Mother-son team back from camps

Stanstead Journal - - FRONT PAGE - Vic­to­ria Vanier

Jackie Heim and her son, Adrian, are both back home in the East­ern Town­ships af­ter vol­un­teer­ing with refugees on the Greek is­land of Chios over the win­ter. Adrian, who grew up in the Town­ships and is study­ing Vis­ual Arts at the Univer­sity of

Vic­to­ria, first spoke about why he took this trip.

“It was a com­bi­na­tion of things. My mom had gone to Greece in the fall and I was in­spired by that. Since I was plan­ning to take the se­mes­ter off of school, my mom thought it would be a good op­por­tu­nity,” said Adrian. Once on the is­land of Chios, Adrian’s day job, much to his de­light since he hopes to study ar­chi­tec­ture, was help­ing three Dan­ish ar­chi­tects ren­o­vate a ware­house so it could be used to store cloth­ing for the refugees. “It was a huge bonus to get the chance to learn from them. From evening to dawn we pa­trolled the coast for boats with refugees, meet­ing them with sup­plies when they ar­rived.”

Adrian con­tin­ued: “The most pow­er­ful part of the whole ex­pe­ri­ence was meet­ing the refugees af­ter they had just ar­rived from the boat cross­ing, very stressed and in shock. But once they calm down they are so joy­ful to have ar­rived in Europe be­cause they con­sider it a safe land. What struck me af­ter mov­ing on to Athens and fur­ther was how the situation got a lot less hope­ful. The bor­ders were clos­ing and the jour­ney for the refugees was get­ting a lot more dif­fi­cult, es­pe­cially with the new deal be­tween Tur­key and the Euro­pean Union. That re­ally im­pacted me a lot.”

Af­ter spend­ing three weeks work­ing with the refugees on Chios, it was hard for Adrian to leave the cri­sis be­hind and con­tinue north on a trip that he con­sid­ered was “just for him­self”. “I felt like I was aban­don­ing them. It would be so easy if all Euro­pean na­tions would just open their doors and share this prob­lem,” con­cluded Adrian.

Adrian, like his mother, shared his ex­pe­ri­ences in Greece with friends and fam­ily back home through a blog on the in­ter­net. The fol­low­ing is an ex­cerpt from Adrian’s blog: “We saw our first ar­rivals yes­ter­day in the af­ter­noon. I had just re­turned from a full day of work­ing on the ware­house project and was en­joy­ing a lit­tle cof­fee break up on a cliff over­look­ing the sea, when I spotted a refugee boat be­ing es­corted to the har­bor by the Greek coast guard. I rushed down and joined a group of vol­un­teers al­ready on the scene with two cars stocked with dry clothes and food… Af­ter many nights spent at the Chios port see­ing the refugees off as they got on the ferry des­tined for Athens, I joined them for the trip this past Sun­day. I will spend the next cou­ple of days here be­fore con­tin­u­ing on up the Balkan route to Ger­many. My goal for the next leg of this trip is to get a sense of the jour­ney that these refugees un­der­take in their

search for peace and a new life by fol­low­ing the same route over land.”

When Jackie re­turned to Greece in Jan­uary, she got to wit­ness first­hand how the re­cent de­ci­sions made in Europe would af­fect the thou­sands of peo­ple flee­ing their war-torn coun­tries. “At first there were lots of boats com­ing, then the Euro­pean Union sent in ships to in­tim­i­date and stop the flow. The Turk­ish Coast Guard was also try­ing to stop boats from com­ing. Then the au­thor­i­ties on the is­land be­gan try­ing to con­trol the num­ber of vol­un­teers who were work­ing; they didn’t seem to like what we were do­ing,” said Jackie in an in­ter­view with the Stanstead Jour­nal a few days af­ter she ar­rived home. “We were pre­vented from go­ing into the Mo­ria refugee camp to help refugees in there and our own free­dom was re­stricted. Within two months, the level of un­cer­tainty rose a lot with the pres­sure to end the flow of refugees. Then overnight on March 19th to the 20th, the refugees in the camps were cleared off the is­land and put in de­ten­tion cen­ters on the main­land.”

Jackie hopes to re­turn to Europe in the fu­ture to work again with refugees, but will need to get back to her more reg­u­lar life here in the Town­ships so she can save up some money for the next trip. Re­turn­ing to work at the Olde Black­smith Art Gallery, in Stanstead, again this sum­mer, this time Jackie is hop­ing to present an ex­hi­bi­tion of her own. “I would like to do an ex­hibit about the refugees, and con­tact the lo­cal Syr­ian com­mu­nity to see if they would like to con­trib­ute any­thing to the ex­hibit,” said Jackie.

“I’d en­cour­age any­one to go and vol­un­teer. I’m still so im­pressed and moved by the Greek peo­ple who con­tinue to ex­tend such gen­eros­ity. A part of me will al­ways re­main hope­ful; you have to be.”

To learn more about Jackie’s ex­pe­ri­ence vol­un­teer­ing with refugees in Greece or to ask her ques­tions or make com­ments, visit lesvos­greece­blog.word­

photo courtesy

Adrian and Jackie Heim

were happy to be back in the East­ern Town­ships af­ter vol­un­teer­ing with refugees in Greece over

the win­ter.

The view from Jackie Heim’s tent in the “Bet­ter Days for Mo­ria” in­for­mal refugee camp where she woke up to the sound of dif­fer­ent lan­guages each morn­ing.

A refugee child sewing her own fin­ger pup­pet from ma­te­ri­als pre­pared here in the Town­ships.

Jackie Heim took these Afghan women to a nearby Greek vil­lage for tea and a change of scenery.

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