It’s recently been confirmed that I’m going back to Lesvos. I will be there from mid-April to June as a volunteer coordinator for the Norwegian group “A Drop In The Ocean”– the same organization who I spent last November-December volunteering with. Though it’s largely fallen out of mainstream news, the refugee situation in Greece has gotten considerably worse since I was there a few months ago.
I’ll be on Lesvos working with “the Drops” coordinating, training, and supporting our volunteers 24/7.  I’m so grateful that I happened to run into their coordinator at the time, back on that first day I showed up to Lesvos alone and without a plan. This time, I’ll be a liaison between “the Drops” and other organizations, local authorities, and the Norwegian directors back in Oslo.  I’ll be doing the same work as before with refugees on the beaches, and in the overcrowded camps, but now that I have the background and more time to spend, I’ll be facilitating shorter term volunteers as well.

I’ll be crowdfunding to support some of my travel expenses and to have a flexible source of funding that I can use to buy supplies directly for refugees from Greek locals. I’m working on setting up a site to sell some photography so that you can support me by buying some art too! More on that soon.

I’ll also be identifying project needs for the American group, “Sea of Solidarity” founded by my friend and fellow Drop volunteer, Adam Rosser, a DC-based immigration attorney. His organization is fantastic in that it very directly supports ongoing volunteer efforts in areas of acute need. “SOS” responds with amazing flexibility- funneling money donated in the US directly through volunteers who can respond swiftly to emerging needs on the ground. For example, filling a need for food in camp by arranging for a daily delivery of oranges from a local Greek farmer. (If you would like to make a donation to a US-based 501(c)(3) for tax purposes, please visit them.)

As a freelancer, and for both of these organizations, I’ll continue to share photographs and stories of the reality on the ground. In life, I’ll always be primarily a direct service provider, but I’ve recognized the growing importance of digital storytelling as a tool for social justice. I’ve realized that I have the combination of access to, and interest in these social justice causes (whether refugees or Portland’s homeless community), an eye for photography, and a conscientious voice for storytelling. Taking the time to “zoom out” to the larger story is growing increasingly important to me, especially as a way to combat the feeling of helplessness when I’m overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the crisis I’m working in, and the awful way the mainstream media is twisting the story. My last piece here on the blog was geared towards new volunteers called “An Emotional Guide to Lesvos” has been incorporated into new volunteer training and viewed several thousand times. Last time I was on Lesvos, I shared a few stories from working on the ground that essentially went viral. I would like to continue to produce that type of intentional, impactful writing.
Leaving home (again) for such a long time is tough. I’m missing my little sister Emily’s high school graduation and some close friends’ weddings. I’m involved in some really inspiring anti-poverty, social justice organizations here in Portland, and I’m an idiot for leaving. My financial future, career, and opportunity for security are all up in the air. Sometimes I wish that I’d never gotten involved in the refugee crisis, and that I didn’t have so many faces and stories to flesh out each violent article I read. But I went.  Now, for better or worse, I’m emotionally in it. The political situation is deteriorating, humanitarian aid is woefully inadequate, and the number of desperate arriving refugees is only increasing. Greece needs the support of the international community, and volunteers who are able to bring in direct funding from outside. I don’t mean to overdramatize my small role, but I know that there is a huge, unmet need for humanitarian assistance, and I can show up.

I’m wading through intense emotions about all of this. Guilt for not being here for my friends and family. Fear of going into a crisis zone on a one-way ticket. The frustration and desolation that comes with feeling so closely allied with the individuals trapped in a complicated and violent crisis. Self-doubt, if I’m making the right choice and can really have enough of an impact to merit asking for financial help. Self-doubt also around my skills as a writer, organizer, photographer, advocate, medic, peer support, traveler, etc.  Motivation, to dive back into the gritty work and feel the purposeful connection that keeps me going through long nights and emotionally wrenching scenes.

Despite some lagging doubt, I know logically that I’m in a good place to have a positive ripple effect in this overwhelming crisis. I’m in a place where I’ve got the social work experience, emergency medical training, volunteer coordinating experience, political and situational awareness, photography gear, and a desire to be in the middle of it. I’m single, I’m not on a lease, and I have the time to spend on this.

I am planning on just buying a one-way ticket, because depending on funding, I would like to leave the possibility open of going to continue working in Turkey or elsewhere when my EU tourist visa expires. There’s a disturbingly huge need for support and raised awareness across a large part of the world right now, and I’m willing to stay involved in the crisis wherever I’m needed, as long as I can. I would also like to be a more committed source of information from the ground for Americans and Europeans.
Ugh. Sometimes words fail me. In my car this morning, one of NPR’s top stories was on the deteriorating conditions for refugees in Greece as more borders close and refugees continue to arrive on the beaches. I don’t have any great insights or ideas. I’m just sad about it all. Sad and overwhelmed, but looking forward to being back in the place where I can process those feelings by doing physical work to mitigate, in a small way, the unjust conditions.
Here’s a great article from the Wall Street Journal on what’s happening now. (Tip: Don’t read the comments. Ever.)
Oh, and because this IS a personal blog, I’ll give a quick update on what I’ve been up to in Portland. Working at Street Roots, an awesome social justice focused weekly newspaper I’ve long been a fan of. Doing photography and writing for the Welcome Home Coalition to humanize the issue of affordable housing for Oregonians. I’ve been coaching after school tennis with the USTA, which is super fun. I’ve also continued to manage the reservation system for the Talkeetna Hostel in Alaska, and help with the transition to the new manager who will take over for me this season. I’ve been doing dog sitting gigs, driving gigs, and working on setting up a site for a photography portfolio, and generally learning about and practicing photography. I’m working on migrating this blog to a WordPress hosted site and learning more than I thought I ever would about digital media from YouTube. It’s been a great time to reconnect with friends, and this community where I’ve felt so rooted and supported for such a long time. As always, it’s hard to leave Portland. I’ll also have two weeks in April to hang out with my family before I leave for Greece.