Trudi (58): ‘I recognized people that I met in January and who are still in Moria’

We are grateful for every volunteer that wants to work for and with the refugees in the camp. It is extra special when we see volunteers coming back to Lesvos who have been volunteering here before. Social worker Trudi (58) took two weeks of from work last January to come and help and she is back!

While Greece is plagued by extreme cold, Trudie arrives for the first time on the island in January. ‘The weather conditions were terrible. On the first morning I opened the curtains and the whole island was covered in snow! It made a deep impression on me to see how the people in the camp were trying to survive in the cold while living in a tent. At the same time I was deeply moved by the way they were handling the situation. They still tried to have a chat with us or even offered us to drink tea with them. While, in my opinion, they should have been angry with us. How is it possible that this can exist in Europe?’

Thinking of Moria

Back in The Netherlands it becomes clear to Trudi that she wants to go back to Lesvos. ‘Together with all the volunteers you are a team. You feel that there are people for you when you need them. We take care of each other and we have fun together. But above all being in contact with the refugees gives me a lot of energy. The interest in each other creates equivalence. Drinking tea with them in their tent, being in contact like that. Hopefully that gives them a sense of dignity, because dignity has been taken from the so often already.’

No change

Ten months after her first visit to the camp the situation still looks the same. ‘I was shocked to see that it has not been getting better, but actually worse. And I even recognized people that I met in January and who are still in Moria. In the meantime I’ve been on a holiday, visited musea and have done so many nice things and they are still stuck here. It is so important that they feel that they are seen and heard. In that way we can make a difference and that is what the Boat Refugee Foundations tries. That approach appeals to me.’

‘I was shocked to see that it has not been getting better, but actually worse.’
As a volunteer in the PSS-team Trudi helps with different activities in and outside the camp. Last weekend she took three families outside the camp for a family getaway and Trudi helps a lot with our building project. With a group of people from the camp they are busy to finish the furniture for the new library.

Make a difference at micro level

I’m staring. Searching for words to describe how the past month has been. While I am enjoying my breakfast af the Ikea in Athens I try to catch my experiences from Lesvos in a few sentences. Impossible!

I’ve been working with the Boat Refugee Foundation in Moria, a camp with more than 6000 men, women and children. The old prison, surrounded by high fences with barbed wire, has only room for 2200 people. Walking through the camp you stumble over festival tents in which whole families live. Newborn babies, children and highly pregnant women are sleeping under a few blankets on the cold hard ground. Vulnerable people, seeking safety, have to survive in a camp with tension and riots as daily reality. The fate of their own future is no longer in their hands. In uncertainty, the days go by very slowly. They are stuck in a natural prison called Lesvos island. A hopeless situation, that for many lasts for more than a year already.

Despite all the misery, I leave Lesvos with a positive feeling. We cannot change the whole situation, but on microlevel we can make a difference! We can make sure that a ‘refugee’ feels ‘human’ again. Simply by greeting someone or by making a chat. The smile after these small gestures is heart warming. The difference can be made by empowering the people by giving them the opportunity to use their talents. Instead of being a refugee, someone is a teacher, carpenter or painter again! That’s the strength of the Boat Refugee Foundation! With all the activities the people from Moria have te lead, we only facilitate. Within one month the strength of these people have led to ”Moria School of HOPE’, where children and adults can be educated by people from the camp. School furniture, benches and cabinets have been made by professionals that live in the camp. I am very grateful that I have been able to contribute to this work!

Text: Teuntje Dijcks

The new school in Moria gets a name

‘Today was the first day since I’ve arrived at the camp that I felt really happy’, says the Afghan refugee teaching the children of camp Moria. We look at each other and quickly blink away our tears of emotion. Months of hard work in setting up the school in Moria comes together at this very moment. Today we are having a teambuilding session with ten school teachers in the beautiful nature of Lesbos.

The camp Moria school has been in existence for a few weeks now. When I say ‘school’ you should think of one cabin with two rooms. Each room contains about ten tables and chairs, made by refugees. These past weeks we have scoured the camp for teachers. Currently, we have a team of teachers and still new teachers are applying.

Me, I have only arrived two days ago and count myself lucky for having the immediate chance to participate in this teambuilding session and get to know all the teachers. This way, I can continue building and streamlining the school and transfer it to the new volunteers.

Above all, it’s a fun day. We have prepared several workshops on things like administration and teaching skills. We start the day by introducing ourselves using cards with images on them. Everyone picks a card and then explain why this card is so typical for them. The stories are heartening because everyone tells about their situation filled with positivity and hope. When a teacher tells that today is his 24th birthday we break out into a spontaneous ‘Happy birthday’ for him. Tears come to his eyes. It’s incredible how such a small gesture can generate such emotion.

The workshops progress well. We are impressed with the teaching skills the teachers have. Just about every teacher was a teacher in his or her homeland. I can learn a lot from them. During lunch, we have conversations about all kinds of subjects. At such a moment you really forget being at a table with multiple nationalities, and that these people are refugees who have come from horrible circumstances. It’s my wish that the entire world could see through my eyes what kind of unity we have here today and that we are all people with hopes and dreams.

Together with the teachers we brainstorm and vote on a name for the school. ‘Moria School of Hope’. There are some doubts whether we should put ‘Moria’ in the name, as many refugees have a less pleasant association with the name of this camp. But, as one of the teachers says: ‘Let’s put hope back in Moria.’


How Game of Thrones helps Khorsheed to survive

PRESS RELEASE | Boat Refugee Foundation concludes mission on Samos

After a year and half the Boat Refugee Foundation concludes on October 1st, 2017 a successful medical and psychosocial mission on the Greek island of Samos. Just like the other missions we conducted, we want to help where help is most needed. As soon as the situation improves or when the Greek government is able to take on the responsibility, we are happy to take a step back and to transfer the care to the authorities. This is also the case on Samos.

As of January 1st, 2018 the Greek ministry of Health will fully take over the medical care in the hotspot on Samos. The medical and psychosocial care in the camp will be expanded and improved significantly. For this reason we have good hope for the medical and psychosocial care to continue in the future and we decided to conclude our mission on Samos and transfer it to the Greek government.

The psychosocial activities are being spread over several organizations. Samos Volunteers is working on an extensive program to improve these activities and to play a bigger part in it as well. All our psychosocial activities will be transferred over carefully and in good conduct.

We are looking back at our time on Samos with a very good feeling. Together with hundreds of volunteers we were able to help many refugees through medical and psychosocial aid. Our focus will now be on the mission in camp Moria on Lesbos, where the need is high and our aid indispensable.


Note for editors, not for publication: For more information about this press release, please contact Evita Bloemheuvel, press officer with Boat Refugee Foundation: or +31648038570.

Doctor Anik

Read what Doctor Anik has to tell you about what working with refugees does to you. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? So my name is Anik I was born and grew up in Missouri, a state in the Midwest part of the United States. I trained as a general pediatrician in […]

Is my mom dead yet?

Before I left to work with the Boat Refugee Foundation, I had many ideas about what I would see and experience while working on Lesvos. I expected to meet people who had suffered horrendous ordeals; to see through dreadful living conditions. What I never expected, and what took me by surprise was the warmth exhibited by the people I met, the friendship they offered to each other, and to me, and the resilience that they demonstrated on a daily basis.  These people had left behind everything and everyone they knew. They fled for their lives, made treacherous journeys and experienced highly traumatic situations. Now some people have spent over a year waiting to be processed. Their lives have been put on hold. Yet they still have the innate ability to be kind to each other, and to help whoever and whenever they can. There are hundreds of examples I could use to illustrate my point, but there is one that has stuck with me.

It was during a medical shift in Moria. It was about 11:30 PM, when all of a sudden a crowd of people carried a Syrian woman to the medical cabin who had collapsed and was unconscious. They had with them a small child, a girl of about 3 years old, who was the woman’s daughter. They had arrived to Moria 4 days ago by boat, and were sharing a tent with 10 other people; 10 strangers.  These strangers carried the woman and child up the steep hill to the medical cabin and then stayed en masse to monitor the woman’s condition for hours. While she was being treated by the medical team, her little girl was sitting on the ground. She asked me if her mother was dead. The way how she asked the question, as if it was something she just expected, broke my heart.

After I reassured her that her mother was just sleeping, a young Afghani man sat next to her – a child whom he had never met, and kept her company for hours. He played with her, helped her draw pictures and comforted her. They were strangers; different countries, different languages, but it didn’t matter. She was a child that needed help, and he stepped up.

The mother recovered, and when she was able to, her and her daughter were escorted back to her tent by the same people who had carried her up. 4 days ago they were strangers, now they have become much more.

This act of kindness, and many others I witnessed during my time in the camps, are what I will take home with me. That even though people can be subject to horrendous and inhumane experiences and conditions, their humanity still shines through.

Text: Helen O’Dowd
Photo: Henk van Lambalgen

Rick from Utrecht worked as a doctor in a refugee camp

The traces which two weeks of volunteer work in refugee camps on Lesbos have left in me, run deep. The feeling of injustice with regard to the treatment of my fellow human beings. The shame for Europe. The incredulity that we try to sell this inhumane form of ‘shelter’. My view on the world and on humanity have been permanently scarred on Lesbos; my heart gained a flicker of hope.
Moria, the camp in which I have worked on Lesbos, evokes the images of concentration camps. This camp was set up as a ‘transit camp’ for no more than 2.250 refugees for no longer than 48 hours. Currently, Moria houses 3.300 people permanently and this number is growing. There is barely enough food, the water supply runs dry on a regular basis and people sleep in a provisional container, if they even have that ‘luxury’. Many have been waiting here for the asylum procedure for over a year. The Greek civil service is straining to keep up and Europe cheerfully reassures “the EU – Turkey deal is a success”. Right. Have they ever been here to see what it’s like? In a way, it’s a miracle that refugees are able to live here together so peacefully.
The work I am doing here is nothing but a tiny drop in a huge ocean. Our sympathetic ear is the only meagre positive thing that Europe gives them. Their deeply rooted fear and panic cause them terror and anxiety over every ‘minor’ physical complaint they may have. In my consultation room I see a veritable parade of diversity and emotion. Behind almost every head ache or belly ache lies a complex story. The people before you have often been devastated physically and mentally and the despondency is clearly visible. The effects of horrific forms of (sexual) abuse in Congo, tribal prosecution in Nigeria, the horrible violence of war in the middle East and the horrors they have gone through on the way to this place. It places a clamp around my heart and sickens me.
It is with pain in my heart that I leave these people behind, knowing that I can escape this feeling, but they might never feel safe and at home somewhere. Hopefully, a long line of people will succeed me, people who do care about them, hearten them, help them. It’s no lack of effort by my fellow volunteers at Boat Refugee Foundation, they are wonderful people with a heart of gold! We were able to rely on each other and have worked together to create a better world. It was great to catch our breaths at the beach, to enjoy the impressive volcanic nature and of course the excellent Greek ice cream.
Would you like to support people that have had to leave their home and need help, and do you have some time to spare (two weeks is enough)? Boat Refugee Foundation is in desperate need of volunteers. Apart from medical care in the camps Moria and Kara Tepe, the foundation also organizes activities for refugees, like swimming, English classes, children’s activities and ‘social shifts’. There are many options and you will always work with wonderful people.

What if I were there?

Try to imagine. You fled your own country because of war, prosecution, abuse, threats because of your religious or political choices. After a long and dangerous journey you finally arrive with your family or friends in Turkey. A dangerous trip in a wreck across the sea awaits. Smugglers force you to throw your possessions overboard, so more people can fit in the boat. You lose everything: your papers, photo’s, important medication. If you are lucky, the boat reaches the other side. Sometimes it takes hours of floating on the open sea, in which fear, panic and despair slowly rise. You are terrified. When you finally reach the Greece coast, you are ecstatic: You are safe in Europe!! Now your life will be different. Now you can start building a new and safe life. But soon you realize this bubble is bursting.

You are transferred to a refugee camp, which is overflowing. Even the first impression scares you: barbed wires, police and many, many people. With no less then 3000 other men, women and children you need to stay in the camp. Not for a few days, but for a long period of time. You may be waiting for more than 18 months, without knowing what will happen. Will you be sent back to Turkey? Will you be allowed to stay in Europe? You are just not getting any information. Despair is growing each day. You feel unsafe, you can’t sleep anymore, your thoughts never turn off. You are suffering from reliving memories and nightmares. It even goes as far as you saying out loud you rather wish you had died in your own country than making this journey with this camp as your destination.

This is not the story of one refugee from the camp. No, this is the story of all those 3000 people in the camp on Lesbos. The despair is taking its toll. This is reflected in different forms of (severe) self-mutilation, extreme panic attacks and endless sleeping disorders each day at the medical cabin. Despite being able to – with a great team – be a drop in the ocean for eleven days (by providing English lessons, medical care and organizing children’s activities, among other things), it is not nearly enough.

Europe, wake up! This is inhumane! Nobody will ‘just’ leave everything behind. Nobody will ‘just’ get on a rickety boat at sea with a chance of drowning. Nobody wants to stay in a camp like that.

What if you were there? What if I was there? It is unimaginable. You can try, but it won’t even come close to reality.

We are now on our way back home. We are free to go anywhere we want in the world. Nobody will refuse us or place us in a camp. Why the difference? Purely and simply because we were born in the Netherlands, and not in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan or Congo. It feels unfair and it is unfair!

Text: Reina Timmer