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Wheelchairs for Refugees

Organized by: Emily Chipman

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Instead of Facebook Birthday wishes, this year I'd like to ask that people donate a dollar to help a refugee. (Feel free to donate more if you'd like.) I've picked a nonprofit - Lifting Hands International - that works directly with NGO's in the camps to identify where there is desperate need. This means that we can really hit the mark with our donations. My initial goal is to raise enough for LHI to puchase a wheelchair, like the one listed on their Amazon Wishlist: (That said, I suppose they may use the money to fill more immediate needs. Which I'm cool with. Giving money to the charity directly instead of the goods allows them to purchase the items for less in Europe and get highest priority needs to the refugees faster. And I'll probably just buy a wheelchair off the wishlist anyway.) Here's a brief clip from the blog of founder and director Hayley Smith. It's a great insight into why I'd like to do something for the elderly and babies. 12/2015 Today we had our first shift in Moria camp. The situation there is absolutely desperate. Conditions are deplorable. There is no way I can ever return to normal life after today. I've seen poverty and social injustice in my travels, but I've never seen anything like Moria... and it used to be much, much worse. That is the scary thing. ​ I will go about explaining about the camp how I learned about it -- by being immediately thrown right into translating the minute we registered to volunteer. We arrived and registered as volunteers around noon. When the leader found out I speak Arabic, he threw a neon yellow vest at me to put on and directly walked me through the camp down to the Arabic registration area. The camp is huge and sprawling and is separated into two registration areas. First we passed through the first: Afghani, Iranian, Pakistani, Egyptian, Libyan, Moroccan. The second is the "Arabic speaking registration," which serves the Syrian, Iraqi, and Palestinian refugees. Hundreds of people were waiting in the Arabic line, which moves an average of 50 people every two hours. Once people realized I speak Arabic, people surrounded me, begging for information that I just didn't have and had to learn on my feet -- all while translating. Luckily the volunteer leader hung around for bit to help me get my feet on the ground. The first thing I learned is that the only thing refugees are given as they walk into the gates is a stamped tickets with their arrival date on it. Beyond that, they are given no information or explanation, and there aren't enough volunteers to provide that in an orderly fashion. Every 5 seconds, someone would tap on my shoulder to ask me a question, and I've have to turn around hand give them the "hold on" Arabic hand gesture until I could help the first person. I quickly learned that registration is days behind. For example, today is the 27th of December. Only those with arrival tickets with the dates 22 and 23 were allowed to line up today. People in line today were the ones who arrived three or four days ago and have had to sleep in the freezing cold. It was freezing by the time we left around 6:30 pm, and UNHCR doesn't even start handing blankets out until 8 pm. There are no places for them to sleep other than the ground or a few tents that don't keep out the cold. And you guys, people aren't even wearing clothes that belong to them. They are only given a dry outfit after arriving on the boat, and that's what people have. That and maybe a blanket. Most the people asking me questions had just arrived to Moria in the afternoon. This means that they arrived by boat yesterday or this morning and had no idea what was going on. These are actual questions people threw at me in the first few minutes: "My father is paralyzed from the waist down (points to man sitting in wheelchair). He fought da3sh (ISIS) for two years. Why can't you help him go to the front?" "My baby has been throwing up. The doctor can't do anything. Please help us get through the line faster." Crying woman grasping my hand, "I am too tired to stay in line. My little girls are falling over. My husband was killed and I can't do this alone." I had to quickly learn to say, "You have to wait in line. There are no special exceptions." There were often a lot of tears. It broke my heart every time. Other issues I had to help people with mostly had to do with missing identification documents. One family told me that their boat driver made them throw literally everything they had into the sea, including their passports, to keep the boat from capsizing. Another family lost theirs when their boat did capsize and they spent THIRTY MINUTES in the Aegean this morning before any help came. The grandfather asked me, "Why doesn't America want to help us? 5 years of war and no help. Is it because of oil? I was keeping my little granddaughter from drowning for half an hour. Do Americans think she's a terrorist? Why won't anyone help us? My wife and two daughters died in a bomb. Look at my scar from the bomb (opens his shirt to show a huge scar down his chest." I met a woman with the cutest baby ever, so I asked to hold her. She was really hot and feverish and lethargic. I commanded the mom to immediately take her to the camp doctor. She said that she already had and that he only have her milk and that she threw it up later. She continued to tell me that her husband and two baby daughters were killed a year ago in a bomb attack. Tears were rolling down my cheeks at this point and I had to give the baby back to collect myself. I saw her later that day, and I joked with her that I wanted to take her baby back in my suitcase. She said she would except that it is her "last baby" since her husband was killed when she was 6 months pregnant. I asked her, "how are you? How do you continue every day?" Her answer was, "Ma sha allah (whatever God wills)" and "It's very hard." The volunteer leader suggested that during the day we take a few minutes to just sit down away from duty and talk to refugees. So, I took him up on that and sat next to a few teenage girls. They were super intelligent, bright girls, and were eating it up that I could speak Arabic. The conversation turned serious quickly, though, when they mentioned that they would hopefully end up in Germany even though they'd rather be in Syria. One of the girls answered, "Syria is destroyed. So are my dreams. I wanted to be a doctor. And now I don't even think about the future. I don't have a future. My future was staying alive for the next hour for 5 years." Another woman (25) and her little sister (13) are traveling alone. They arrived by boat this morning and said crossing was one of the most frightening experiences of their lives. The water was up to the brim of their boat. There are ten kids in their family, but the parents decided to send of the oldest and youngest to safety. I saw them several times today, and I never saw them without their arms linked together or their arms around each other. ​ CREATION OF LIFTING HANDS INTERNATIONAL The world hasn't seen a refugee exodus like today's crisis since World War II. We cannot afford to stand by and watch. One day in early January while volunteering independently at Moria Camp in Lesvos, Greece, a huge bus load of freezing wet refugees unexpectedly arrived at the dry clothing distribution tent. They had capsized in the Aegean Sea just an hour before and landed on a beach nearby. To keep the people from freezing, we had to get them dry clothing, and fast. ​We moved the women and men go into the segregated "changing tents", had them strip their freezing wet clothes off while they waited for us to run back-and-forth between the clothing distribution and changing tents. We were able to clothe the children pretty quickly since people generously donate tons of children's clothing and supplies; however, we quickly ran out of clothing and shoes for adults, especially for the dads, leaving many half-dressed people huddling together for hours to stay warm while we wildly tried to locate dry clothing elsewhere on the island. This experience was one of the hardest I had in the two weeks there. Now that the influx of refugees is increasing by the day, it is critical to provide items that camps need on an individual basis, and we know this by traveling there to find out.


Organized by

Emily Chipman

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