I woke up one morning in April to a calling, a direct line to my heart from the universe. As a citizen of the world, I knew that I had to do something with the passion and outrage stirring within me over the global refugee crisis the world has been watching. After all, we are all connected through our humanity. It was time to go see it for myself, and to create a space of opportunity for other airline crew who want to do the same.
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I was welcomed with open arms to volunteer with Dirty Girls of Lesvos, a wonderful non profit organization that washes clothing and other items to recycle back into the hands of refugees who need these supplies. Alison, Founder, recommended a great family run hotel, and like that I booked some rooms. The itinerary was neatly woven together after discovering island charms such as the Healing Springs and historic Molyvos castle, and thanks to a lot of assistance from Aphrodite Hotel. Within a couple of weeks, more than a dozen travelers signed up for the trip, and I realized that this calling was not just my own. With big hearts and smiles, 16 of us found each other on the island of Lesvos!
The drive into Molyvos was lovely, a twisting curvy road that leads you through cities and across the island, until we came upon Molyvos, a beautiful enchanting town with a castle at the top of the mountain! Our hotel was just behind the mountain, facing a beautiful beach. Our first activity on the itinerary would be eating a dinner at the hotel taverna, meeting with Alison of Dirty Girls, and to see a photo slideshow by Aphrodite herself. We needed to know more about the refugee crisis, and how we could help.
It has been said before that if you take care of others, God will take care of you. But in the case of Lesvos, they have welcomed refugees, because as Aphrodite says, “What choice do I have?” She tells us of how she was in the middle of serving customers last summer at the very same spot that we were sitting in, when boats would arrive, and she would excuse herself and go check on the incoming refugees. It’s the right thing to do to give someone water if they are dehydrated, and to provide clean clothes if theirs are wet and dirty. The golden rule, quite literally. And yet, not many have stepped forward to back up Lesvos, in fact the media has portrayed a crazy image of the island that has scared tourists away, and now local businesses are suffering. Hotels are going out of business. The world needed to know what’s going on, only because it deserved the world’s attention and reaction. I’m so glad I put my feet on the ground as I attempted to put myself in their shoes. It’s hard to imagine that less than a year ago, up to 8 boats were arriving jam packed with people, sometimes with no gas, often taking twice as long as it should have taken, on the beautiful beaches I enjoyed during my stay. The locals helped the refugees, despite the laws against it. There are now some boats arriving, but not anything like they did last summer, receiving up to eight boats per day at Aphrodite’s beach. I’ve only seen refugees driving through Moria where the largest camp exists. I noticed the barbed wire fences, and a few people walking alongside the road.
But the help that Lesvos truly needs requires you do nothing more than go to Lesvos and enjoy yourself! As Katarina at our lovely hotel says, “You can feel free here.” I felt both guilty and lucky to be given the extra attention, and perhaps a more personal experience. Our euros spent there push the economy forward, and if more tourists returned, we could turn it all around for the locals and their land- the same land where Aristotle first studied birds, where Sappho was born, where the prices are right, where gorgeous sunsets can be seen every evening, where they’ll gladly help you if you’re lost -and in fact you will probably get a long, detailed set of directions- and where you’ll never eat a meal alone because there will always be some sweet stray cat that keeps you company. From the breathtaking views to the beautiful beaches, hot springs and castles, in your effort to create change, you may be subjected to wonderfully kind people as well!
Day One, we collected together many bags of accrued amenities, pens, ladies underwear & water shoes. Alison invited Crew Travelers to participate in a beach clean up at Light House Beach, where we hiked down to work in the hot sun to collect trash, discover clothes to be recycled, and cut up 4 plastic boats! Afterward, we jumped into the clear blue ocean to cool off! After we hiked back up to the road, we made our way to a lovely restaurant on a terrace surrounded by flowers and olive trees, with a view of the ocean, and Turkey in the distance. We shared a wonderful meal, and then a lemonade liquor shot over a big “Opa!” That evening, we enjoyed a delicious Greek BBQ by the sea. We kidnapped some of the Light House volunteers for a pool party, which followed by a night of dancing at Congas, a beautiful beach-side bar with great music!
Day Two, we made our way up the castle for some rich history, fun photos and incredible views. Then on day three, we headed over to the best natural hot springs and spa in Lesvos, where we enjoyed the beach, some of us received massages, and where we couldn’t help but feel like models in the infinity pool! We made our way back to Molyvos, where some travelers went to explore the traditional market. I picked up some hand-made olive oil soaps and locally-made olive oil, before meeting up for dinner at The Women’s Cooperative of Petra, the #1 Restaurant via TripAdvisor, and an initiative to increase and expand opportunity for local women! Costas and his staff of waiters did an amazing job of giving us a taste of Greece as we chatted and drank white wine on the balcony and looking out onto the sea every once in awhile. I felt like I was part of a beautiful painting. We said “Opa!” a lot, and after dinner we all stood around on the cobblestone streets of Petra, taking photos, looking into the shops, and slowly saying our goodbyes. This group of strangers turned family in just a few days, as we fell in love with Lesvos over and over again.
There’s no reason not to go to Lesvos, as the people are lovely and kind. Everything about the island will steal your heart. As an added bonus and way to give back, you will support a local economy that is truly appreciative of your euro money by simply doing whatever you want on the island. And there’s even more to explore, such as a boat ride to snorkel and visit Rabbit Island, perhaps a tour to the Ouzo factory, a trip to the Oxy beach-front nightclub, and more time at the hot springs spa. The day I got back to Texas, I was already thinking about returning to Greece, with 3 travelers requesting a return trip in early October. The truth is that I would return again and again. Somewhere between the sun’s kiss and the salty blue ocean in beautiful Lesvos, you will find my heart!
If you have 8 or more people in your group who would like to volunteer and explore beautiful Lesvos, I would love to coordinate your adventure! Just send an email with dates to [email protected]!