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Survival in Perspective: My Experiences with a Refugee Women's Project in Lesvos

Updated: Sep 13, 2020

After my visit to Chad earlier this month, I halted travel for a period. Since then, I have been residing in Lesvos, Greece supporting and volunteering with a small but mighty non-profit women’s project - Becky’s Bathhouse (BBH).

The project was born out of memoriam to the aid worker and humanitarian Rebecca Dykes, who was brutally murdered in Beirut in 2017. This well-run initiative continues to grow and thrive, and all I can hope is that it continues to scale globally as intended as the women who run it are just fearless heroes who bring attention back to vulnerable displaced women and children, and people in general as human beings. And that is what we all are - human beings connected all together regardless of the darker sides of how ‘the world has come to work and operate’.

BBH provides showers and osteopathy services to - vulnerable asylum seekers - women and children coming from the refugee camp Moria. Camp Moria is currently housing 14,000 people in a capacity meant for around 4,000 - in squalid conditions. Women and children, unaccompanied minors are vulnerable to intimidation, other unspeakable horrors and internal politics when it comes to something like a shower. There is an estimated one shower for every few hundred people in Moria.

All-female volunteers from all over the world, and all walks of life run BBH. Three times a day, five to six times a week, women are brought from Moria to the bathhouse for a mental/ physical reprieve, where they can take a shower with clean towels, drink tea, have a healthy snack, and in some instances, drop off laundry. Accompanying children can play in a dedicated space with toys or express themselves with chalk and pencils.

During my time there still, BBH has been working closely with Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) because of an increased prevalence of scabies in the camp. And so, families, including men were being treated and brought for showers as well. I have had the privilege of working with many families - Afghani, Syrian, Iraqi, Congolese for example, and experiencing first hand the great work that BBH tries to achieve in helping a human being remember their dignity and immense value, and that he/she is indeed a human being before all else.

I have listened to, processed and seen some very difficult things. One person that will always stick in my head was - on my very first day - a little boy who I sat with to draw. He repeatedly drew over and over a house with a sun shining over it. He gave me a pained look every so often as the scabies medication burns, but I tried to encourage him to continue drawing to keep his mind preoccupied. Even thinking about it right now, my eyes are swelling because I know he is just a child who wants to go back to his real home.

Regardless of where anyone comes from, and any language barriers, I just wanted every day to connect with and help out as much as I could even though I knew I could never make the difference that I would want to - whether it was just having a conversation, maintaining eye connection, or giving someone a hug or a head rub - just comforting human interaction. It was difficult everyday mentally, but I had to shut myself down emotionally as best as I could because I had no right whatsoever to break down in front of these people - individuals and families who are surviving, and really exemplifying all the tenets of resilience. That does not mean I do not feel guilty all the time - what if the situations were reversed and I had not showered for months?

Thank goodness for the other volunteers for talking me through their own frustrations, emotional challenges and passions with the cause. I think that was the only way to get through how emotional some of the days were. And, now I feel more and more of a purpose to continue thinking through these issues and figuring my way to help in my next life. I don’t know if it’ll be much, but I want to at least try.

There is a lot written about humanitarian crises, and refugees - with politics, power, greed etc. I am not a subject matter expert nor would I be able to be over just the course of this journey though I have gained greater awareness which I am grateful for. But, at the very outset of all this, I said I wanted to experience and be part of humanity - the good and the bad. I wanted to experience directly strength, resilience and survival because I honestly, wholeheartedly lost sight of the meaning behind all those incredibly important attributes. I saw all those things at - BBH and the work with Moria. I experienced all those things at BBH - and if I had wanted to ever grow as a person emotionally and mentally, it would be through my time being here.

On one of my days off, I tried to create a connective tissue to my last few months of travel through MENA and this work by taking a contemplative trip to the life jacket graveyard, which, beyond Alan Kurdi is iconic of the tragedies of the migrant crisis. Because I was by myself, that was the first time I allowed myself to quietly feel all the repressed emotion I kept in for awhile. These people want to survive, even if all the complications of a wicked world means they are stuck in this camp for who knows how long, and every day back at home I thought about not surviving. I just wanted to die, to put it plainly. And so, my eyes were opened and enlightened through this experience, and I am reminded again that if you are given the privilege, not to ever waste it - to perhaps let a higher power decide when it is your time to go. That doesn’t mean I can stop being suicidal if I become suicidal again, but I have this reminder at the back of my head, spirit and heart always.

I wrote about BBH first on Facebook, and of course it felt, as always. lost as a platform share because quite simply put - it was not an announcement that I am pregnant, or engaged, or a really nice picture of the dogs or kids I do not have. This, of course warrants another angry 20-page write. I wish so very much when I have children that they do not have to grow up in a social media world. Anyhow, I appealed to my 'network' to donate to BBH, and despite it being ignored, I want to do the same through all my channels.

BBH is not Canadian registered unfortunately so you cannot receive a tax receipt. But, even a small donation that everyone can afford in the place of a coffee, etc, can help with this continued demonstration of outright humanity. The relevant links are below - please check out their values and initiatives, and help if and where you can. Comment below or e-mail me if you have any questions, or if you have donated so I know someone listened. Anyhow, everyone has their associated initiatives they already support, but I emotionally appeal for help with this one as well.

If you donate and really have issues about the tax receipt let’s talk about a barter where I can come home come 2020, and do something for you of equivalent value. Not a big deal - happy to do so.

Finally, if you know any prospective ally non-profit organizations in Canada or anywhere else really (so we can suggest creating a flow-through), please also comment or contact me. Thank you if you do donate - you will never know how much this really means. That's all for now. I head back to the Middle East in a few days with heavy heart and mind.


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