.
- Working alongside other organizations on the island, including volunteer kitchens, the SMH rescue team, and other NGOs supporting refugees on Chios.
- Initiating and facilitating a school for refugee children, in collaboration with other organizations on the island.
- Running beach cleaning projects to assist the local community in maintaining the natural beauty of the island. Large amounts of boat material collected is then recycled to make bags.
To give you a visual for where I’ll be going / what I’ll be doing, here are some photos from the CESRT Facebook group. (I have credited each image to the person who posted it.)
Chios looks beautiful. From what I hear, there are many large homes throughout the island and it looks like a stunning place to live.
But for refugees, it’s a different story. There is a main camp located inland that is run by the Greek government / army, and a couple of smaller camps by the shore. That is where CESRT focuses its efforts — assisting with those smaller camps.
Boats arrive pretty much every night, unless the weather is bad. CESRT volunteers look for boats from land, and coordinate with another responder organization that is out on the water awaiting arrivals.
When boats land, CESRT is ready to provide dry clothes, water, and snack packs.
There is a warehouse with donations — different refugee groups are scheduled for certain days / times to stop by and receive clothing, all distributed by CESRT volunteers.
English lessons are offered in the park, typically to adult males. There is a women’s group and also a children’s area on the island with programming and services, but there is not much for the men. So offering English lessons is helpful.
Distributing water and snacks:
CESRT partners with another organization from Spain to cook and distribute food each day.
And this sums up CESRT in a nutshell:
I am so honored to spend the next three weeks on Chios working for this group.
I will document the experience and share it here. In my small way, I hope to shine a light on the great work this organization is doing, and to put faces to the word ‘refugee’ so that this crisis — which feels sort of abstract to people living in first world countries — becomes very clear, in a way that might spark change.
If you are interested in making a monetary donation to support the efforts of CESRT, please consider donating here.
I’ve prepared some posts about theater and Spain for next week while I get my bearings on Chios, but I hope to have some Greece updates in the near future.