People helping people
MILFORD – For some of us, the lucky ones, home is a sweet word, and our homes are as necessary to our psychic health as air and water to our bodies.
For thousands of people from places like Syria and Afghanistan caught up in the ongoing refugee crisis and living in tents or grim metal containers set up in fields, factories and military bases, home has become an elusive dream.
In America, we are far removed from all this, but Becky Sakellariou tried to bring it closer during her slideshow at the Wadleigh Memorial Library recently.
“A refugee is someone who once belonged somewhere – had a house, had neighbors, who worked, had daily routines, who knew where they were,” she said.
The New Hampshire native is a poet and a teacher, who has lived all her adult life in Greece and now goes back and forth. As the crisis began to unfold 21/2 years ago, there was no question that she had to help.
She has visited camps with a team of midwives and taught and worked in a couple of the more than 40 Greek mainland camps that are home to about 65,000 refugees.
Last year, she raised $1,200 by sending out letters to her friends, money that bought mattresses for pregnant women and gravel to be spread around a women’s compound where dust and mud made cleanliness a constant struggle.
This year, she raised about $1,600, which bought underwear for women, razors for men and 500 sponges for washing dishes.
She spoke highly of efforts to get fresh food to the refugees so they could cook for themselves, and of local residents who helped out. One farmer brought 25 chickens to a camp, followed by another farmer, who brought 25 more. Eventually, there was a large flock of egg-laying chickens that gave farmers meaningful work.
And on the Greek island of Lesbos, women who dubbed themselves the “Dirty Girls” washed, dried and folded clothes for the refugees, a huge operation that involved an entire town.
“This kind of civilian contribution is heart-warming,” she said.
Sakellariou also taught English to Afghani women through an NGO called Armando Aid. Through the class and her other contacts, she found four women to interview.
One was a Syrian girl who left home when she was 20 and found her way to Athens and a job as a translator.
Another was an Afghani woman with six children, who came to Greece through a network of smugglers and then walked with her family to Serbia from Greece, through snow. When they arrived in Serbia, the camps were overflowing, so they walked back to Greece.
“I realized these women had never told their stories before, so it was a huge gift for them,” Sakellariou said. “In America, we are so removed … most of us, we take for granted the idea and the reality of home.”
To help with Sakellariou’s efforts, readers can use PayPal and put in her email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or use her gofundme page: gofundme.com/sakellariourefugees to raise money for on-the-ground needs for the small non-government organizations that are aiding the camps. This method, however, takes 8 percent of the donations.