Asian Activities

From Morocco, I headed back towards the east.  It was going to be a long journey, by design, with a couple of layovers for some touristic purposes.  I arrived in Munich in late morning.  I took the metro into the city to get in touch with my German heritage, which mostly consisted of tasting a variety of Bavarian brews.  From Munich, I flew to Amsterdam for an evening layover.  There had been a wind and ice storm, which caused some issues with the public transportation, but I was able to find my way to the canals and the red-light district to witness the famous legal depravity the city is famous for.  After walking around for a bit and having a couple of beers at a local bar, I made my way back to the airport for my early morning flight.

While waiting on the train to the airport, I had an interesting thought.  Unsurprisingly, as I walked through the red-light district as a single man, many of the women in the windows tried to get my attention and entice me to come in.  Throughout this journey, that has been a common occurrence.  In many parts of South America, in Dubai, in Morocco, and now in Amsterdam, I have often been solicited by women.  My response has always been to politely decline and then extricate myself from the situation as quickly as possible.  But as I sat on that late-night/early-morning train looking out into the darkness, I wondered what some of their stories were.  I am travelling around the world, trying to learn more about it and the people who inhabit it, but I haven’t taken advantage of the opportunities. to learn more about these women and what has led them to their profession.  I looked at them simply as either nuisances or victims, but not actual people I could learn from.  I kind of wish I had paid one of these women for her time, and just had her tell me about her life and what led her to this vocation.  I resolved that if such an opportunity again presented itself, I would try to do just that.

The Great Wall of China

From Amsterdam, I spent the next day on a couple more flights travelling eastward until I finally arrived in Beijing at about 2 AM.  The Asian leg of my journey was about to begin.  I took a taxi to my hotel to drop off my luggage and wait for my sight-seeing tour to begin.  I spent that first day in China at the typical touristic spots: Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Great Wall.  That night, I had planned on going out to sample the nightlife of Beijing, but the almost 3 days of going nonstop with only a bit of sleep on the planes had finally caught up to me, and I was out for the count that night in my hotel room.  That next morning, I went to see the Temple of Heaven as my last excursion in Beijing before catching a train to Zhengzhou.  The train ride and then upon arrival in Zhengzhou, I began to have the experience of being a minor celebrity, with random people coming up and asking to take pictures with me, as a 6’7” white blonde guy was a rarity in this part of the world.  That night, I had caught up on sleep enough to go out, and a couple of young locals who spoke reasonable English invited me to join them at their table.  It turns out that Champaign-Urbana, Illinois is relatively well-known in China, due to the high number of Chinese students that attend the university.  One of the young men was actually hoping to study there.  On all the tables, I noticed cups full of dice, and I asked them about it, and was promptly taught a fun little Chinese drinking game.  Eventually, I made it back to my hotel as I was going to be picked up the next morning for my ultimate Chinese destination: the Shaolin Temple.

Kung Fu Training at the Shaolin Temple

Over the next four weeks, I studied Kung Fu at the Shaolin Tagou Academy within the Shaolin Temple grounds.  The academy is the largest, and one of the best, martial arts academies in China.  They have graduated many top athletes, and the school performed at the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.  Unfortunately, as I was there from mid-January to mid-February, the school was on its winter holiday and would not get back to full strength until after the Chinese New Year celebration in mid-February.  Yet, there was still training for the foreign students, myself and three or four others throughout my month there.  While I fell into the routine of the training, I fell ill shortly after my arrival and spent much of my time fighting a bad cold which put a bit of a damper on the experience.  However, it was still a special experience to be able to walk around the Shaolin temple grounds during my free time.  A special moment involved walking up to the Manna Platform overlooking the main temple during to observe a lunar eclipse, specifically the “Super Blue Blood Moon” as it was called given that the moon was at perigee, and the second full moon of January during the eclipse.

Winter at the temple

At the end of the month, I flew to Hong Kong in order to participate in the Chinese New Year celebrations.  My three-day weekend for the festivities were fun, but not quite up to the expectations I had built up in my head.  But I enjoyed my time nonetheless, especially due to the variety of friends I made in my hostel and whom I shared many different experiences of Hong Kong.

After China, I flew to the Himalayan nation of Nepal, and its magically named capital: Kathmandu, where I was going to be volunteering for a week.  I found this placement through IVHQ, the same organization that I did my first Argentinian placement through.  The local partner organization in Nepal that I worked through was called Vertical Ascent.  They are an organization that oversees a variety of volunteer programs in different parts of Nepal.  They also organize more touristic excursions for interested volunteers that will be in the country for an extended period.

Bal Sarathi Academy

The first couple of days were spent in orientation with other volunteers, including mostly other Americans, a couple of Brits, and one Lebanese.  We spent the mornings in orientation meetings, the afternoons doing a little sightseeing, and then the evenings socializing. Most of the other volunteers were going to projects in Pokhara doing construction work, working in schools or in other childcare roles.  On Wednesday, most of the others left, while Angela and I went to our placement on the outskirts of Kathmandu.

Angela playing with some of the girls at the school

While on the way to the placement, Cwani, one of the Vertical Ascent employees, who had been doing the cultural lessons during our orientation, explained a bit more about the school as she had been there many times before.  Nepal, being a majority Hindu country, still has some of the social remnants of the caste system.  These children were from poor families in the lower castes, and therefore did not have many opportunities.  The school, the Bal Sarathi Academy, was focused on trying to reach out to these underserved children.    Unfortunately, many of their families see little use for such education, as the children could instead help try to make some extra money for the family.  Cwani explained to us that one of the benefits of having international volunteers come to the school was simply to maintain the children’s interest in school, as it was the only opportunity for them to meet people from other countries and learn about other places in the world.  This gave the students more of a reason to come to school.

A student’s description of her desperation

The direness of their situation was driven home soon after arriving in the first classroom.  While playing a game with about 16 students about 7 to 10 years old, Cwani showed us some of their earlier writing samples.  The assignment seemed to have been to write a paragraph describing themselves.  Many of them gave rather normal responses: their names, where they lived, some character traits that described them, maybe if they were a boy or girl (more often a son or daughter was the phrasing they used), and the like. One sample stood out though.  One of the students described that they were from a poor family, and that is why they had to attend such a school instead of one of the more prestigious “named” schools as the student called the nicer private schools.  The student stated that their hope was to be a doctor, but because of their birth to a poor family, “I have to forgot (sic) every dream.”

The “playground” or actually, an empty lot, near the school

We only had three days working at the school, and I wish I could have stayed longer.  Throughout this journey, I have been hesitant to do short term volunteer projects with children or schools for this specific reason.  One must be cognizant of developing relationships with students and children, as well as not leaving so soon as to make them feel temporary.  It is a very real problem in the realm of “voluntourism” that all people considering such trips need to take into consideration.  That being said, since it seemed that the entire idea of my being there was simply to provide a distraction from the normal routines of schools and the children’s regular lives, I made peace with my temporary presence.  The students were extremely outgoing and loved to play the games that Angela and I prepared for them, sometimes getting a little too competitive.  If nothing else, this was yet another eye-opening and rewarding experience to bless me with a glimpse into the struggles others must deal with, and how we should be more grateful for the opportunities we too often take for granted.

A quick aside: the youngest children in the school were around 3 or 4 years old.  I bring this up only to say that these young Nepali children giving the traditional greeting of bringing their hands into a prayer pose, slightly bowing their heads, and softly, shyly, saying “Namaste” as they walk by in a line to their classroom is, most-assuredly, the single cutest thing I have ever seen in my life.  Probably, my biggest regret from Nepal was not being quick enough to record video of this precious scene.

One other important note about Nepal: they are still recovering from a devastating earthquake that struck the country in 2015.  While walking around Kathmandu, I had noticed that many of the streets were completely torn up all over the city.  Even in the touristic areas. At first, I assumed it was simply leftover destruction from the earthquake that had not yet been repaired.  However, I soon learned that the earthquake did not do that much damage to the streets themselves.  The problem was that it almost completely destroyed the infrastructure beneath the streets: the water, gas, and electric lines, etc.  The city has had to dig up their streets in order to make those critical repairs.  An interesting wrinkle in these repairs that I learned from one of our hosts was a cultural aspect of the construction work that needed to be done.  Due to the caste system, a sizable portion of the population looks down on manual labor.  As such, many people are willing to go to foreign countries to work in such jobs, but do not want to be seen doing such work in their home communities.  Obviously, this has added more complexity to an already difficult situation in the country.

At the Taj Mahal

My next, and last, Asian stop was India.  Another of the must experiences, which also drove my schedule, was to be in India for the Hindu festival of Holi, the festival of colors.  During this celebration, streets are filled with revelers aggressively dusting each other with powder of varying bright colors.  In addition to the colored powder, children are often dousing the participants with water from water guns, hoses, or simply, buckets from windows and rooftops.

I started out in the holy city of Varanasi, on the banks of the Ganges River.  One thing that was obvious very quickly was the number of beggars throughout the city: people missing limbs, mothers with children, old women, they were all over the city streets.  While I had seen many beggars throughout my travels, but never to the extent that I saw them in Varanasi.  It was a situation that made me feel both cruel and helpless as I walked by these pitiful scenes, not giving money for a variety of reasons, and not knowing what to do to help.

At the Holi Gate during the “festival of colors”

The Holi festivities were just beginning in Varanasi, including my last day there when I braved the chaos of one of the Hindu temples along with the mass crowds going in to give offerings in preparation for the festival.  From there, I went to Mathura, a little way out of Agra.  After the mandatory stop at the Taj Mahal, I entered the fray of the color wars.  During the first afternoon, after I had made my first foray, and then cleaned up and ate lunch, as I left my hotel, I met up with a group of 3 Brits, two girls and a guy, that I ended up joining with for the next couple of days.    A few months before going to India, I was messaging with an American female friend that I had met in Argentina who was going to be in Asia around the same time I was.  I mentioned meeting up in India for Holi, but after researching it, she declined because of what she learned about foreign women going to Holi.  After hanging out with the two female Brits during Holi, I understand the concern.  The first day was not too bad, mostly it was just a bunch of enthusiastic locals wanting to get their pictures taken with us, especially the girls.  And during those pictures, there was an occasional misplaced hand.  But the next day, it reached a new level.  As we went to the temple area in Mathura, the celebration was intense, and during the course of it, many more locals wanted pictures with us, often finishing with a “Happy Holi” and a hug.  But the girls began to get blatantly groped, and even some of the guys tried to grab the girls’ faces and kiss them on the mouth.  I had to myself pull a guy off one of the girls.  We moved out of the temple area to a quieter, and safer, side street.  And we could tell that it was a common occurrence.   A little bit later, another group of westerners came through the street from the same place we had just exited, with the men protecting a couple of petite and obviously uncomfortable girls. The young men would not let any locals near the girls.  It was unfortunate, because the vast majority of the revelers were simply enthusiastic and friendly, but as always, a small group ruined it for everyone else. I hate to have to say something like this, but I cannot in good conscience recommend that any of my female friends go to Holi in India, unless they go as part of a mixed-gender group, or know a local family to celebrate with.  Local women are almost nowhere to be found during the public festivities.  Instead, they usually celebrate in smaller parties with families and friends.

After the chaos of Holi, I then went to Delhi for a couple of days to do a small amount of sight-seeing and then finish my week in India.  Soon, my crazy week in India was over and I was en route to Africa for the next leg of my journey.


More Information

IVHQ: The website that I organized my Nepal program through.  They have multiple programs throughout the world.

Vertical Ascent: The local organization in Nepal that oversaw my time and placement in Kathmandu.

Bal Saranthi: This is the organization that runs the school I volunteered at in Kathmandu.

An article with a list of organizations in India fighting for women’s rights.


The Edge of the Sahara: Teaching English in Morocco

The city walls of Taroudant

After a long overnight journey through a few different airports, I arrived in Agadir, Morocco.  I had accomplished one goal.  I had now visited all seven continents.  Actually, thanks to a one day layover in Dubai, United Arab Emirates which is part of Asia during my travels from Australia to Greece, I was even able to have been on all seven continents within the year of 2017.  But that was not the main reason for coming to Morocco.  I was there to spend three weeks working with an organization based in the small town of Taroudant.  The organization was the Youth Association for Culture and Development, and had a few different programs, mostly for youth but also for some adults.  I would be spending my evenings teaching English at their center.

I was lucky to have found this program.  I had been planning on participating in two different programs in Morocco, but unfortunately, both of them were cancelled.  So during my time in Australia, I was making adjustments and searching for something else in Morocco, and came across YACD on  It was an opportunity to help teach English, while working with a youth program.

Moroccan hospitality… tea and sweets

So, after an extremely long wait in line to go through Moroccan immigration at the airport of Agadir, I met with Khalid, who I had been communicating with for a few weeks.  Then, after about a 45 minute drive, I arrived in the small city of Taroudant, at the apartment home of Muhammad, the director of YACD.  I would be staying with him and his small family, along with two other volunteers for the next few weeks.

I was welcomed with baked treats and Moroccan tea.  The tea was actually one of the reasons I wanted to go to Morocco.  And it lived up to the expectations.  After this wonderful snack, we went to the YACD office where the other volunteers were finishing up their classes.  I met Phillipe from Canada, who was teaching French, and Jose, from Mexico, who I would be working with to teach English.

The next day was spent walking around the city of Taroudant and getting to know the area a little better. Taroudant is known as “Little Marrakech” because it is a walled city with a bustling market, but much smaller, and less touristic, than Marrakech.

The adult English class

Each weeknight, we went to the office to teach language.  We had three different classes, each meeting twice a week (one night each week, we taught two classes).  The classes ranged from young children of about 8 years old, with very limited English ability, to adults with rather good English conversation skills.  Each night was a different challenge.  Sometimes it was simply trying to find a new activity to keep the students engaged.  Other times, it would be that there were only 2 or 3 students, so the plans wouldn’t work quite well.  Regardless of the typical teaching struggles, the students were all extremely friendly and it was great getting to know them.  In fact, my last night, some of the women in the adult class brought more baked goods as a “going-away” party.  The same as much of the other food I ate in Morocco, their treats were delicious.

On weekends, I did some personal traveling around western Morocco.  These trips involved some unique experiences, such as spending New Year’s Eve in a bedouin camp on the edge of the Sahara Desert, getting attacked by a dog on a beach, or somehow ending up at a private table in some underground club in Agadir.

Traditional music and dancing at the Brave Kids reunion

One of the more rewarding experiences though was learning about a great international organization.  Khalid invited us to his family orange grove on a Saturday, when he was receiving some other guests from Poland.  Khalid had visited them in Poland through the YACD’s work with Brave Kids.  This is an organization that invited youth groups from around the world to Poland each summer.  The youth groups each come to present some type of cultural performance.  It is an amazing opportunity for these young people to participate in a unique cultural exchange as they get to know other youths from different nations.

The following day was a reunion of the Moroccan Brave Kids participants at the YACD office.  The office was packed full of people and food.  Then, the participants gave an abbreviated performance of their cultural music.  The evening ended with most of the crowd dancing along to the young musicians.

My three weeks in Morocco served as yet another window into a completely different culture than what I was used to.  But I witnessed the universal desire to share one’s culture and learn about another’s.  That was one of the reasons I was so impressed with organizations like YACD and Brave Kids.

At the end of my time in the desert, it was time to head back towards the east.

MORE INFORMATION The website where I found this placement.

Youth Association for Culture and Development: The organization I worked

The city walls of Taroudant

with in Taroudant.  They offer language classes and a variety of other programs for the community.

Brave Kids: The international organization that YACD is involved with.  Youth groups from around the world travel to Poland to present cultural performances and interact with one another.

Where East meets West: Refugee Work in Greece

After my adventures down under, I began a long journey to my next destination.  I planned my travel so I could have a day long layover in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.  I had heard much about this modern boomtown of the Middle East, including the home of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, and wanted to see it for myself.  Sure enough, the city was a strange mixture of traditional and contemporary, with women in burkas walking alongside women in tight fitting designer clothes.  The traditional Arab style was an obvious influence, but it is a cutting-edge city with so many modern trappings of Western culture.  The city is assuredly still building, as it seems there were just as many buildings under construction as those already complete.  I wish I had more than just a day in order to get a better sense of the city, but alas, I had to continue on.

View of the Acropolis, during my brief few hours in Athens before continuing to Lesvos

I finally arrived in Athens, and only had a few hours to walk around the city, mostly due to my own confusion and lack of hustle in leaving the airport as I tried to figure out the public transportation and where I wanted to go.  I was able to walk for awhile around the bustling neighborhoods surrounding the Acropolis.  While, I would have liked to actually go into some of the historical sights, this quick little fly-by would have to do for this trip.  I had booked an overnight ferry that evening to the island of Lesvos.

At one point during my travel planning, I realized I wanted to do something to help out with the ongoing refugee crisis in the world.  It has often been said that we are currently in the midst of the worst humanitarian migration crisis since World War II.  I remember first laying my eyes on this situation about two and a half years ago, while visiting Budapest, Hungary.  I arrived by train and noticed a great number of Middle Eastern people there.  I remember rearranging my bags at one point and looking up to a young boy of probably 4 years of age, shyly smiling and kind of playing peek-a-boo with me, while he sat on the floor next to his mother and siblings.  When I left the station, I was dumbfounded by the mass of humanity surrounding the station.  There was basically an impromptu camp set up there, which would actually boil into a confrontation between the refugees and the authorities the day after I left Budapest.  Ever since then, I had it in mind to try and do something to help such people.

The narrow crossing between Lesvos and Turkey

While searching for such an opportunity for this trip, I came across Refugee Rescue.  They are a nonprofit that operates a search-and-rescue boat on the north shore of the island of Lesvos.  This is the shortest crossing from Turkey and serves as a “gateway” to Europe for many refugees.  I was going to help out on the spotting team, keeping an eye out for crossing attempts, and helping at the transition camp for any landings before people were taken to the more permanent camp of Moria on the island.

The small village I stayed in is Skala Sikamineus.  It is a tiny fishing village with narrow, stone paved streets, and only about 10 of them at that.  The local fishermen started rescuing many of the refugees they noticed making the journey from Turkey.  I was informed that some of these fishermen were actually nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts.

Volunteers from the different organizations getting together to watch the Geminid meteor shower

Soon, governments and NGOs were involved in the proceedings of the area.  The politics involved were far more complicated than I ever imagined, and far beyond the scope of this posting.  However, so many players are involved including the Hellenic (Greek) and Turkish Coast Guards, NATO, FRONTEX (basically the EU border patrol), and numerous NGOs.  Besides Refugee Rescue, the one I was working with, other NGOs that we interacted with were Lighthouse Relief, Refugees 4 Refugees, and IsraAid.  However, one brief note of the politics that I was informed of… technically, any refugees that make it into Greek waters are supposed to be rescued and brought to Greece while any ones intercepted in Turkish waters are supposed to be sent back to Turkey.  One of the coordinators informed me that the NGOs have been keeping an eye and reporting activities of some of these ships, and some times refugees that were supposed to be brought to Greece were actually sent back to Turkey, and that if it weren’t for these NGOs and their reporting, it would be happening far more often.

Trying to make the transition camp a little more welcoming

The influx of refugees was far less in December of 2017 than it had been during the height of the crisis in 2015.  Whereas back then, they were having multiple landings a day, during the two and half weeks I was there, we only had 4, including the one that happened in the early morning hours just prior to my arrival.  With this slower pace of activities, it was interesting to meet the variety of people from around the world who had come to help. Among the different organizations, there were volunteers from the UK, Switzerland, Egypt, Australia, Ireland, France, Lebanon, Poland, Israel, Canada, and the USA as well as others I am probably forgetting at the moment.  This mixture of nationalities, converged upon a small fishing village in the Greek Isles, with a relatively slow pace of life where we often waited for our volunteer shifts by sitting in the local café socializing, gave me the impression of what it may have been like during the Lost Generation years in Europe for many of the ex-pats.

However, in our case, there was a common purpose, and many of our conversations focused on the situation at hand.  It was an incredible opportunity to gain perspective from people with different specializations such as the international law student from Australia providing background and legal issues of the current situation, the journalist who had spent years investigating migrant and refugee issues and now wanted to actually do something to help directly, the founders of these organizations helping to support the refugees, and the search and rescue crew that had served not only in Greece but also in the South Mediterranean with refugees crossing from Libya.  Hearing the different stories and viewpoints of these people both gives hope but also illustrates the complexity and difficulties of the problems facing us as a society.

Life jackets marking the path from the rocky shores to safety

One day, a small group of us decided to walk along the beach towards a ferry wreckage. Some of the group went swimming for a bit and then turned back , while another and I pushed forward, but got separated for a while.  As I made my way through the ancient olive groves and stone terraces, I noticed life jackets.  There were dozens of life jackets attached to trees throughout the groves.  Suddenly, it dawned on me what these life jackets represented.  They had been placed there for any refugees who happened to make it to land without being intercepted.  The life jackets served to mark a safe path to roads and civilization.

I wanted to, but never actually made it to the “life jacket graveyard”, a staggering pile of tens of thousands of life jackets that had been worn by landing refugees or had floated ashore on Lesvos.  Unfortunately, many of these “life jackets” offer no real flotation support and were simply sold to refugees by unscrupulous human traffickers trying to squeeze even more money from desperate people who had likely never before seen let alone been on the ocean.

During my first week, I went through some different training sessions, and served on watch duty both during the day and overnight.  We would spend our shift on an overlook continuously scanning the ocean with binoculars and a telescope during the day and a night vision scope during the dark hours.  While the goal was to always have eyes on the water, due to a lack of resources, we were unable to have a lookout during the hours when we had to made the transition from day to night shifts.  As winter was setting in, it became extremely cold during the night shift, and sometimes, there would be a cold rain falling, with strong winds coming off the ocean.  There were a few shifts that had to be cancelled due to the conditions.

One day near the beginning of my second week, I was on call during the morning shift to help at the transition camp in case of a landing.  At 6 AM, my phone rang.  There had been a landing the night before.  They were already at the camp and the initial process of feeding them and giving them dry clothes had already happened.  I was to go to the transition camp mostly just to have a presence and then help out when the buses arrived to take them to Moria the large-scale refugee camp on Lesvos.

Even in a refugee camp there are prima donas that expect all your attention

There were close to 60 people that had arrived, mostly from the Middle East and some from Central Africa. When I arrived, clothes were hanging anywhere possible around the camp.  These were the soaking wet clothes that they had been wearing while making the crossing.  Most of the refugees were still sleeping in the large tent when I arrived, so I went into the food tent with another volunteer to wait by the small heater that was in there.  A stray cat joined us, and found my lap to be a warm napping spot despite never having been invited.

Soon we received word that the buses were on their way so we began to tell the refugees to get their belongs together.  The camp sprang to life as the refugees went to and fro.  Amongst the Middle Easterners, there were only a couple of men, most of the group were women and their children.  Often it seemed that young teenage boys were serving as the “men” of their families.  Some of the refugees had not received a few items (like dry shoes) the night before, so they were asking for these items now.  And often it would be these teenage boys asking for items.  It turned into a rather chaotic scene, but eventually we got everything taken care of and prepared to put them on the bus.  I handed out water bottles to each person as they boarded the bus for the two-hour ride to Moria and an uncertain future.

That night, I was on the night watch again.  The temperatures were near freezing and the wind was blowing hard.  At one point, as I stood scanning the waves with the night vision scope, my mind wandered to what it must have been for those people who had crossed through those frigid waters, facing similar conditions, in a dinghy and wearing not much more than rags.  And here I was, shivering beneath layers of high quality clothing.

Due to the low numbers of volunteers, I stayed on through the Christmas holiday to help with the staffing shortages.  My Christmas Eve was spent on night shift once again.  It may be cliché, but my thoughts during the solitary times of that watch turned to the oft mentioned fact that Jesus and his family were refugees early in his life, fleeing to Egypt to escape the persecution of Herod.  While I missed my normal Christmas festivities back home with my family, thoughts like that made me feel better about where I was and what I was doing.

The day after Christmas was my flight out of Greece.  I was on call for one final night before I was going to take the early morning bus to Mytilene to fly out later that evening.  At 4 AM, plans changed.  My phone rang as there had been another crossing.  I had to hurry and get ready in order to meet at the Refugee Rescue headquarters to get a ride to the transition camp so we could prepare for the arrival.  A while later, before dawn had begun to break, we were helping distribute dry clothing to almost 30 refugees from Afghanistan.

Imagine crossing an ocean strait with 30 other people in this…

I was unable to make the early morning bus.  But instead, I was going to be able to get a ride to Mytilene with a group from Refugees 4 Refugees who would be going to their warehouse outside of the Moria camp in order to organize some clothing that afternoon.  (This also allowed me to catch up on some sleep in the late morning.)

This unexpected side trip allowed me to learn even more.  Omar, one of the founders of Refugees 4 Refugees, drove the van to the warehouse.  Along the way, I learned a little more about his story.  He himself was a refugee.  He had originally left Syria due to a family dispute, but then when the civil war broke out, he put that aside and returned to help support his family.  They eventually decided it had become to dangerous and they left the country together.  After being in a Europe for a while, he decided to help support the continuous influx of refugees and he helped to found Refugees 4 Refugees.

As we came close to the Moria refugee camp, a place that was commonly described to me as having hellish conditions, I noticed the large numbers of people just aimlessly walking up and down the road.  Many of the refugees in these camps are in a constant state of limbo, not knowing what their status is or where they may be able to go and settle (if anywhere) so they have nothing to do except while the hours away.  Just seeing them walk as we drove along, I could sense the frustrating boredom emanating from their purposeless steps.

While in the warehouse, I began helping the Refugees 4 Refugees volunteers sorting through the boxes of donated clothing.  It was simple, but meaningful work.  A young refugee girl had come through a hole in the fence and was hoping to get a better pair of shoes.  Unfortunately, the warehouse was actually closed that day (so that it could be sorted) so we weren’t supposed to handing out items.  However, a couple of the volunteers tried to help her.  But it was taking too long, and a crowd was beginning to gather at the fence, likely wanting to get something if they could as well.  Eventually, the volunteers had to send the girl away.  But she actually did not go easily. With a smile on her face, she would walk away and then try to sneak back in another way.  It did not seem that she was directly trying to disobey them.  Rather, based on the look on her face, it was a game to her.  She was playing, trying to find some kind of distraction from the monotony of the camp.

Those scenes, including the sprawling tent settlements that were actually outside of Moria, were the final scenes and reminders of the refugee crisis in Greece.  A crisis that is still on-going, and only one of many refugee crises around the world: Africa, Asia, the Middle-East.  It is an oft-stated fact that we are in the midst of the worst refugee crises since World War II.  I wish I had definitive solutions to offer, but there is no easy solution to this.  There is so much complexity and competing aspects to the situation and how to handle it.  However, the one thing I do know is that ignoring will not cause it to go away.  What would it say about us if we just close our eyes to men, women, and children that have struggled in ways most of us could never fathom and are willing to risk everything for a chance to live they types of lives we far too often take for granted?



There are plenty of resources online dealing with the refugee crises around the world.  A quick Google search is really all you need to learn more and find something of particular interest to you.  I am mostly just going to list the organizations that I worked with during my time in Greece.  The website I used to find the program I volunteered with on Lesvos.

Refugee Rescue: The organization I volunteered with on Lesvos.  They operate the Search and Rescue craft: Mo Chara

Lighthouse Relief: The organization we worded with the most on watches and during landing operations.

Refugees 4 Refugees:  An organization that also helped out with serving food at the transition camp, as well as running the clothing warehouse outside of Moria refugee camp.

IsraAid: The program that gave medical support and evaluations to newly arrived refugees

The United Nations High Commission on Refugees: The UN agency that oversees refugee operations around the world, including on Lesvos.