We got a call, the port police towed a boat in with about 35 refugees not too far from here. Myself and the team rushed there to assist them, like always, we gave them food, water and dry clothes. There were three children on the boat, crying and screaming and their parents were missing. We had no idea what happened to them. Maybe they fell into the water or they just sent the children alone… The greek port police often split people on the boats as they are always dangerously overloaded so maybe they accidentally separated these children from their parents. We had no idea… They were one, five and ten-years-old. We had a translator with us and tried to calm them down to get some information but they were in such shock they couldn’t say a word. I tried to call the refugee camp to find out if the parents were there, but back then there were 20-30 landings a day so there were about a thousand people waiting and another 500 new arrivals… Of course, they won’t know straight away who is who. So I spoke with the port police and asked for permission to move the three children and the translator all together in my car to try to find the parents. They kept crying and screaming the whole way and I was terrified! I kept thinking ‘what if I can’t find their parents, how will I leave them behind at the camp’. I felt like I lost 10 years of my life that night. When we got there, we rushed to the registration area of the camp hoping they would still be there and as soon as we entered I saw a woman sobbing very loud so I thought this is it! She might be the mother! While we were approaching her, she saw us, they recognised each other and they ran into each other’s arms… I cannot describe in words the energy I felt in that room… there were about fifteen hundred people witnessing the reunion and every one of them started to cry and cheer…
Toula, founder of Chios Eastern Shore Response Team – CESRT
The CESRT experience has been unforgettable for many reasons. Witnessing the desperation of people and the suffering they have endured, are enduring and will endure is heartbreaking. Amongst the suffering however, each person is driven by hope and their will to survive which is truly inspiring. I continue to be inspired and filled with hope amongst what feels like hopelessness at times. The passion and commitment that Toula and each volunteer dedicates continues to motivate me. The support the team gives one another is something special and the endless energy that is put into every aspect of CESRT is highly contagious. I am ever grateful to be a part of this team and to understand the need of each person who arrives in Chios. As painful as it is, at times, it is imperative to be part of this.Alex, volunteer from Australia
We arrived two weeks ago to join the CESRT team. The other volunteers welcomed us with open arms, making us immediately feel a part of the CESRT family. And what an impressive family it is! We come from the US, Australia, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, England, Canada and Greece and range in age from 18 to 72. What’s even more impressive is the incredible commitment of all these volunteers who come to work 6 days a week for weeks or months at a time. If that isn’t generous enough, they step up and contribute cash when there is a need for a tent floor or warehouse rent or gravel to fix the camp paths. The hearts of these volunteers are big but the heartbeat of CESRT is Toula, the Greek founder who has been volunteering her time for three years 24/7. Her passion to help the refugees is infused into everyone around her and the most incredible thing of all is that the organization is so well run with only volunteers, who are constantly coming and going. As Toula says every day “we have amazing volunteers,” and it is because we are led by an amazing woman.
Margaret, volunteer from the USA