5 Things I Learned From Volunteering in the Refugee Crisis in Greece

For 12 days, I have been volunteering with incredible humanitarian groups to help the refugees here in Lesvos, Greece. The more I learn and become involved, the more I fight this feeling of futility. People have worked so hard and given so much. Yet, the problem is much more complex and so vast that it seems we may never fix it.

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In the following days, I witnessed firsthand how the Moria Refugee Camp really works and the impact that we, individually and collectively, really make.


1. Every miracle counts.

When supplies run out and there is a shortage of volunteers, something or someone always pulls through at the last minute. For example, I spent a day packing men's socks with aluminum thermal foils to keep feet dry and warm. It was a rainy, cold day and eventually the clothing distribution tent ran out of men's socks. We checked storage and there was nothing. The volunteer coordinators made a few frantic phone calls and within one hour, we had a new supply of men's socks.

Whenever something was depleted, somehow, a new shipment arrived from a warehouse, or a volunteer who had raised funds would spend their funds to purchase new supplies. I witnessed this countless times.

Entire organizations were built over the last few months from initiatives that grew like this - one donation at a time.

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2. See the humanity in everyone.

With volunteers from dozens of cultures all here to contribute, and each possessing their own way of doing things, frustration sometimes comes easily. NGOs each have their own rules and politics. Then you have refugees who are selective about what clothing they want. We try to give them a sturdy pair of walking shoes for the long journey ahead and instead they want the flashy, but flimsy, sneakers. Sometimes, you want to tell them the truth of it - you need the boots.

Then, I remember that they are just like you and me. Refugees are humans who have preferences like the rest of us. They want to look good. They want to feel human and receive humane treatment.

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3. Stop Labelling.

There are no "bad guys" in these situations. Choosing to label the police and the government as the perpetrators or non-Syrian refugees as criminals does nothing to heal the situation. Instead, it creates more labels and more separation. What we really need is for people to start treating each other with kindness and empathy.

Volunteers are literally the buffer between police and refugees. Treating all parties involved as human beings does more than some realize. Exercising humanity and compassion means refugees and police will not fight and that volunteers can serve, safely. These interactions have the potential to create the capacity for global peace.

4. Find where your gifts fit and use them fearlessly.

I was fortunate to connect with Shah, a long-time, highly committed volunteer at Better Days for Moria. I told her I felt useless only doing grunt work when I had this massive platform on Periscope where I share enlightening stories. She told me, "You say, 'please, thank you.' You treat people with dignity. You have a big smile and you have your online platform, so use it. Understand the situation, find where you fit in and then give it your all."

Instead of forcing myself to show up to back-to-back volunteer shifts, I realized that I could make a big difference by helping to share the stories of what is really happening on the group. Now, that is a big part of how I help.

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My interview with the founders of The WorldWide Tribe. Photo by Edward Jonkler"

Volunteering with the refugees is not about finding a glamorous photo op to share on FB. It is about serving in whatever way you feel called. Every little bit counts. It is up to us as individuals to find something that ignites our souls to contribute and not wait for someone else to tell you what to do.

There is incredible work being done by independent volunteers and grassroots initiatives. At the same time, there are larger powers that are at play that can dismantle all of their efforts within days. Still, every effort counts. I am humbled to be in the midst of such brave, incredible souls - both volunteers and refugees, alike.

5. Do everything with love.

In my short time here, I have served in various ways. Whether it was offering refugees tea, sorting through clothing donations, washing dirty laundry, setting up campsites, serving hot meals, or scoping daily to raise continued awareness, I served. Admittedly, I walked into this not knowing what to expect. Therefore, I surrendered to the universe my one purpose - to serve.

Now, I realize serving is not limited to me spreading my message via Periscope and other social media platforms. Serving is a warm cup of tea given to the chilled hands of someone who has travelled for weeks by boat. It is offering a place to sit and rest after endless sleepless nights. Serving is a reassuring smile in uncertain times - expressing my deep love and compassion for the refugees' struggle while acknowledging their courage and tenacity. It is my soul bowing to and honoring the divine light within each of us.

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Photo by Edward Jonkler

It does not matter whether we donate $1 to a humanitarian effort, volunteer on the front lines, or spread the message on social media. Every action and intention counts. It is one of many threads woven together in a beautifully complex tapestry and held together by the human spirit.

To follow more of my journey helping refugees in Greece, follow me on Periscope @anitawinglee: periscope.tv/anitawinglee. Also, visit soulfamfund.com to find out how you can help make a difference.

Anita Wing Lee is an international broadcaster, meditation guide, award-winning speaker, humanitarian and artist. She is the Founder of Global Meditation Scope, Periscope's first and largest creative meditation movement. Learn more about her at anitawinglee.com.