Μη Μένεις Εκτός mi meneis ektos Μη Μένεις Εκτός Mi Meneis Ektos

Volunteers, activists, these wonderful people...

You can find them everywhere. Wherever there are people needing their fellowman. They started coming from every probable and improbable corner of the world to make Greece, and Lesvos in particular, their second home. From Malaysia, others from Holland, Scandinavian countries, Germany and any other place you can think of. And many Greeks among them. Mostly young people who left their homes, their friends, their jobs within the whirlpool of the economic crisis, to follow their hearts' calling. Without any demand of any exchange other than peace of mind...
But who exactly are these people? What is it that gives them the strength directing their steps? How different are they from all of us who comment and criticize everything from behind the safety of our computer screens?

I had the pleasure to pass a whole hour with one of the activists on Lesvos, Eliza Dimitra. Eliza is one of the many volunteers who have remained human. By the end of our talk, I realized what a great gift she had offered me by dedicating some of her precious time.
I highly recommend in listening to our whole conversation here. It's one of the most interesting talks I've had in my life...

Eliza is 29 years old and lives in Athens when she's not travelling to help people and animals. She studied Mathematics at the Kapodistrian University, Preservation of the Biodiversity at the University of Montpellier and Environment and Marine Sciences at the University of the Aegean at Mytilene. With a great love of animals, she participated in the Kallisto programme researching the use of the passage crossing of the Egnatia Highway by bears, wolves and small mammals.
She has also volunteered working with the Archelon organization and also the Mom organization, caring for seals and marine turtles. She has travelled to Holland to care for monkeys and small mammals with the EVS as well as animals with psychological trauma having been confiscated from laboratories or from illegal owners across Europe.
She loves travelling, but always aiming to volunteer, she found herself in Guadelοupe but also in the Dominican Republic...
Apart from this, she's a girl like all the others who loves alternative rock concerts and Argentinian tango, despite not knowing how to dance, as well as going to the movies.

The click that changes your life...
But her work didn't inspire her, as long as she heard about the drama of the refugees, it was impossible for her to concentrate on anything else. She was continuously networked and entangled with the issues of refugees more and more.

“The day I heard of the death of father Stratis from Angalia was the last straw”, says Eliza. “I thought that these guys from now on won't have nobody to support them and I said that that's enough, I must go there”, she continues.
So she took ten days leave of absence, which of course she gave up soon enough, ending up living for the refugees 24/7.

“If you ask me how it all began, I really can't remember. It just started by itself, like a natural development of events”, she adds. At first she went to Lesvos in mind to help some of her friends from Italy who wanted to shoot a documentary.
She arrived to Mytilene having spent the whole night before monitoring the attempts of a small boat trying to cross over to Lesvos, of course something she does constantly. After spending the first day on the island with a family from Syria preparing to go to Germany, she decides to fill her car with supplies and go towards Molyvos. “I couldn't believe my eyes what I saw on the way”, Eliza tell us. “The things were being taken at lightning speed, there were so many people I met walking on the road. I reached OXY in shock, the transit camp which is between Petra and Molyvos. The situation there was so third-world that it's still impossible to describe. An image I haven't seen even in the Dominican Republic”, she adds.

Volunteering is a way of life...
At OXY you usually meet foreign volunteers. People coming from all over the globe. The volunteers don't wake up one morning and say they're going to help. They're people who've dedicated their lives to activism. One of the questions are where do they find the money to follow this style of life.
“I have the support of friends throughout my endeavours. I'm supported by money generously offered me and with whatever I've managed to collect up to now through my job, Eliza explains. The basic thing for me of course is I don't need accommodation expenses on Lesvos since I went to university there and I'm being hosted by friends. Also, there are people from all over the world offering money generously to support the effort of activists, she adds. For instance there's a woman from the USA who is from Syria and financially helps also the efforts of the volunteers she knows”, Eliza concludes anticipating our thoughts.

The relationship with refugees is now a lifetime relationship...
Eliza now feels the Syrians as her brothers and sisters. Their profile is exceptional, they had a high standard of living and they suddenly found themselves in a boat battling for their lives... She has held contacts and communicates with most she met through all these months.
“There's a Syrian friend of mine now living in a camp in Germany”, says Eliza, who says the situation there is tragic. “The food is unacceptable and just imagine, the lights in the camp go out at 22:00 resulting in my friend who attends Germany lessons at a free school two hours away, not to be able even to study during the night when he returns. There's also a 16 year old unaccompanied child I met in Moria, Lesvos who sends me messages everyday in Arabic which I translate with Google Translate since I don't understand a word of Arabic. He has a huge need to communicate because just think that up to now he was in Turkey with his family but now all alone in a camp in Germany”, she concludes...

The situation on Lesvos and Turkey...
Many things are said about the behaviour of the locals, the residents of Lesvos. What is real and what isn't?
“There are some locals who even offer their hearts and souls to refugees without grand gestures”, anticipates Eliza. “But there are many who go after blatant profit during all this. There are hotels that deny to give rooms to refugees but also ordinary people throwing open their rooms for rent. But unfortunately the rate isn't even 50-50, it's about 70-30”, she says bitterly... “

As for the local authorities? Just leave it... The police usually just watch idly by, sipping their coffee, while "scavengers" loot the refugees' boats in front of them. "Scavengers" are always there. There's no case a boat arrives and they don't rush first to loot everything”...

But what's happening across in Turkey? What's the situation these people face before coming across to our country?
The situation there is really intolerable. Their life is made difficult in every way, aware that they'll be allowed to cross in the end, she says angrily. This is part of the game... They cram them into closed trucks for hours on end, they're stopped, taken off and returned to Istanbul, they're reloaded... Really, all the Syrians I met are angered when they learn of the billions the E.U. generously offers Turkey.

Another serious parameter of the problem we don't give particular significance up to now, is the effect to the environment. Up to now we believed the problem is only humanitarian. But there's a huge parallel environmental crisis as well as humanitarian, the results of which we'll soon see... “Everyone only sees the tip of the iceberg, Eliza tells us. Unfortunately the problem is huge. We'll see what's in the sea in time, what will wash ashore, how many species of marine mammals will face huge problems in the near future.”

Nothing gets wasted...
Volunteers on Lesvos are making everything out of the dumped life jackets and boats that carried the refugees. From bags to roofs with the wood and the PVC taken from the boats. Everything is precious and that's why it's exasperating all these end up in the hands of the "scavengers" with the state just watching...
Even the engines that now belong to the Ministry of Finance could be offered to local fishermen who drop everything to run and save people everyday. There are 700 tons of dumped life jackets on the island that if washed can be used. If it's organized.

”That's the project we're on now”, Eliza says on the subject. “We're trying to set-up an environmental organization to do just that. Our target is for the refugees themselves work on this as well as local residents of Lesvos. All the money from this effort will go to the Municipality of Lesvos with total clarity, or to teams assisting refugees''.

I feel my life is crumbling...
“I'm exhausted, my personal life has died. I never see my friends, my partner hardly and always under great pressure and tension”, Eliza says when we reach the critical point of the effects of activism in her life. “All of us who are activists, from every corner of the globe that we come from, we always live on a tight wire. Our lives are literally disintegrated, we're almost losing our relationships, all of those that haven't suffered this already... You give all your attention there, when before you had your partner with you, who you cared for, who cared for you, you were having fun. Who can cope with this situation? We're all overweight because of the awful diet exclusively on junk food. I can't even remember the last time I went to shop at the supermarket for my home. The refrigerator and cupboards in my kitchen are always empty... You can't organize anything for yourself, not even to go to the cinema. There are articles in the Guardian that say just this, on the effects of the psychological health of activists. We all return home depressed, with panic attacks and all sorts of psychological problems... When you are highly empathetic and without the support of a large organization to prepare you psychologically, you just jump in, giving everything. And then you break down at some point... And you think that if you break down, who'll be left to help? And that's how you exceed your limits”, says Eliza ending our conversation.

My conversation with Eliza Dimitra was a real lesson to me. A lesson on how to remain human when everything around you is crumbling. Be well Eliza, and all those wonderful people like you, and continue to generously offer strength to all of us...

The translation of the original article is made by Angela Psarou.


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