Boat Refugee Foundation ends its medical mission on Lesvos

On January 1st, 2018 Boat Refugee Foundation (BRF) has completed the medical mission on Lesvos. Changed policies in the camp make it more difficult for us to fulfill our mission in a responsible and safe way. Through overpopulation in the camp we can no longer guarantee the safety and security of our team and our patients. This mission is an expensive one and we want to spend the donated money as efficient as possible. The current circumstances make it impossible for us to continue the medical mission as it is supposed to continue.

We do realize that in camp Moria the need for adequate medical care is as urgent as before. Our medical coordinator therefore will stay on location to find out if and how BRF will be able to provide medical help in another responsible way in 2018, in cooperation with the Greek organizations Keelpno and ERCI. We gratefully look back on two-and-a-half-year medical mission Lesbos in which we could make a difference in the lives of so many people in need.

In the next months we will expand our psychosocial activities in camp Moria. Last December we opened our new community centre with a school and library. On a daily base there are lessons for adults and children. We also want to expand our training sessions regarding mental health, with exercises and tips for better coping with stress and suicidal thoughts.


More information is available from Evita Bloemheuvel, Press Officer BRF

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.’


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