On a recent trip to Greece with a group of European Burners, I witnessed the Syrian refugee crisis first hand. The stories about desperate families washing ashore had been splashing across the front pages for weeks before my visit and what I saw confirmed the utter enormity of the situation. Our group saw over 1,000 campers in settlements around Kos, a small beach town on the Greece shore, close to Turkey. As I walked near the camps, I never once felt threatened, only heartbroken, as the refugees waited for their relatives to come ashore and give them the assurance that they still had a family. In the midst of the chaos, I was particularly inspired by the actions of two friends and community members who showed me solid examples of love and generosity.
At the end of our Burner gathering, before we departed Kos, Nati, our Swiss Burning Man Regional Contact, offered to take up a collection of any leftover food, toiletries, medicine, and any other useful supplies from our group to give to the relief organization in Kos. Nati had done the research before our time in Greece and knew the appropriate local organizations to engage. We managed to pull together a lot of useful items, and Nati ensured that our supplies were delivered to good hands.
Nati put together a description of the experience in her own words for us to share:
“When we all got back to Kos at the end of our trip if was time to deliver all the donations. It was great to see that there were many different organizations present at the police station where many refugees were camped. There were some makeshift showers and some porta potties, but the situation was not great. It was scary to see some abandoned rubber dingies with tire inner tubing probably used as life vests, some with toys and baby blankets still in them. What I saw was like the pictures in the news. But that wasn’t where most refugees were staying.
We gave our donations to some volunteers that would take the things away to a big storage unit where everything gets sorted for redistribution. A volunteer told us that the situation was already a lot better than a few weeks ago where people had to wait up to two weeks to be processed before leaving on the ferry to Athens. They have a daily ferry now. But, they face some organizational problems like multiple relief programs distributing the same things very shorty apart and then nothing for a long time. We talked for a while and I could help out with some translations into Farsi.
It was nice to be able to help, but if felt like a drop on the hot stone. I guess every little bit helps though and there are many other sources of help.
I take away from this trip an even larger gratefulness for my place in the world and a greater motivation to ask the question: “Who needs help where we are right now and how can we more actively have a positive impact?”
Like Nati, I left with a lingering sense that we, the Burner community, have so many resources, talents, skills, and love to offer the world and especially those in serious need. Turns out a dear friend of mine also had similar ideas.
After my time in Greece, I traveled to Spain and to my friend Sairica’s apartment in Barcelona. Sairica has hosted Burners and friends for many years in her Gracia apartment. I spoke with her briefly on the phone before I landed and she mentioned clearing out stacks of boxes from the guest room before I arrived but I didn’t know what she meant and nothing could have prepared me for the goodness I encountered upon my arrival.
When Sairica saw what was happening in Greece and Hungary and other parts of Europe with the refugees, she didn’t just contemplate helping, she actually started helping. Immediately. Her apartment became one of the first drop-off points for supplies to aid the refugees and she, along with other local residents, created an organization now called Refugees Aid Barcelona. Having collected over 20,000 boxes of warms clothes and other supplies for the Syrian men, women, and children, Sairica and her Barcelona team are raising funds via IndieGoGo to get trucks to Greece where supplies can be distributed. After the initial supplies are distributed, Sairica and the team will organize further shipments to refugee camps worldwide. I find their efforts truly inspiring.
I welcome other Burners reading this blog to list any similar efforts. If you’re so inclined, Refugees Aid Barcelona would welcome anything you can contribute to the cause. If you have a desire to start up a similar initiative, I invite you to get in contact with Burners Without Borders to start a conversation.
While the refugee situation is grave (it’s said to be the biggest refugee crisis since World War II), I found some solace in seeing humanity in its purest form during my time in Greece. I saw mothers gathered in groups nursing their babies, teenage boys chasing teenage girls, and men playing chess in the middle of their camp. Somehow life goes on. Even in the worst times, we, as humans, inherently seek love, companionship, and even play.
My time in Greece will be etched into my mind forever and has significantly altered my perspective. The Syrian refugees and refugees worldwide need a tremendous amount of support. We as a community have a great deal to give. Let’s give.