Mother-son team back from camps
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.wordpress.com.
Adrian and Jackie Heim
were happy to be back in the Eastern Townships after volunteering with refugees in Greece over
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.