It's currently the afternoon of Thursday, June 16th. 24 hours from now, our group will embark on a 9-day journey to the country of Greece. For more about our journey, the situation in Greece, and our mission, keep reading...
From there, things get really interesting. As a nation, Greece consists of two mainland peninsulas as well as over 6,000 islands and islets scattered throughout the eastern Mediterranean Sea. The work of our team will be on the third largest of the Greek islands, Lesbos, which is accessible via airplane or via ferry. Our team will embark on an 8-hour trip via ferry from the Port of Pireaus on the mainland of Greece to the island of Lesbos' capital city, Mytilini. Word is, these ferries are very comfortable, equipped with restaurants, lounges and cabins. We will arrive on the island of Lesbos on June 19th, nearly two days after our initial departure. Right away, our mission plans to begin...
The Situation in Greece
Once home to the famous Greek philosopher Aristotle, Lesbos is now home to over 86,000 permanent residents, as well as thousands of other temporary residents (we'll get to these residents in just a minute). It is a popular tourist destination with beautiful beaches, fine dining establishments, luxurious hotels and amenities, as well as a rich history.
In recent years, the island of Lesbos has been a landing spot for thousands of refugees fleeing the crisis in the Middle East, most notably from the countries of Syria and Afghanistan, although thousands more are fleeing war-torn countries in Africa as well.
For these people, the island of Lesbos is simply a means to the end. That end, they hope, is asylum in any number of European or Western countries who are willing to take them in. Due to its strategic location near the country of Turkey, Lesbos has been a major point of entry for thousands of refugees in recent years. These refugees have fled, most of them on foot over thousands of miles, civil wars, political turmoil, religious persecution, and various other circumstances that have causes them to be uprooted from the places they call home. For these people, this is what the island of Lesbos looks like:
What exactly we will be doing on the island, we do not know. However, we do know two things: One, there is much work still to be done. Two, we and anyone else willing to aid in this mission, are NEEDED.
We will be working with an NGO (non-government organization) which has been given the task of overseeing a welcoming center in the village of Skala Sikamineas. The Sykanimia center is responsible for the northern-most coast, a strip of about ten miles, 6 km across the water from Turkey. When the refugees and migrants arrive at the center, they are welcomed at the gate, given dry clothes, fruit and water, first aid where needed, and sheltered until buses can take them to the first registration camp. In recent weeks, the group has been given the task of working alongside unaccompanied minors living in the camp.
I hope to be able to bring you first-hand details of the on-going situation in Lesbos as well as accounts of our work among our struggling global neighbors. If you have any questions, please feel free to comment and I'll do my best to reply to all or as many as I can.
"This blog is not an official U.S. Department of State blog. The views and information presented are the grantee's own and do not represent the Teachers for Global Classrooms Program, IREX, or the U.S. Department of State."
Stephen Blan teaches US History at Fort Worth Country Day in Fort Worth, TX and is a 2015 Teachers for Global Classrooms Fellow.