Giulia Perazzini has spent the last nine months on the Greek island of Lesvos, coordinating the emergency response team for our partners Refugee Rescue. Here she shares her experiences and insights from her time on the island.
Chances are you already know how messed up the world can be, so there’s no need for me to tell this part of the story again. What you may not know, however, is how much beauty exists even in most difficult situations. And that includes behind the scenes of Europe’s ‘refugee crisis’.
During my time on Lesvos, I’ve directly supervised around 120 volunteers, and have met even more working alongside partner organisations; I’ve lived alongside a local community of around 100 people, whom host the NGOs in their beautiful little fishing village. And I’ve welcomed more than 3,000 refugees to the shores of Greece.
Being on call 24/7 means that there have been countless days without sleep or food. I’ve found myself in numerous situations where problems urgently needing solving within few hours. With an entire team and groups of new arrivals counting on my performance and professionalism, this was not the easiest of environments in which to work.
“Working here can be overwhelming, so the support your fellow companions give you is everything.”
While each single day has its challenges, I’ve learnt so much from the people I have met along the way. Including the importance of relying on others. And not forgetting that sometimes, you need to stop and take a break.
Working here can be overwhelming, so the support your fellow companions give you is everything. Even though I have solid family and close friendships back home, I found out that those I shared this experience with were my true support: we shared the same ideals and understood each other because we were living it, at the same moment, in the same place, with the same intensity.
Doing this job also helped me to remember that it is the combination of all your actions which define who you are and how you are perceived. And that an act of kindness to another human may have the power change that individual’s perception of their situation, and world around them.
I was walking down the street in Mytilini one day when I was stopped by a father we had welcomed in the transit facility in Skala a few months before. He ran towards me holding his child. When I asked him how he was doing, he answered, “You know, in the camp where you first brought us, the toilets were outside and there were no real beds to sleep in, but you were really kind with us, you played with my child and you made him laugh so much. We will always remember the kindness. It gave us hope.”
“I really believe that the way you act can demonstrate to someone that, despite all the bad and suffering, there is still a person who wants to make them feel welcome and loved.”
I now promise myself to always leave my house with my mind focused, the biggest smile on my face and my heart full of all the love and kindness I can find. I really believe that the way you act can demonstrate to someone that, despite all the bad and suffering, there is still a person who wants to make them feel welcome and loved.
As I prepare to say goodbye to Lesvos for now, I think one of the most important things I have learned it is the importance of getting out of your comfort zone and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes; that the biggest life lessons come when you least expect them and from those you thought could never teach you anything: you only have to listen.
Whether it was a story to tell, an idea to share, a problem to solve, someone to love, someone to forgive, someone to protect, someone to forget, someone to run away from, or someone to grieve: every single conversation has enriched me, even if it was by encouraging me to reconsider and rethink. I am a completely different person from the one who arrived here in August last year, and it is because of the people I met along the way.
Refugee Rescue is a skilled Search and Rescue NGO, founded in 2015. Their volunteer crew and rescue vessel ‘Mo Chara’ (‘My Friend’ in Irish) is currently based in Lesvos, Greece. With our support, in last three years they’ve helped thousands of refugees fleeing war and persecution, and saved countless lives.