Lesvos – where to volunteer

Team Health Point Project tent in Moria Camp.Team Health Point Project tent in Moria Camp.

I spent two weeks, end November 2015 on the island working with Team Positive Action as well as with Health Point Project with the clear impression that the vast majority of the frontline response was done by unpaid volunteers, as well as local people stepping up to the task.

Almost all volunteer organizations have their main online presence on facebook, where they often update on their acitivities. Several facebook groups are active as well. However, these facebook pages quickly become large and difficult to navigate, and the answers one gets varies in quality. The most widely used facebook groups for volunteers are Information Points for Volunteers, Volunteer´s Coordination Team (the name may be misleading since this group is actually an extenstion of a particular volunteer group, the Volunteer´s Coordination Agency, run by Fred Morlet, though general questions are often asked). For medical people the group Medics for Greece may be useful.

The Lesvos Volunteer Map is continuously updated and shows where various organizations work.

Want to Volunteer on Lesvos and Information for Short-Term Volunteers are very comprehensive and continuously updated pages and a must-read for all considering volounteering on Lesvos and providing a very thorough list of volounteer opportunities. Also check out the Excel sheet Short-Term Volunteers Spreadsheet.

Volounteers distributing clothes at The Afghan Hill in MoriaVolounteers distributing clothes at The Afghan Hill in Moria

Main areas of interest for volunteers:

The north coast (arrival of the majority of boats): Main city here is Molyvos, app. 1:15 h. drive (80 km) from Mytilini. From here one may access to the North Coast on paved road to Eftalou (5 km), continuing unpaved (app 15 km) to Skala Sykaminea. Read about the migrants journey arriving on the coast.

The camps: The two main camps Moria and Kara Tepe are both located app. 10 km north of Mytilini. A third, smaller camp, Pikpa is located by the airport and caters primarily to people with special needs. The camps are described in detail in a separate post

Below, I highlight a few of the most established organizations, which I personally met when I was on the Island. Medical volunteers may read about the overall medical organization in a separate post.

On the North Coast:

Starfish – an established organization, working in Oxy transit camp and not on the actual coast. Seems very organized, with about 100 young people of all ages and nationalities working for them, many in theis 20s.  Skills required: All are welcome. The work is non-medical, no particular skills needed to apply. Very structured.

A Drop in The Ocean – Norwegian organization, open to anyone. Working mainly out of Eftalou. Mainly non-medical and no particular skills needed to apply. Works with The Kempsons and founded by Trude Petersen, after a short visit previously this year. Their facebook group has an impressive 30.000 members. Skills required: All are welcome. In addition they specifically ask for medical personnel.

Lighthouse Relief – Scandinavian initiated organization, open to anyone. Works out of Platanos, close to Skala Sykaminea where they operate a transit camp with possibilities for overnight stays as well as a small emergency room. No particular skills needed to apply. Also check their facebook page.

The Kempsons – not an organization, but a British couple, Eric and Philippa working out of their house in Eftalou. Collaborates with several volunteer organizations such as A Drop in The Ocean and Positive Action and knows what is going on mainly on the North Coast. For donations, they have an Amazon wish-list. Also check out Eric Kempson´s YouTube page.

Team Positive Action: Not a fixed team on the ground, but collaborates with The Kempsons and send volounteers with all sorts of backgrounds. Originates from the Scottish organization Positive Action in Housing.

The Volounteer Cook – A Young Malaysian cooking on the beach in Platanos. There are several other volounteer cooking organizations needing help,  including VCA, Bristol Skipchen and others. Try enquiring on the general facebook pages.

Disaster Medics – Paramedics and other people with medical skills working where neede, as of now, as mobile response team on the coast. Check out their facebook page, frequently updated with news.

The organization of medical volunteers on the North Coast is described in detail in a separate post.

In the Camps

Lesvos Volounteer Agency– one of the oldest and most established as well as professionally run of the volunteers organizations.  As of now, they work in Kara Tepe. No particular skills needed to apply.

Health Point Project – seem to have established a presence at the Moria Camp in a tent at the bottom of the Afghan Hill. They need all sorts of people, both with or without medical skills.

The overall medical organization of the camps is described in detail in a separate post.

Finally, a brief note regarding donations: Always ask organizations on the ground what they need as this changes. Information on the various facebook groups may not be accurate unless it comes directly from the organizations.  Buy as much as possible locally, it avoids shipping/customs as well as supports the local economy. For those going to the island: If in doubt who to give to, bring your money with you and find out what is needed once you are there.

Finally, if you need to talk to someone about what you have experienced on Lesvos after you get home, try Psychologists across borders.

Further info:
Overview of all posts on Lesvos and Lesvos FAQ for volunteers.

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A day on Lesvos – working on the North Coast


10:00 Driving from Molyvos past Eftalou, I pass several abandoned boats, engines and anything else of value removed for sale or reuse. I have an appointment with Philippa Kempson at her house in Eftalou around 10 am. Together with her husband Eric, she has lived more than 15 years on Lesvos, normally the owner of a wood-carving shop, but after the migrants started arriving she and her  husband have been involved full-time in the relief effort, with their house being transformed into a clothes sorting and storage facility.


11:30 Not far from Eftalou I see the first migrant boat arriving. Actually this is my first day here and the first time I see a boat arrival, though we are a bit late. Still there are far more volounteers than migrants on the beach. I am with Philippa Kempson, who has kindly offered to show me around together with a three British guys who also arrived yesterday and are following us in their car. She also offered to drive in her car as the unpaved 17km road to Skala Sykaminea is quite rough!

The Swedish Dr. Sanna working in the Adventist Help bus in Platanos. Photo @Birgitte Graf via Disaster MedicsThe Swedish Dr. Sanna working in the Adventist Help bus in Platanos. Photo @Birgitte Graf via Disaster Medics

13:00 Driving from Eftalou to Skala Sykaminea I have the opportunity to get introduced t o all the different groups working on the coast. I am here with Team Positive Action and plan to spend the fist couple of days figuring out where my skills (trauma surgeon/emergency medicine) may be most useful. As of now, it looks like my skills are most needed in the area around Skala Sykaminea, where IsraAid, Lighthouse and Disaster Medics also are present.

A rubber boat arriving in the afternoon of November 12th near Skala SykamineasA rubber boat arriving in the afternoon of November 12th near Skala Sykamineas

15:00 Close to Platanos, another rubber boat full of migrants came in. This time, there were not too many  volounteers around, and everything went very smoothly and non-dramatic with the very calm and professional Spanish Lifeguards.

IMG_2616The harbour of Skala Sykaminea, life vests still present after a boat landing the day before

16:00 Meeting at the Skala harbour with volounteers from several groups including Lighthouse Relief, IsraAid and Disaster Medics to discuss a mass casualty plan.

IMG_2802Cleaning the beaches and removing lifevests is a both huge and necessary task

17:30 Driving back the beach road to Skala Sykaminea, narrowly avoiding a frontal collision with a volounteer driving very fast in a 4WD. Too much traffic here.


18:00 When passing the harbour of Skala, I noticed a big boat with more than 100 people have just come in. Not too many volounteers were present, so I just had a quick look, but there were no apparent emergencies, so I headed back to Molyvos via Sykaminea on the paved road. I passed several young migrants walking up the hill to the Transit camp, and narrowly avoided hitting a Group of them walking in the middle of the dark road with dark clothes on.

Further info:
Overview of all posts on Lesvos and Lesvos FAQ for volunteers.

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Lesvos – medical organization in the camps

Health Point Project Medical tent at the foot of The Afghan Hill, MoriaHealth Point Project Medical tent at the foot of The Afghan Hill, Moria

The general layout of the camps Kara Tepe, Moria and Pikpa is described in another post.
In Kara Tepe, the medical organization as well as general conditions seem largely satisfactory. Both Medecins du Monde and MSF are present with mobile clinics, which seem to cover the needs. This camp caters to Syrian families, who generally are registered within 1-2 days and then leave. The camp is generally managed by Volounteers Coordination Agency, which accepts volunteers.

Queuing for registration, Moria.Queuing for registration, Moria.

The Moria camp is located in an old military installation just outside the small  village of Moria. The camp is surrounded by privately owned olive groves (also known as “outside”, “the Afghan Hill” or “The Olive Grove”). The old military installation, also known as “inside the camp” is guarded by the Greek authorities who let certain migrants in, presumably those they judge to be vulnerable. The rest (the majority) stay outside the camp, in The Olive Groves. The only one with authority over these groves is the owner of the land, an olive farmer. The whole of Moria (both inside and outside) is a waiting camp for all BUT Syrian families, as they go to Kara Tepe. The old military installation (“inside the camp”) is located on a hill.  On one side the UNHCR built some shelters where people stay on a first-come first-serve basis as it looks, at the other side (The Afghan Hill) people are left to themselves to either settle in empty old tents or buy new ones.
Volounteers are not allowed inside the camp unless special permission is given by the police authorities.

Inside the Health Point Project TentInside the Health Point Project Tent

As for medical care, MSF has a mobile clinic at the side of the outside camp opposite The Afghan Hill. Medecins du Monde are present inside, Mercy Worldwide also are present with a medical team, both inside and ouside it seems. Furthermore Health Point Project has a medical team at the foot of The Afghan Hill. Of these four organizations, Mercy Worldwide and Health Point Project accepts volounteers (with MSF and MDM, you have to go through their recruitment process). Other small medical organizations may be found on the Afghan Hill as well. When I was there Refugee Aid opened their tent at the top of the hill.
Unfortunately, there is no coordination of activities between these groups.

Treating patients, Project Health Point, Moria.Treating patients, Project Health Point, Moria.

With a migrant population of 5000, most essentially healthy and in a transit situation where all but emergencies should await treatment in the country of destination, one medical organization should be sufficient to cover the needs. During the week I worked with Health Point Project more than 90% of the patients seen were for minor illnesses such as common cold. That does not mean that there is not a need for social support of these people. However, in my opinion the main issue in the Moria Camp is not a lack of medical facilities, buth rather a lack of basic facilities, such as sanitation and acceptable sleeping conditions.

Further info:
Overview of all posts on Lesvos and Lesvos FAQ for volunteers.
Overview of the medical organization of volunteers on Lesvos.
Stories from the Afghan Hill.
The migrants way through Lesvos – part 1 and part 2.

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New Page on Refugees Has Been Added to this Blog

Just a reminder that the Diva recently added a page titled Refugees, in an effort to gather and share key articles on providing guidance based on experience with disaster recovery to the host countries that are trying to meet the needs of the many refugees fleeing from conflict areas and seeking to resettle in other countries.  The present focus is on refugees arriving in large numbers in Europe.

Suggestions and contributions are welcomed.

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