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Thursday, August 13, 2020

WWBT is trying to positively impact the lives of refugees on Lesvos

Hellenic News
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When We Band Together’ (WWBT), is a non-profit organization providing positive and safe places for displaced people stuck at the Moria refugee camp in Lesvos, Greece.  WWBT was founded in November of 2015 by Zoe Pappas and her husband Alexander Schultz.  It all started when they spent a summer volunteering in Lesvos at the height of the refugee crisis as thousands of refugees were fleeing Turkey and crossing into the Aegean.

“Presently, we are focused on serving the people at the Moria refugee camp in Lesvos, Greece, a camp the BBC has called “the worst refugee camp on earth.” It’s where we started our mission and where some of the greatest needs in the world are,” shared Zoe with the Hellenic News of America.

WWBT x MSF COVID-19 treatment and isolation clinic in Lesvos, Greece.

Life vests were littering the beautiful beaches of Lesvos and with this came about the Zoe band. WWBT utilizes these life vests that were littering the beaches of Lesvos and converted them into bracelets that they could then sell to help raise awareness and funds to support their mission.  Through the funds generated from upcycling the life vests into bracelets, WWBT has been able to employ many locals to help in their mission.  This then in turn helped many businesses that were impacted badly by the influx of refugees. They even employed a local seamstress to craft the bracelets out of the discarded life vests.  Eventually, the municipality of Lesvos moved all life vests to a dump where they are kept.

Alexander stands in front of the hundreds of thousands of life vests piled high at the ‘Life vest Graveyard’.

“Over the years, we have continued to grow in many ways, we have deepened our impact while continuing to keep the land, the refugees, and the locals in mind in all of our work,” said Zoe.
At the moment, there are over 20,000 people at the camp.  The camp is actually meant to hold only 2,500 people.  As you can imagine, it is severely overcrowded, incredibly unsanitary, with very long food lines.

A refugee woman holds a sign while protesting with other women in Mytilini center, asking for better conditions in Moria and the right to move on from the island.

“There are 2 main camps on Lesvos island, Moria and Kara Tepe. As I shared, The BCC has reported that Moria is one of the worst refugee camps in the world, so the conditions these people are facing are incredibly rough. Today, Moria is filled with nearly 20,000 from over 60 different countries. We have met mothers with newborns, single adolescents traveling alone, multi-generation families traveling together, and everyone in between. The main commonality among everyone in the camp is the fact they are wanting to pass through the island, seeking refuge and asylum somewhere safe for them and their loved ones,” shared Zoe.

Life for refugees stuck in the camps is incredibly rough.  The shelter available to them is minimal and many turn to making their homes out of crates from the shipping yard. Sanitation is so bad that there is almost always a stream of human waste in front of the camp. There are also hundreds and sometimes thousands of unaccompanied minors which can be tough.  Unfortunately, sexual and physical violence occurs and sometimes even murder.  Many folks in the population are dealing with extreme post-traumatic stress issues.  Even access to soap and water is extremely limited in the camps.

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WWBT team, Alexander Schultz, Zoë Pappis Schultz and Stavros Mirogiannis together at Kara Tepe Refugee camp.

“It’s important to know refugees are defined by being forcibly displaced from their country. There is a difference between a refugee and an economic migrant, which is why there are international laws that demand countries to take in refugees. Most people we serve never intended to leave their home country and lived normal lives before coming to Greece. Most endured incredible hardship and tragedy before making the difficult decision to flee,” said Zoe.

Zoe shared that today, refugees face a tough reality as they are stuck in camps throughout Greece for many months, even years with no clear path to asylum.  Nearly one million refugees have tried to pass through the island of Lesvos since 2015.  In the beginning, refugees passed through the island within a few days and continue on to the rest of Europe, that is no longer the case.

MSF doctors dressed in full PPE prepare for the day ahead at the WWBT x MSF health clinic in Lesvos.

Due to the outbreak of COVID-19, they had to move fast and implement a treatment and isolation health clinic in partnership with MSF (Doctors Without Borders).  Doctors Without Borders is providing the staff and handling operation.  Zoe’s team is covering property expenses and brokering local and NGO partnerships.  Zoe shared that WWBT was able to partner with world-class organizations like MSF and able to secure additional support from local organizations like Kitrinos Health Care; however, they are always looking for supporters to help with rent and utilities for the building.  Initially, the community space was intended to be a community center but this space was quickly converted into a COVID-19 clinic.
“These are the perfect conditions for the COVID-19 virus, so we’d like to believe we are serving all 20,000 people (as well as the local community) by creating a clinic that can isolate and treat suspected cases while keeping every safe,” said Zoe.
The WWBT team has also been planning and mapping out partnerships with locals and other NGO’s to open a school as well as a sports and recreation center in the near future.

Zoe and Xander sit with Lesvos locals to discuss the construction and design of the bracelets.

Recently, WWBT hired a trusted local leader, Stavros Mirogiannis to serve as their boots on the ground in Lesvos.  Stavros was part of Kara Tepe refugee camp also on Lesvos for many years and so has several great relationships with locals, authorities, the refugee community, and NGOs.  Zoe stressed that it has always been important to them to involved the local community in their work. With this in mind, there were able to cultivate many great friends on the island over the years.

WWBT focuses on projects that help support and normalize the refugee’s time spent in the camps.  WWBT aims to maintain safe and healthy environments for the refugees stuck on the island.  They hope to one day build a community center where people can learn English, trade skills, share talents, and gain resources for their journey ahead.

Zoe (meaning ‘Life’ in Greek) Bands were created as a way to raise awareness, support locals, clean beaches, and provide aid for refugees in need.

Every spring and late summer, WWBT leads small group trips to Lesvos.  This trip enables participants to see and experience first-hand the amazing work that WWBT is doing as well as experience the beautiful island of Lesvos. The trip is coordinated with local friends in an effort to share their favorite shops, restaurants, and love for the island and Greek culture.
WWBT is always looking for allies and supporters. If anyone would like to find out more, please visit us at www.wwbt.org.

The copyrights for these articles are owned by the Hellenic News of America. They may not be redistributed without the permission of the owner. The opinions expressed by our authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Hellenic News of America and its representatives.