I thought I was ready to enter the refugee camp. I had heard the stories, read the news articles, and talked with the volunteers from Moria since October. I was ready mentally, but not emotionally. Within 10 minutes of walking into the camp I wanted to leave. I wanted to run away, fly home, and cry for days. I served for 2 days, my mind battling my heart the entire time, and I gained a much deeper respect for our volunteers that served for weeks and months.
I struggled with the lack. There just wasn’t enough of anything – donations, food, space, volunteers, or order. Currently, there are 4 men living in a 2-person tent. A second pair of pants is a luxury to most. Food is not guaranteed for everyone at every meal. It takes maybe 10 minutes to walk all the way around the camp. Just looking at the situation the need is overwhelming, but it became crushing when paired with a voice.
“Friend! Friend. I need pants.”
“Friend, please friend. I have no shoes.”
“Excuse me, but that family has been here 23 days and not once received anything. But I have been here 3 days and I have received. Can you help?”
My white skin burning under the hot sun and the neon vest paired with the badge I was forced to wear were symbols of answers to the 4,000 people living at this camp. I didn’t possess the answers, but I was treated like I was. I carried one bag – meant for one person in one tent hidden among the chaos on this property. My role felt too small against the constant need, as I handed out only what was available.
“We are out of pants. I’m sorry.”
“We are out of shoes. I’m sorry. I can’t give you what’s in this bag.”
“Have they had someone write down what they need? Not me, someone else with a piece of paper. I will tell them about you. Where is your tent?”
Each step was another foot deeper in the chaos. The tents are assigned numbers based on when they are handed out, but are moved constantly because of how many different nationalities and languages are there. It was easy to spend 30 minutes looking for 1 tent, and then when I found it the person was in line for food. I would pray he received food that day, return his bag of clothing to the clothing tent, and then exchange orders in hopes this man was home.
My heart broke for these families, unsure if they would be granted asylum and allowed to leave the camp and travel to Athens and maybe another EU country. I handed one bag to one person, passing literally hundreds of people to find that one person. “Am I really making a difference?” I kept asking myself.
The riots began my first night, after my first shift. Just like a major earthquake has aftershocks, so does a large riot. You can see it in the children – in their unruly behavior and desire to pick a fight over anything. Day 1 was already difficult for me, but Day 2 felt almost unbearable. The volunteers and the refugees were all on edge and we each had to fight for joy.
It’s been almost 3 weeks since I arrived to the island of Lesvos. My feelings and memories are still abrupt pieces, much like the paragraphs of this blog. I expected to enter the camp, tour it, and spend most of my time talking to people to plan for the future. I was not expecting to work two 8-hour shifts, nor to be so overwhelmed by the situation. To be honest, I’m struggling. I’m struggling to grieve, to process, and be ok that 2 days wrecked me so strongly while so many others before me have served for longer in strength.
It’s taken me weeks to finish this and post it, partially because I’ve been so busy and partially because I wasn’t sure if I should share my story. I’ve realized it’s my story I’m sharing, but theirs. The refugees are people, each with their own story. There is still hope and laughter at the camp, but there is also so many more unanswered questions, police involvement, and need. We can’t forget there is always more to the news story in situations like this.