How Experiencing the Refugee Crisis in Greece Changed My Perspective About the World
Hello! My name is Maris Toalson. I’m a sophomore and in my third year at SBA. My XeD trip to Greece changed my perspective about the world. The goal of our trip was to learn more about the refugee crisis and how an individual can make an impact on a large scale humanitarian crisis. While in Greece, we stayed on the island of Lesvos. Lesvos is only about four miles from the coast of Turkey at its closest point. Because of its proximity to Turkey, Lesvos experiences some of the highest numbers of refugee arrivals.
People travel through Turkey and into Europe from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries across the Middle East, as well as countries across Northern Africa in order to seek asylum and safety. They have fled their homes and left everything behind in order to escape war, conflict, and persecution. They are people with complex lives, just like us. Their journey is a long, difficult, and dangerous one, and many don't make it.
The refugee crisis began around 2012, and it continues to persist today. It is considered to be the worst humanitarian crisis since WWII. While media coverage and aid were provided in the earlier years of the crisis, they are no provided to the extent that they should be. The situation has not improved, but gotten worse. The crisis is no longer covered in the media, and large governmental organizations such as the European Union and United Nations no longer provide adequate aid. In fact, nearly all European Union country boarders have been closed as to keep refugees out. This has left thousands of refugees stranded and stuck in Greece, specifically on Greek islands such as Lesvos.
While we were on Lesvos, we volunteered with a small Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), called Attika Human Support. Attika does the work that larger governmental organizations no longer do. They provide refugees with necessary supplies such as clothing, toiletries, tents, and more. In order to distribute these supplies, Attika receives messages on WhatsApp from families and individuals, requesting specific items. These items are then packed into boxes and delivered to those in need.
During our time at Attika, we packed and delivered boxes of supplies to people in need everyday. We also completed other tasks such as delivering water, delivering pallets, and washing an old refugee raft to be used again. We worked alongside other volunteers who were refugees from different places across the world and had all fled their homes for various reasons. We got to know them and their stories. While talking to them, they seemed just like us. People with professions, hobbies, hopes, and dreams. However, their reality was drastically different. They had witnessed horrors such as war and violence, like none of us ever had.
Most of the refugees we volunteered with lived in Moria, the largest refugee camp on Lesvos. Moria is an old prison that has been converted into a refugee camp. The camp was meant for 2,500-3,000 people, but it is operating at 300% its capacity with more than 7,000 residents. The conditions in the camp that we witnessed were deplorable. It was hard to imagine that the people we met had to live in such a terrible place. They volunteered at Attika as a way to escape Moria.
We witnessed other aspects of the refugee crisis besides volunteering at Attika as well. One day, we visited the “lifejacket graveyard.” The lifejacket graveyard is an active landfill that collects all of the lifejackets that people drop or wash up on the shore of the island upon their arrival from Turkey. There were hundreds of thousands of lifejackets. I thought about how each one belonged to an individual person and what their life was like. It was a powerful and intense scene to witness.
Although our trip was serious for most of its duration, we managed to balance the intensity with fun. Our trip group bonded and got to know each other over the course of the week. We experienced elements of Greek culture, explored the island of Lesvos, and spent our last two days exploring Athens on mainland Greece.
I’m so thankful for the experiences I had and the people I met during this trip. Although I could only volunteer for a short period of time, I hope to continue to provide aid to the refugee crisis in the future. I know that just because I am not confronted by the crisis everyday does not mean that it isn’t happening.
The experiences I had and the things I saw while in Greece have changed me. I can not ignore the crisis that is occurring. I’m sad, angry, and confused about the refugee crisis, but more importantly, I want to do something about it. I’ve learned that individuals can make an impact on a large scale human crisis through actions such as volunteer work, making donations, and raising awareness. I am only one person and my actions seem insignificant, but I believe that when individual people come together, they can create change.
It was a privilege to be able to work with Attika while in Greece. They run entirely on volunteers and donations, and they provide support and hope to people in need. While the refugee crisis persists, organizations like Attika make the world a better place. I hope to make it a better place too.