By Formosa and United Kingdom Relief Teams (Originally in English)
In response to Supreme Master Ching Hai’s loving reminder to assist the refugees, our Association members from Belgium, Formosa and the United Kingdom formed a relief team and traveled to the island of Lesbos, Greece, to lend a hand wherever needed and provide continued support for the refugees. For relief supplies distributed in Lesbos, we spent a total of EUR 116,655.36, which was contributed by our Formosa Centers, with reimbursement available from Master.
Arriving at Lesbos, Greece – November 15, 2015
On November 15, 2015, our relief team arrived at Lesbos where we visited three different refugee camps to assess the situation. About 3,000 refugees are coming to Lesbos daily and are transported to different camps by bus with the help of many NGOs. Our relief team is working with the NGOs to provide needed aid.
Assisting Refugees Ashore – November 16, 2015
On November 16, 2015, as we were driving near an area south of the island’s capital, Mytilene, a local man asked us to assist a full boat of approximately 60 refugees to land. We drove there quickly and were able to help. The refugees were very happy to land safely and were pleased to see us.
Later, we visited the transit camp in Mantamados and a camp organized by Mercy Corps in Skala Sikamineas. Both places were very well organized. Next, we went to the northern tip of the island close to Turkey where many refugees arrive. After spotting four boats approaching the rocks, we worked with volunteers from the Youth With A Mission organization to help these boats land securely and assisted the refugees to climb up the cliff. All the refugees were very happy to arrive in a new land safely.
On the way back, we attended a meeting with some of the volunteer groups and learned warm supplies will be needed for the coming winter and the refugees’ upcoming journey further north. Thus, we are currently planning the purchase of 4,000 sleeping bags and raincoats for the refugees staying at camp Moria, where they will be waiting for their paperwork to be processed. The remaining funds will be given to a local volunteer organization, which is responsible for receiving children, pregnant women and the most vulnerable refugees referred by doctors, to purchase a much needed van.
Distributing Supplies for Cold Weather in Moria and Pikpa Camps – November 17 to 19, 2015
From November 17 to 19, our relief team in Lesbos, Greece purchased 4,000 sleeping bags and raincoats, socks and children’s clothing to be distributed to the arriving refugees. These warming items are desperately needed as winter is approaching. Sleeping bags are especially in high demand because some refugees do not have tents or their tents do not have heaters installed.
As approximately 3,200 refugees continue to arrive at the Greek island of Lesbos daily, the camp in Moria, as well as other assembly points and reception sites, have far exceeded their capacity. Therefore, on November 19, our relief team went to Moria camp to help clean up the site and meet other NGO members. Together with other volunteers, we collected many bags of rubbish. Some refugees also joined us in cleaning.
Speaking to some of the refugees, it was heartrending to hear stories of their journeys coming here. Many of them had to walk 20 to 30 days before getting in a boat for Lesbos, and are now being faced with an uncertain future.
We also later visited the Village of All Together, an open shelter for refugees organized by Lesbos citizens, collectives and NGOs, located at Pikpa, a former tent-camp for kids. The site is now a camp for the most vulnerable among the refugees such as those who are pregnant, sick, or living with a disability. We were very touched by the community efforts and compassionate work being done at Pikpa camp. While we are on the island, our relief team will help them look for a van which they urgently need.
We were interviewed by a German TV channel, and told them of the collective relief efforts here in Lesbos, and also the importance of adopting a vegan diet to protect all life on the planet.
Providing More Supplies to Refugees in Moria Camp – November 22 to 26, 2015
On November 22, our Greece relief team, formed by our Association members from Belgium, Bulgaria, Formosa, Greece and the United Kingdom, revisited Moria camp in Lesbos, Greece to deliver clothes, shoes, and other supplies and found many things had improved since our last visit. The overcrowding has been greatly reduced and the camp was very clean. We came in time to help set up a temporary storage space, as the strong wind had blown over the large tent for supplies.
On November 24, 5,000 refugees suddenly arrived in Lesbos. Therefore, we started buying supplies in order to distribute to them at different locations. We drove up the north coast of the island at night where the refugees’ boats were constantly arriving, and helped 50 passengers from one boat to come ashore. Some of the women and children were scared and shaking.
As most refugees have to go to Moria camp to register, the next day on November 25, we loaded our car with supplies and went to this camp again to distribute the most urgently needed items for the new arrivals such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, backpacks and children’s hats and gloves. Within two days, over a hundred sets of children’s clothing, 6,000 pairs of socks and a few carloads of fruits, bread, water, sleeping bags, blankets, clothes and other daily necessities were distributed to newly arrived refugees, all with Heaven’s love. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) (Doctors Without Borders) in Idomeni offered to let us use their warehouse and sent volunteers to help us as well.
Assisting Refugees in Mytilene and Pikpa and Moria Camps – November 26 to December 1, 2015
On November 26, we completed three distributions of necessities at Moria camp. Due to difficult weather, fewer boats arrived than on the previous night. So far Moria camp is well-covered for now. Our order of sleeping bags will be arriving next Monday. Pikpa camp is giving us the use of their warehouse. Right now the island is looking calm again, but things can change suddenly. We never know when new boats will arrive. Let’s pray to God the refugees have a safe passage.
On November 27, our relief team in Lesbos, Greece went to the port of the island’s capital, Mytilene, where some refugees were waiting for a ferry to mainland Greece, and distributed fruits and Arabic versions of Alternative Living flyers. The area was clean and well-managed. We were pleased to hear that the police prepared an extra boat in case there was not enough room on the ferry for all the refugees. Another volunteer group was giving breakfast to the refugees. Many refugees read the flyers while waiting in a queue. A young man from Pakistan told us if it were not for God, he would have died five times already!
Afterwards, we visited Kara Tepe, a transit camp near Mytilene, where we learned from a United Nations (UN) official that there were enough sleeping bags in stock for the winter. At Moria camp, we saw that the Red Cross staff was handing out arrival packs containing warm clothing and blankets to the 500 newly arrived refugees, and that there were enough tents for them as well.
The next couple of days, there were not many refugees arriving due to heavy rainfall. We went to Moria camp to check out the situation. During the visits, we met Mr. Sotirios Petrakis, an island resident with a heart of gold. He has devoted a lot of time and effort to helping the refugees since the beginning, and he continually reminds people that it is a lesson of love for the whole world. He happily received a copy of Master’s The Key of Immediate Enlightenment Sample Booklet.
On November 30, we went to Pikpa camp to wait for the delivery of the sleeping bags we ordered. We brought some biscuits and candy, to the delight of the children. We gave a copy of Master’s The Key of Immediate Enlightenment Sample Booklet and From Crisis to Peace – The Organic Vegan Way Is the Answer to the camp’s Head coordinator. He is also directing a school called Second Chance, teaching languages to adults. We met a volunteer psychologist named Lafy from Jerusalem, who encourages refugees’ children to express their feelings, experiences and what they want to achieve in the future.
Within an hour after we received the sleeping bags, we delivered 200 to Camp Moria where they were urgently needed for the arrival of new refugees. The conditions in the camp have improved. At the new children’s art place at the camp, we became friends with Shah, an Iranian volunteer from London who enjoys working with the children, and also works as a translator in the camp. We also plan to send 3,000 sleeping bags to Idomeni, where thousands of refugees wait at the border between Greece and Macedonia, and we will join the Austria relief team to distribute them.
On December 1, back at the port of Mytilene, the weather was getting cold as night fell, and more and more refugees were gathered to wait for the ferry. We attempted to lighten the mood by sharing pieces of vegan chocolate with everyone. They were surprised and started to smile upon receiving the unexpected treat.
Providing Support for Pikpa Camp on Lesbos, Island, Greece – December 11, 2015
Returning from the relief work in Indomeni, our Greece team revisited Pikpa camp on Lesbos island on December 11. On behalf of our Association, a contribution from our Formosa Centers, we presented the Village of All Together with a van (a 2012 Volkswagen 9-seater) and EUR 12,500 to further their noble work of assisting the most vulnerable refugees. The organization is currently providing 1,500 meals a day to refugees in various camps.
After receiving the gifts from our Association, the Head coordinator of Pikpa, Mr. Michalis Aivaliotis, wrote letters of appreciation, saying that the van will enable them to “move our guests to and from the hospital and also transport them to the port or any other place necessary for the refugees,” and the fund will help them to continue to support the refugees on Lesbos island, “providing warm, decent shelter and food to the most vulnerable cases.”
Expenditures by The Supreme Master Ching Hai International Association for Ongoing Refugee Relief Work in Lesbos, Greece – November 15 to December 11
|4,000 Sleeping bags and 4,000 raincoats||82,000||A|
|Food, water, daily necessities, clothing items, cleaning supplies and car rental for the refugees; flyer printing fee||7,155.36||B|
|A 2012 Volkswagen 9-seater van contributed to the Village of All Together||15,000.00||C|
|Cash contribution to the Village of All Together||12,500.00||D|
Throughout the relief operation, our team members paid Euro 7,218 for their own transportation, food and accommodations.