My Journey: 5 Weeks in the Refugee Crisis

I am in writing this from Berlin, Germany, where I just spent the day visiting more refugee camps and shelters. I’m at the tail end of my 5-week journey in Europe helping the refugees.

I am so weary, and yet so uplifted.

I started out on this journey on Jan 22nd on Lesvos, Greece, freezing cold. My hotel had no heating and no hot water. I spent those early days freezing at Moria Refugee Camp wearing 5 layers of everything I owned. I woke up everyday with a seering pain in my throat that kept getting worse.

I left my roommates, moved into town and found a flat that had a functional heater and hot water. GOLD. Little by little I got better and healthier. I wrote more blogs and took my pictures. I Periscoped more. I learned that it was ok to spend some of my time on my technology capturing the stories, because this is what I’m good at and how I felt useful.

For my third week, I went up North. This was the week that almost no refugees came. I helped to clean the beaches littered with rubber boats and life jackets. They stretched on for miles and miles.

HOW CAN THIS BE?!

I learned about how a few months ago this little village of 180 residents was receiving 1000 refugees everyday. There were only 7 volunteers back then. Now there are 100.

My fourth week (last week), I was joined by a fellow prolific Periscoper, Amrit Singh (of Now Humanity) and it was the culmination of everything I’d learned. I knew where to take him so that we could capture the most powerful footage. I knew how the refugee meta-network worked. I felt so purposeful. We did for 4 night watches together and helped 6 boats arrive onto the shores of Lesvos from Turkey. These boats were full of mothers, fathers, children and babies.

So many of the refugees asked for selfies when they arrived. Others would lay on the ground shivering cold as volunteers wrapped thermal blankets around them. I had still hear the cries, the cheers, the screams, the phone calls home. In that last 8 days, I’d estimate that we reached 30,000 live viewers through our broadcasts...

Now I’m in Berlin, the end point for refugees. The journey from Greece to Germany spans 2000 miles. I feel a sense of relief when I see refugees who’ve made it here.

They are still alive. Still smiling.

But their journey is not over. They may have to wait months in limbo, in meagre conditions at refugee camps in Germany.

The politics behind why all of this is happening is deep and convoluted. Honestly, it disheartens me to learn more the war in Syria. I don’t want to know who is bombing who. The darkness is so vast...

WHY IS OUR WORLD LIKE THIS?!

How is this cup of tea handed out to a refugee in Greece going to solve any world problems?!

I don’t have the answer to that. I can only choose where I will put my next step.

So I inhale. And exhale.

Inhale compassion. Exhale fear.

Inhale empathy. Exhale judgement.

Inhale faith. Exhale courage.

I understand that I cannot fix everything, but I can have the courage to do my part.

At least someone's hands are warm because I gave them a cup of tea.

INFINITE LOVE from Berlin,

Anita xx

www.SoulFamFund.com

Abdul's Journey: A Syrian Refugee Travels 2000 Miles to Germany

Three weeks ago, I was live-streaming from the port where hundreds of refugees were lined up waiting to catch the ferry to Athens. These were refugees who had made it across the sea safely from turkey. Now they would continue on their journey further into Greece. They travel along what is called the "Western Balkan Route," Through Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria and finally to Germany.

Photo of Abdul and I taken at the port in Mytilene, Lesvos, Greece.

Photo of Abdul and I taken at the port in Mytilene, Lesvos, Greece.

In this broadcast, a man heard me speaking English and starting talking to me. I ended up interviewing him in my broadcast. My live viewers were able to ask questions directly to him and get answers. It was a very surreal experience and live-streaming at it's finest. He introduced himself as Abdul* and told us about his family and what he'd left behind. Watch the whole conversation unfold in the video below.

He was an English teacher in Syria. His left his wife and children behind in Turkey while he journeyed ahead in hope of getting the papers to settle somewhere safer. (It costs 1000-2500 euros to get smuggled from Turkey to Greece so many families will send their strongest family member ahead.)

At the end of the interview, he looked into my eyes and said with a tinge of desperation, "Do not forget me."

Do not forget me.

He asked to take down my whatsapp number and I wrote down his name into my phone. I gave him well wishes for his travels and we parted ways. Little did I know that this short conversation would open a deeper understanding of the refugee's plight.

After this broadcast, I get an email from a good friend and supporter. She told to be careful.

You can see in the interview that Abdul asks me how old I am and if I'm married. My friend suggests that I wear a wedding ring on my ring finger so that people won't try to marry me for my Canadian citizenship. As an experienced solo female traveler, she warns me to be cautious and stay safe. I am grateful for her concern and understand it, but I feel like I just got a taste of how quick we are to default to fear. I can feel the tension, anxiety and worry in my friend's email.

This only makes me more determined to keep broadcasting. The whole point of me being IN the refugee crisis, and not just watch it on the news, is to understand the humanity in the situation.

Why do we jump to conclusions that all refugees are dangerous and taking to take advantage of us?

Two days later he sends me a Whatsapp message that says, "I am in Macedonia." Three days after our chat on the pier I get this message from him...

It hits me that the "underground railroad" for refugees is real. It is actually transporting people 2000 miles across a continent.

Then he sends me photos from a camp near Austria. The white tents look familiar, just like the ones I see at the refugee camps here in Lesvos.


 

Photo taken by Abdul at a camp dear Austrian borders

Photo taken by Abdul at a camp dear Austrian borders

Resting area at refugee camp. Photo taken by Abdul.

Resting area at refugee camp. Photo taken by Abdul.

Then he sends me a video where he walked about 12 km towards the macedonia borders and then hired a car for 30 euros. There must be hundreds of people in this video walking along the highway. WATCH THE VIDEO ABDUL SENT ME HERE.

When I first started volunteering at the refugee camps, it help like I was barely making a difference. Handing out cups of tea or picking up dirty wet clothing hardly seems world changing, but seeing Abdul's photos made me realize that I become part of this intricate, decentralized, far-reaching web of support for the refugees.

Refugees standing for lunch along at a camp along the Western Balkan Route

Refugees standing for lunch along at a camp along the Western Balkan Route

The camp where Abdul is staying in Germany

The camp where Abdul is staying in Germany

A week from the day I first interviewed him, he tells me he's now Geiben city in Germany.  He's transferred to an American camp where he will stay for 3 months until everything is processed and he has obtained residence somewhere safe.

I am stunned that he actually made it to Germany, and so fast. I've had many people in my Periscope broadcasts criticize the refugees and say that they are all economic migrants and should not be allowed in Europe. However, I've learned that every refugee has a different story.

It is a miracles that hundreds of thousands of refugees can travel 2000 miles to safety on the generosity and good will of their fellow humans. I've captured their journey at the start of the Western Balkan Route and now I will capture the story at the end of the route.

Photo taken by Abdul in the town of Heiborn, Germany

Photo taken by Abdul in the town of Heiborn, Germany

Abdul's Whatsapp message to me

Abdul's Whatsapp message to me

In three days, I will go to Berlin, Germany to cover the refugee crisis from the ground there. Tensions are high in some parts of Germany where locals do not want the refugees to stay. At the same time, there are the unsung heroes who work tirelessly to support the refugees and stand up for their basic human rights.

I will find Abdul again and interview him.  I have Abdul's permission to share his story here and we will hear much more about when I meet him again.   I don't want to do anything that could jeopardize his application, but at the same time I am doing this because I live by the Soul Fam philosophy: There are no accidents. If we've been brought together, it's because we're supposed to help each other, serve each other and lift each other higher.

As a broadcaster and a humanitarian, I know that live-streams have the capacity to break down barriers. My intention is that by sharing his storyand I'm looking forward to capturing the refugee's stories in Germany in a few days.

Until then, stay updated via my Periscope and video replays here:

Periscope.tv/anitawinglee
Katch.me/anitawinglee

We rely on your support to continue this work. Please consider donating to support the Soul Fam Fund and our efforts to help refugees:


Infinite Love & Gratitude,
Anita xx
 

No Coincidences.

I was just thinking today - Why did i come here? I don't even watch the news, how did this refugee issue come into my life!? The universe had to work through my friendship with Amanda to put it DIRECTLY infront of my face, back in Nov/Dec.

Coincidence? I don't believe in such things.

So, I was inspired to come to Lesvos, Greece. I thought I was here to help refugees. But right now now all of the refugees are gone from this island! The last few days, I'm kept thinking - why am I here?!

Today it became clear, I was not sent here to help refugees, but to help elevate all of humanity.

I must have been brought here so tha:t 1) the universe could show me how a massive movement of good can stem just from a few people showing up. 2) how there are so many people out here like me and YES, they will just show up 3) so i could practice this new form of scope journalism/activism - for all of the greater things i will do (and Life even sent me @MrASingh to help me)

I ended up on Lesvos because I simply followed my inspiration.

For my first 2 weeks, i felt so helpless. I understood that handing out tea was helpful, but I didn't feel useful. Yet by being in the mix of volunteers from ALL around the world, I got to witness - and for a short time - be part of the incredible MAGIC of a web of souls that just turned up to help. I got to contribute a small part of the end result.

It is mindboggling that the entire refugee network works.

It shouldn't. Each of the refugee camps I've been to are fun by all a couple dozen people. Some have been here for 3 days. Some stay for months. And everything in between.

And yet these individual volunteers have created this massive chain that allows refugees to travel THOUSANDS of kilometres across a continent.

And then of course, there is Periscope. I've been finding my feet for how to do better interviews and get into the flow of publishing loads while I experience heavy things (and that is a BIG skillset in itself). wow.

I am so grateful to be on this journey. I know that I cannot solve the problems of the world, but I feel that I am finding the faith to DARE to try.

Let me just TRY in this life.

Let me just TRY and see what will happen if I stop worrying about my career, my bank account, my "business" and instead I wake up everyday asking the question: How can I help today? Who could I serve? How could I use my gifts and talents to help others?

I will keep asking and giving.

and giving.

Until my 1 suitcase and 1 backpack are empty.

Until my pockets are emptied out into the hearts of humanity.

One World. One Word: Volunteering on Lesvos

CAPACITY.

That's word I have for my experience working at the refugee camps on Lesvos, Greece.

How big is our capacity to serve as human beings?

How big is our capacity to love?

How big is our capacity to open our hearts to new ideas, new people, new cultures?

Family dinner with international volunteers from all around the world at Lighthourse Relief. 8 countries represented here. 

Family dinner with international volunteers from all around the world at Lighthourse Relief. 8 countries represented here. 

For my 4th week on Lesvos, I am joined by a fellow prolific broadcaster, Amrit Singh @MrASingh. It’s nice because I get to play tour guide, in additional to my eclectic mixed bag of roles: volunteer, broadcaster, humanitarian, journalist, activitist.

We are revisiting many of the sites that I’ve worked at in the last 3 weeks - Better Days For Moria, Lighthouse Relief, Pikpa, No Borders Kitchen - doing fresh interviews and publishing loads of content on social media.

LIFE ON LESVOS

Refugee boats have slowed down on this island because the coast guard has started picking up boats. NATO declared a ceasefire in Syria. From the Turkish side, we never quite know when the boats will come over or why the boats have slowed down. We never know how long these government policies will hold up, or if they are just a facade to send the volunteers away.

Volunteers are still arriving by the dozens, but right now there are more volunteers than refugees at the camps.

It makes one ask the question - is this helping?

Yes, there is still loads of work to be done. Loads of sorting, beach cleaning, organizing and coordinating but it’s not the same as the emotionally-charged boat landings seen in videos like this.

Still, I know by now that EVERY LITTLE BIT HELPS. If international volunteers were not the ones cleaning the beaches strewn with lifejackets and rubber boats, who would? Residents of the island would love for their beaches to return to their pristine condition - and so would I. But it also begs the question: will we forget?

At No Borders Kitchen Refugee Camp

At No Borders Kitchen Refugee Camp

Will we forget the plight of our brothers and sisters on this planet when we can no longer see them?

As the French government bulldozes 1000 people off the Calais Jungle in France, will be forget?

Will we forget that we have a responsibility to take care of humanity?

Being here on Lesvos, Greece, and seeing all of the people who have shown up to help, I have a little more faith in Humanity. I’ve seen the power of a few individuals to unlock the capacity for all of humanity to give.

Don’t be afraid to be the first one to show up to help. I promise you, others will join. (Including myself. Just PM me :)

Check out my latest Interview in the clothing distribution tent at No Borders Kitchen refugee camp with Pablo:https://katch.me/anitawinglee/v/7369ca23-57ef-3a64-9142-108926c354a8

All donations of every size are greatly welcomed. I will be taking all that we raise and finding the best way to use the funds in the coming days so that we can reach and help the most people possible.

Click here to donate to our Go Fund Me.

Infinite Love from Greece,

Anita xx

If you're in a job you don't like, PLEASE don't stay in it. Here's why.

Since coming out here, I've found that 99% of the people that I meet have this quality about them.

It may be resilience.

Compassion.

Humility.

SELFLESSNESS.

Yes. Selfnessless.

I am seeing what we as humans are capable of when we stop worrying about our own bills and career and just put ourselves to good use.

Be sure follow me on Periscope to watch my daily live broadcasts. I will post the highlights on my blog from time to time.

Thank you so much for your support and encouragement in this journey.

Please consider donating so that we can support the incredible work out here. DONATE HERE.

 

@anitawinglee