6 Month Update
Six months ago, the refugee crisis was at its height with an average of over 7000 people risking their lives daily on dinghies making their way from Turkey to Greece. Haunted by the photo of 3 year old Aylan Kurdi's body on the Turkish Beach and memories of my own childhood as a refugee, I set off to spend 2 weeks with Majd Taby and Sara Kerens to follow the route of the refugees. That journey took me to Lesvos, Greece where I spent 5 days volunteering at Skala Sykaminaes, where thousands of refugees were landing every single day. While I had read newspaper articles and followed refugee related posts on Facebook, nothing prepared me for what I saw--the unending stream of people arriving on the shores cold, wet, hungry, scared and desperate for help. For a crisis of this magnitude, I expected well organized humanitarian aid from governments and large NGOs and was shocked that the only available help at the landing sites were from independent volunteers like myself and grassroots groups who made it their business to care for these people. Looking back, I don't know what I expected at the start of the trip, but I did not expect that I would be feeding hungry children, changing them out of wet clothes, comforting parents traumatized from their trip over or serving tea and soup to the thousands of people I encountered.
A few weeks prior to my arrival on Lesvos, Adam Rosser, was vacationing with his father in Lesvos. It's a trip that he's taken with his father before, and while he had heard of the refugee crisis prior to the trip, he did not expect it to play out right in front of him during his vacation. He spent the last few days of his vacation pulling in boats and saving lives.
Disturbed by the lack of support and resources for these grassroots efforts, Adam and I, along with my Facebook co-worker and fellow philanthropist Fiona Gallagher-Payet, co-founded Sea of Solidarity to raise money to provide life saving, humanitarian aid. Sea of Solidarity officially launched in early November. And with the help of our friends and donors, we have raised over $130,000 and have bought over a thousand sleeping bags, a thousand baby bottles, tens of thousands of hot meals, tens of thousands of pounds of fresh fruit, approximately a thousand pairs of socks and underwear and hundreds of pairs of shoes and toys and over a thousand liters of fuel for the rescue boat and an IsoBox for storage. Additionally through our partnerships and support of the The Volunteer Cook and Rayyan Haries, Olive Grove Tea Tent and our Ferry Snack Project with Anna Åberg Moutzourelli and Katerina Moujourelis and Platanos Refugee Solidarity, Lesvos, we have fed tens of thousands of people.
Thinking back to the first discussion that I had with Adam about SoS, we knew that the situation would evolve and that we'd need to be nimble to respond to the changing conditions. Well a lot of has changed in the last 6 months. The borders have closed and over 51K people, more than half of them women and children, are trapped in Greece, their futures uncertain. With the latest agreement signed between the EU and Turkey, Greece is now sending people who arrived after the March 20th agreement effective date back to Turkey. Dozens of official camps have been set up across Greece and tens of thousands of people are camping out at the border at Idomeni and at the port in Athens. Conditions at both official and unofficial camps are horrific. Most of them are merely camping tents, with no floor, set up in old army bases or detention centers. Some have no running water, adequate toilets or electricity. Everything from baby bottles, underwear, socks, and food are in short supply. The unsanitary conditions are leading to diseases. While the Greek government is running these camps, they are ill prepared to take care of vast numbers of people, especially given their own economic issues. Again, we find that help is coming from the small grass roots organizations and volunteers.
As we assess the situation at the different camps, we've been doing what we do best--filling in the gaps by providing emergency supplies at the border and at Ritsona. We've been funding fruit deliveries, and at Ritsona, we bought playground equipment and we're now working with volunteers to fund both infrastructure projects like getting Isobox, converted storage containers, to serve as food storage, community centers, etc. Our mission has changed from support of immediate life saving supplies when people land in Greece to providing aid at these camps. We believe that regardless of the politics at play, fundamentally, there is a humanitarian crisis with tens of thousands of innocent people not getting basic humanitarian needs and we need to step up to improve the conditions for people who need help. We want to continue to supply fresh fruit, supplies and infrastructure for schools, along with basic needs at these camps as people are kept here indefinitely.
In addition to Greece, there are over 2 million refugees in Turkey. These displaced people need help as they wait out the war in Syria. We've been funding grocery deliveries and 2 small schools in Izmir supporting the Revi team and we will continue to do so.
Peter and I are going back for a couple of weeks in May to volunteer at the camps in Greece and to check out the ReVi projects that we're sponsoring in Izmir. The last time we were in Greece, we were able to set up and fund many projects like the Pikpa hot meals, Olive Grove Tea Tent and Ferry Snack Project. We'd like to expand the aid that we provide to these new camps and schools.
We need your support and donations to make these projects possible. We donate our time and use our own money to pay for travel such that your money goes straight to life saving supplies. One dollar is enough to buy 1 baby bottle, send a Syrian child to school for a day, buy 3 bananas, 1 pair of socks, 1 pair of underwear or pay for 1 hot meal. If you can, please consider supporting us by donating at seaofsolidarity.org. As a registered 501c3, donations are tax deductible for US tax payers.
The world's super powers and governments have chosen to largely ignore this issue and enact policies that allow for these inhuman conditions to exist. History will judge us. We recognize the significance of the work that we're doing here. In 50 years, when history looks back at this event, there will be memorials and apologies issued to the victims. We at Sea of Solidarity and our network of friends and donors believe that it will be too little too late. With your donations and help, we will do what's right now and feel proud that we didn't just stand by watching this unfold. We will feel proud that we did the right thing, by providing humanitarian support where it's needed, when it's needed.