Helping Refugees in Lesvos, Greece

November 2, 2015 ~ Demetra Szatkowski

On November 18th, I will be traveling to volunteer to help refugees landing on the island of Lesvos, Greece. I will be staying for a month. These refugees are coming mostly from Syria, but there are some from other countries as well. They have been making the dangerous journey to Greece for a long time, but the amounts of refugees have picked up recently as the conflict in Syria has gotten worse. (To learn more about that, this article might be helpful.)

There are a lot of causes around the world that need help, for sure. There are people in our own country that need help. But for me, this specific situation hit me hard and was something I could not stop thinking about. After reading many stories, all I wanted to do was help these people. And I realized I was in a position where I had nothing holding me back from offering my own time and energy. 

This story from Humans of New York was the one that made me decide I needed to go.

My husband and I sold everything we had to afford the journey. We worked 15 hours a day in Turkey until we had enough money to leave. The smuggler put 152 of us on a boat. Once we saw the boat, many of us wanted to go back, but he told us that anyone who turned back would not get a refund. We had no choice. Both the lower compartment and the deck were filled with people. Waves began to come into the boat so the captain told everyone to throw their baggage into the sea. In the ocean we hit a rock, but the captain told us not to worry. Water began to come into the boat, but again he told us not to worry. We were in the lower compartment and it began to fill with water. It was too tight to move. Everyone began to scream. We were the last ones to get out alive. My husband pulled me out of the window. In the ocean, he took off his life jacket and gave it to a woman. We swam for as long as possible. After several hours he told me he that he was too tired to swim and that he was going to float on his back and rest. It was so dark we could not see. The waves were high. I could hear him calling me but he got further and further away. Eventually a boat found me. They never found my husband.” (Kos, Greece)

How Can You Help?

There are lots of ways you can help. If you are not in a position where you can donate any money or time, you can share this article. You can share any information about Syria so people know what’s going on.

However – maybe skip your coffee for the day and donate $1. Seriously. Even that would help. Any amount of money helps. If you don’t feel comfortable giving money to me for whatever reason, you can check out this page for other options.

I can accept money through PayPal if you send money to demetrayoga@gmail.com. Do not write the word “Syria” anywhere on the donation: There is a lot of conflict in Syria right now and if you write that word, my account can get frozen for a while so it can be looked into for threats to security. Also, when given options for sending money, please check “sending money to a friend” instead of “paying for goods or services.” If you say you’re paying for goods, PayPal will take a cut and all of your money will not go through to me.

I am also willing to accept cash or personal checks. I will be keeping track of the money that comes in to me, and 100% of it will go to purchase things for the refugees when I am in Greece. Buying things directly in Greece gets rid of shipping costs, helps the Greek economy, allows me to purchase whatever is actually needed at that exact moment to help someone, and is the easiest and most efficient way to help. I will be blogging about what’s going on and providing pictures and such, but other than that, you’ll just have to trust that I am doing what I say.

This is a Grassroots Effort

I am not going through any official organization. Organizations are doing good work, but that’s not where I want to be. There are people on the island of Lesvos who are organizing other groups of people who want to help. These organizers range from Greek people to tourists who came and saw the situation and stayed.

I will be joining up with people from all over the entire world to help this effort. We will be distributing food, shoes, clothes, and other goods; creating and cleaning up camps; cleaning the beaches where the refugees are landing; and helping boost the morals of people who are really, really suffering.

Lesvos is not the end of their journey. Lesvos means they have gotten out of their home country. They still have to make the journey to a port to register and then make their way to another country (one who is hopefully supportive.) These people have nothing. Absolutely nothing at all.

These are normal people. Educated people. Formerly happy, healthy people.

I am spending a lot of my own money to do this, because I think it’s important. I can pay for myself for a month in Greece, and I can contribute a month of my time and energy right now. I would love to be able to give even more through some of you by being able to purchase whatever items are needed on that island. Your help is so much appreciated.

This is an extra special journey for me. I knew that my mother’s family was from Greece, but it wasn’t until after I booked my trip that I was informed that my great-grandfather was actually from the island of Lesvos. I am deeply appreciative and excited to be able to go help somewhere where I can also return to and connect with my roots at the same time.

You may contact me with any questions at demetraszatkowski@gmail.com. Thank you for your support!