“I don’t believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is so vertical. It goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other person. I have a lot to learn from other people.” Eduardo Galeano
By Megan Kuehl, WEAC Region8/WTCS President
These were the words that echoed through my mind over Thanksgiving break when my partner, Elliott, and I traveled to the Greek Island of Lesvos to work with refugees seeking better lives for their families in Europe. We had been following the situation closely via social media and knew that we had to join the hundreds of grassroots volunteers that were standing in the gap between the governments and NGOs and perhaps the greatest humanitarian crisis of our generation.
Our primary role while there was to seek out vulnerable families and get them food, water, dry clothes, and temporary shelter as they waited to register with the Greek government and move on to their final destinations across Europe. Resources were limited as thousands arrived on the tiny island every day, and overcrowding led to less than humane conditions. When charity fell short (as it often does), we offered solidarity: we listened to courageous stories, played games with children, and tried to restore a bit of dignity and humanity to lives of those who have been displaced.
Overall, it was a humbling and educating experience. For a short five days, we stood in the gap and stood in solidarity. We hope to continue standing in that gap while back home in Wisconsin and encourage others to do the same.
If you are interested in hearing more about our experiences or learning more about how you can stand with us, feel free to contact me. We need to show the world that refugees are welcome- in our country, our state, our communities, and our classrooms.
From the LTC (Lakeshore Technical College) Buzz blog:
Many of us use social media as a simple way to connect with family and friends. Others use social media as a powerful tool that can change the world by connecting people from around the globe.
Megan Kuehl, Pre-College Instructor at LTC, is one of the latter. Megan, and her partner, Elliott, spent their Thanksgiving break in Greece lending aid to Syrian refugees who are traveling through the Greek island of Lesvos in order to find better and safer lives.
“I do get a lot of my news through social media groups and pages, and the more I learned about the terrible plight of Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi refugees, particularly the children, Elliott and I knew we had to help,” says Megan. “Thousands of people are moving through Turkey daily and sailing on crowded rafts to Lesvos. They arrive there with absolutely nothing. They sleep on concrete; sometimes in the rain and cold.”
Megan and Elliott had been corresponding via Facebook with a volunteer from London named Maha. They learned the refugees were herded to a former prison called Moria to register for further travel to seek asylum in western European nations like Germany. They needed medical attention, food, water, clothing, shelter, and blankets. Leveraging social media, Megan and Elliott set up a GoFundMe page and raised $3000 in just two weeks. That entire amount was spent on the refugees as Megan and Elliott paid for the trip with their own funds.
“We were able to spend half of our donation money on the island of Lesvos,” said Megan. “We purchased sleeping bags, food, and drinks for families forced to stay in Moria. We also purchased candy, bubbles, and small toys that we shared with the many children we met at the camp. Their tired eyes lit up at the sight of a simple lollipop, sticker, or glow stick, and it helped bring even the smallest joy to the most vulnerable. We will spend the rest of the money at local businesses in the US and ship much-needed winter gear to our friends and contacts on the ground at Moria.”
Most of the refugees spoke Arabic or Farsi but many spoke a little bit of English. They come from all walks of life and Megan met doctors, engineers, and teachers fleeing war, violence, or poverty.
“We were able to connect with people on a personal level—that was the goal of going,” according to Megan. “We were able to help thousands of people in the 5 days we were there. It was a life-changing experience. I saw horrible conditions that were difficult to see, but I felt that I needed to be there. Everyone I met, both refugees and volunteers, were so kind, grateful and patient. If the crisis continues to worsen, I would go back in a heartbeat.”
“One of our friends summed it best: There is the refugee crisis and then there are the governments. And a major gap exists in between. For a week, we stood in that gap, alongside so many inspiring volunteers from all over the world, and did everything that we could do. The challenge we face now is figuring out how to continue to “stand in the gap” from halfway across the world. The gap is wide, the need is great, and world is cold to those seeking new, safe, and better lives for their families. We can do so much better.”