Human hearts around the globe are hurting for the plight of the Middle Eastern refugees who have arrived in Europe, regardless of our political affiliations or country of origin. The most common question I get after making any trip for disaster relief or other assistance: What can I do to help?
While most individuals do not have a schedule or other circumstances that would allow them to head to another country to provide hands-on relief, there are simple things that we all can do to lighten the load for these refugees and their Greek hosts – who so unexpectedly had to assume this role at a difficult time.
Following are suggestions for some of the most needed items:
- Shoes and clothes. Quick clothes changes are needed for people being pulled from ocean waters, and many refugees arrive with little more than the clothes on their backs. Organizations such as Doctors Without Borders are collecting clothing donations, and purchases can be made from the International Rescue Committee.
- Space blankets. Temperatures can be freezing in the Aegean Sea, particularly at night, and Middle Eastern refugees often must walk or swim through ocean water before arriving on Greek shores. An effective warm-up method is the use of an isothermal or space blanket. You can find them online and send directly to international service organizations’ Greek offices.
- Baby formula. Physicians from human service organizations on the Greek islands have pointed out the need for baby formula, as many arriving mothers aren’t able to breastfeed infants, or their babies might be separated from them. Plain milk formulas will be adequate. Individuals can send formula to organizations such as Doctors of the World, which has an office in Athens. Other supplies for babies are also needed, such as carriers and toys.
- Strollers and wheelchairs. The boats and dinghies carrying many of the refugees to Greece often do not allow equipment such as strollers and wheelchairs on board. Donations of used equipment can make travel much easier for many parents and individuals with mobility problems.
- Cash. The simplest way to assist is with a cash donation. Save the Children is one organization that uses cash donations to pay for specialized staff members to assist refugee children, including healthcare. UNHCR, the refugee agency of the UN, distributes items ranging from hygiene kits to sleeping bags, largely paid for by donated funds. In just October and November, more than 75,000 items were distributed on the island of Lesbos. UNHCR receives cash donations directly through its website. Other organizations doing so include: Save the Children, Doctors of the World, and Doctors Without Borders.
In addition to the above organizations, there are many other NGOs on the ground in Greece and throughout other parts of Europe. I encourage you to do your own due diligence and check out such things as the amount of administrative overhead of a particular organization. I have found that some organizations (including some I even mention here) unfortunately pass on as little as 25% of what is actually raised for its intended purpose.
I am working with some organizations at the grassroots level in Athens and other locations. If you would like to donate specifically to one of them, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will try and connect you with them.
Finally, your religious organization or civic group may have its own relief efforts underway. If so, I encourage you to donate through your trusted organization.
In the last article of this series, we’ll examine the ways in which one relief volunteer’s knowledge, attitude, and feelings have been changed by a week of volunteering in Greece.