December 2019: travel report Lesbos mission (part 1)

After about ten days in Lesbos we are back in the Netherlands. What a world of difference! In the past period we have been able to hand out 15,000 warm winter coats to men, women, children, babies and even to ‘traveling alone’ children. Sturdy shoes or rain boots were also handed out for children. While everyone here in the Netherlands is already busy preparing for the coming holidays, the refugees on the Greek islands are only busy with one thing: that they will survive the coming winter. Literally!

A huge organization to get this winter distribution done. A lot of respect for Because we Carry, who managed this all in the right way! Well in advance, volunteers from this organization entered the camp to provide everyone with a bracelet. (15,000 warm winter coats were collected in the Netherlands, sorted and packed for transport!) Various color bracelets were used that corresponded to the day on which people were allowed to receive their warm winter coats.

Four hours waiting for a coat
Early in the morning people were already queuing up to try on their coveted jacket. Because of the cold, various fires are then lit to warm up. The waiting time in line increased to about 4 hours …. and when it was finally their turn, you may understand that they also wanted to fit the most beautiful jacket that was available. After all, it’s just people like you and me who just want to go for the best and most beautiful. Unfortunately we had to keep up the pace and if the jacket in question fitted well then Mrs. or Mr. was kindly requested to make room for the next ‘customer’.

Don’t push!
Not everyone thought it was successful to stand in line so long before it was their turn. Some thought they were smart and left a friend standing in line, trying to ‘hook up’ to that friend hours later. But unfortunately those weren’t that lucky. Waiting among the rows were also crowd controllers, or peace-makers, who kept a close eye on whether people were not pushing ahead. The line also kept a close eye on this and regularly sounded: No line! No line! The task was then to let these people join in with a soft urge. That didn’t always go smoothly, but if you allow one person, then the rest also wants it and then it becomes chaos.

On a sunny day it all was not too bad. But there were also very cold and especially wet days with a strong wind and as a peacemaker it is already difficult to stay warm, let alone for those people who stand in front of you with bare feet on flip-flops and in a t-shirt. Then it is really a very sad sight: small children who let it be, mothers with crying babies on their arms … then the misery really kicks in! We as volunteers can take a warm shower in the evening and get into a good bed, but unfortunately these people cannot. They have to figure out how to get their soaking wet clothes dry again in a small, damp tent.

Living dead
With cheerful music we tried to cheer people up and give the children some distraction. The emptyness eyes in the eyes of the people was horrifying. When the home front asked me how it was and if it all went well, I also said that this is the hardest for me. People who seem to have given up hope. Being hopeless because of the inhuman conditions in the camp. The misery they have experienced in a short time. Psychological problems have been caused by the most terrible things they have experienced. I called them living dead … You see this in the elderly, but even in very small children. They are there but at the same time they are not. People are coughing and sneezing, children have chronically diarrhea (and there is a shortage of diapers). Babies, which you have to hold for a moment so that mommy has her hands free, that you hear and feel shivering of fever. Knowing that medical care is also insufficient …

What a lot of fuss we can make in our little country about relatively small things. Believe me we are super good here compared to these “locked up” people who have no prospect of any future and have to survive from day to day. Until recently they also had a life of a little tree – an animal – a house and now they stand in line for hours for a meager meal with too little nutrients, hours in line for one of the few toilets, hours waiting for a visit to the medical mail and now for hours in line for a jacket …. Could you imagine this? And then months (if not years) waiting for what will happen to you and your children.

But what a fantastic group of volunteers we had to do this. Everyone with his or her background, but ultimately all came to Lesbos for the same purpose: to give these people a ray of sunshine! (to be continued)

Shall we all let our hearts speak and offer these people a little hope? By providing a sleeping bag or tent, a hat, a blanket or simply an arm around their shoulder? Send your gift today to:

Take Care Of Your Neighbor Foundation
NL23 RBRB 0778 2365 36