People were dying in the same waters that we swim in, so it was time to do something. We were certain the situation would only last for two months or so, then the war would be over or Europe would have taken over the situation. Here we are two and a half years later. -Echo 100 Plus Founder
It was 2015 when I first saw the videos of volunteers jumping into the choppy waters of the Mediterranean as the over-packed dingy boats filled with Syrian refugees outrunning the war crashed ashore on the Greek Islands. I instantly wanted to be a part of what was going on. I wanted to drop my life and book the first plane ticket to Greece. Granted, at the time, I didn’t have too much going on in my life. I was a few weeks removed from my year of existence in Guyana and was anxious to find meaning in life again. But that period of time didn’t end up being the right time for me. Despite scouring the internet for available organizations who would be willing to take me, I came up empty handed each time I put my search engine skills to the test in the fall of 2015. I suppose it just wasn’t the time for me to be in Greece.
This past fall, two years since I first set out to become more directly involved in what was happening, I found myself all of a sudden with the phone number of an individual who had volunteered with an organization on one of the many islands that the refugees were landing on. After a quick briefing from her, I was put in touch with the founder of the organization, Echo 100 Plus, and I soon found myself interviewing to become a team member on the ground in Greece. The next thing I knew, plans came together for me to turn Greece into my temporary home and a place of work for the better part of this winter.
It’s now the end of January. I’m nearly three weeks in to my Greek adventure, and I’m not overly hesitant to say that, at the time of this writing, I could very well have some of the best weeks of my life ahead of me. I’m elated to be where I am in the world right now. I feel like my soul is on fire all over again. This has to do with a number of different things, but for the most part, being able to experience meaningful work while simultaneously connecting with volunteers and refugees from all over the world is enough to get me out of bed in the morning. The fact that I’ve cashed in the three most wintery months in New York for a mild Greek Island winter is also not wasted on me.
As I flew from Miami to Athens, I honestly didn’t have any idea what was ahead of me. I planned out such a minute amount of this excursion that I really should have been a little uneasy. For some reason; however, I felt fine, which I think I can attribute to one of two things; I either had the overwhelming sense that this experience could only be positive, or, I’ve done this sort of thing so many times that I fully recognize that there’s no point in developing useless expectations in my head. Nevertheless, as I made the trans-Atlantic journey, I thought nothing about what it would be like to arrive at my final destination. My thoughts were merely focused on getting to Athens and checking into my Airbnb, which I had set up for myself for three days, giving me the chance to stave off jet lag and mentally prepare for a new adventure.
After three days in Athens, more than adjusted to the time change, I meandered in the late afternoon down to the marina and boarded the ferry at the port of Piraues, one of the largest ports in the world, just south of the Greek capital city. At 7:00 in the evening, the ferry left port and I found myself a spot to cozy up in for the eight and a half hour ride. Being that it was the middle of the night, and being that it was January, there wasn’t much incentive to sit on the deck, so I moreless just waited out the experience. The ship was ridiculously large and far and away the nicest piece of sailing equipment I’ve ever found myself on. After a sleepless night and three stops at other islands, we docked in Leros, an island just a few miles off of the coast of Turkey, the place I would be calling home for nearly three months.
Since arriving on Leros, my life has, as I said before, become much more exciting. I work directly with refugees six days a week. I teach English to people who are hungry for education every Monday through Thursday, and I tutor those who want to get ahead on Fridays. I also work the reception desk at our center for education and activities and drive one of our two shuttles which exist to help move people out of the camp and to our center more easily and in a more timely manner. For fun, I’m also involved in less formal classes that are offered each week, such as football and theater. We also offer less official weekly events that are meant to be more social, like “Cafe Chats”, two hours set aside each week for conversation between volunteers and residents geared specifically toward improving the English of the residents. There’s also time set aside each week to gather at a local coffee shop and play chess and backgammon, which has been a highlight over my first few weeks here. For fun, we also plan special events that help to break up the routine. Last week, for example, over forty volunteers and residents took part in a night hike, illuminated by the blue/super moon that seemed to have everyone around the world in a tizzy.
While my time here has been brief, not even totaling three weeks yet, I’m already well aware of how quickly the rest of my time will go. This is something that is not wasted on me, however. I know that special places filled with special people are not to be taken for granted. Plus, all of the best opportunities seem to fly by, don’t they?
To be honest, each day here has been both a strong standalone story and an intricate piece to the puzzle that will make up this entire whirlwind experience. I’ve been writing short blog entries in my mind from time to time, knowing that I would love to be fully capturing this whole adventure. Only time will tell how dedicated I am to sharing this time period with the world wide web, but until then, I knew I at least wanted to spew a little bit of information onto this page as I’ve just done.