In February 2019, I spent some time volunteering with a non-government organisation on the Greek island of Lesvos.
The island is a mere 4 Miles in distance from Turkey and is the landing point for many people who have been forced to flee their home countries as a result of war or persecution; seeking safety for themselves and their families.
Whilst on Lesvos, my role was to support operations designed to provide refugees with basic humanitarian aid - clothing, shoes, hygiene products.
I learned quickly that the thousands of displaced people here have had extremely dangerous journeys to reach the island; withstanding not only the journey over land to Turkey but a treacherous and terrifying trip over water in unsafe, substandard rubber dinghies.
Having had to endure dealings with smugglers, paying a great deal of money to take the trip, they arrive with nothing other than the clothes they are wearing & if lucky, a few small personal belongings.
Wet, cold, traumatised but relieved to have made it...only to be transported to one of the island’s unsafe, unhygienic, prison-like “camps”.
People I met on Lesvos have travelled from several different countries of origin & my eyes were opened to just how extensive our problems are in this world.
Conditions in the camps are deplorable. Official procedures for asylum application are slow and despite having reached safer shores, these people are left in a state of limbo and nothingness. Unable to work, unable to move on from the island to progress in life, simply told to “wait” - with no reason - often for months...years even, these people are left in a situation where hope is increasingly difficult to cling on to.
There are amazing NGOs operating on Lesvos - each working hard, with support from donors and volunteers (many of whom are refugees themselves), to turn this situation from one of despair to something which enables dignity, healing, belonging and a sense of purpose; a reason to keep going.
I was ignorant. I thought I had an understanding of what life may be like on a Lesvos but reality hit hard and I soon understood that I (and most people I speak with back home) really have no idea...
Our media outlets are quiet. We are led to believe that this humanitarian crisis has passed - when in actual fact, it’s as current and real as ever. We are desensitised, often with no personal connection to help us relate.
My two weeks on this island left me with a deep rooted determination to do everything in my power to help make life a bit easier for people having to go through this harrowing experience. We all deserve to be happy, to feel love, to be free from danger - but the people stuck in these camps are missing the very basic human needs we tend to take for granted. Water! Food. Education. Clothes. Shelter. A voice.
On returning to Scotland I contemplated what I may be able to do. Having travelled to Moria refugee camp each day to distribute clothing and basic aid, I know from the sheer delight and gratitude displayed by the people I met that even this simple act is helping to make a difference.
NGOs need three fundamental components to exist in order to continue operating:
Money - to sustain their presence on the island, cover operational costs & purchase required supplies.
People - volunteers - to help physically with running day to day and to provide these vital services.
Donated items - whether to clothe people, help with education, teach life-skills, provide space for people to just breathe for a bit, enable expression through art, transport people to a place for safe / warm showers, cook meals, assist in search and rescue operations...there is a desperate need for donation of goods which will help to support these people.
As a mum, with one son still in school here in Scotland, I can’t be on Lesvos as much as I would like to for volunteering on the ground. Sending money is an obvious help - but naturally, has limitation.
So...I decided to start collecting items. The idea (as a starting point), being to fill a 40ft container with clothes, shoes, towels, toiletries, nappies - and any other items which can be used to help - and send it from my home in Scotland to Attika Human Support; the NGO I worked with.
Attika are one of the main distributors of aid on the island. Personally delivering clothes to many of the people living in camps at Moria, Kara Tempe & Pikpa. Founded in 2015, Attika have been playing a fundamental role in supporting asylum seekers and other NGOs on the island - providing not only the basic items listed above but also a safe place for people to come and be involved in volunteering and spending their days doing something meaningful, housing and shelter within the island’s city of Mytilini, referral and guidance to crucial services; networking across the whole of the island to understand evolving needs and responding to emergency; providing supplies where they are needed most.
I have been overwhelmed with support from friends, family, my local community and also an incredible group from Orkney - who took it upon themselves to get stuck in to gathering clothes from people on the island’s to send for being included with what I have collected closer to home.
I am appealing to local businesses for support in monetary donations to assist in funding transportation of the shipping container. I plan to create various fundraising events locally to enable ongoing monetary donations to the NGO and will appeal to individuals and companies to assist by gifting “prizes” for such events. I will undertake sponsored challenges also.
I continue to appeal to individuals, schools, local organisations who may be able to provide items to send in the container for distribution on the island.
The cost of shipping from Perth (Scotland) to Lesvos (Greece) is £3,500. I am confident I will raise this over time through my events however there is a huge shortage of clothing on the island right now and people continue to arrive almost on a daily basis.
Temperatures are increasing as summer has arrived and supplies of summer clothes are almost non-existent. It is vital that the items I have collected and stored here are sent urgently - in order that they can be issued to people who desperately need them but also before the need changes to being warm / winter clothing...storage space is limited at the receiving end and I am determined that the efforts of everyone who has helped so far are not in vain.
I ask you to make a donation to the cost of shipping the container to Lesvos. I know there is a great deal of kindness in this world and that when people pull together, incredible things can happen.
Every £1 donated is £1 closer to reaching the required target.
Sharing the appeal can help to raise awareness of current circumstances and ongoing need for support. It may also help to encourage others to play a part in making a difference.
I thank each and every one of you, from the bottom of my heart, for taking the time to read this & for taking action.