Today one of our trusted volunteers, the fabulous Kayra Martinez, shares some of her experiences from helping refugees on the frontline in Europe
As an American citizen working in Germany, I saw the plight of the refugees arriving from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, amongst other war-torn countries. I started volunteering in Frankfurt, however, with a life long passion for travel, I ventured off to the hot spots in Austria, Hungary and Greece.
I have been working as a full time volunteer, coordinator and humanitarian for the last six months.
My first trip to the Greek islands was in November 2015. I spent my two weeks vacation in Leros, Greece helping on the front lines at a very precarious time.
I then spent a week in Kos, Greece, at the end of December, and was able to make some good contacts. I made the decision to return to Kos this month.
This week in Kos has been filled with so many incredible stories. The people like to share their stories of harrowing boat journeys, fleeing from war and mostly about their separation from their families.
It's cathartic for them to share their stories and confide in someone. The stories are so compelling and filled with so much emotion.
One can hardly believe this is taking place in 2016.
When they meet me in Greece they have completed only half of their journey. They must still continue onto Athens, through the Balkans and onto Austria and/or Germany.
Thank goodness for social media, innovative technology, and local volunteers, they can map out their journey and get highly important information online before they depart the Greek islands.
After they arrive in Germany, I get a What'sApp message or a Facebook message letting me know they have arrived safely. Often times I will connect them with a local volunteer or group in their respective city. All thanks to Facebook and social media platforms.
The numbers of nightly arrivals in Kos range from 100 to 200 arrivals, to numbers in the teens. A lot lower than in previous months, however, everything is dependent upon the weather.
Everyone is well coordinated on the island and prepared for any situation that arises.
Today in Kos a baby was even brought into the world! I was able to meet the little one just before my departure from the island.
I try to spend a bit of time helping where I can. I connected with the local group, Kos Solidarity, and am able to help in the warehouse sorting clothes. They receive donations daily from locals as well as shipments from all around the world.
I have been organising donations of new and gently used clothes from the U.S. to be picked up on my trips to the U.S. I then distribute everything personally in Frankfurt to the camps locally, as well as taking these much needed items with me on my journeys to Greece.
I take some to the warehouse, some to the hotel where the families overnight, and always have a bag of items with me at all times.
After my time at the warehouse, I go to the Boomerang restaurant.
A non-governmental organization (NGO) is responsible for paying for the dinners, which are served from 6pm to 9.
We're a group of about 10-12 volunteers from many countries including: USA, Germany, England, Holland, Sweden and local Greek volunteers. We serve between 200-400 people a night depending on the arrivals each day.
They get a warm meal, bread, water and tea. We also get a chance to talk to the refugees, take photos and give them a little support before they continue their journeys to Germany, Sweden or Austria.
After dinner my bags are full with bouncing balls, coloring books, chocolate and warm woolly hats donated by very generous friends of mine from the U.S. and Germany.
On my last trip I was able to work the port shift, from 10pm to 4am. We're responsible for greeting the people arriving on the boats from Turkey.
As many are arriving wet, we organise clothes, shoes and any basic items they may need. A bus then takes them to a local hotel, or if there are not enough rooms available, to a nearby camp run by an NGO.
I am also involved with a group called United Rescues - Missing Persons, which is a unit of United Rescues that collects cases of missing persons from boat accidents in the Aegean Sea.
We provide communication and information support for families and relatives to help them in their quest to find their missing relatives.
It's important to have volunteers on the ground who can assist in getting information and assistance to refugees in need, before and after their crossing.
During the day I have multiple messages from refugees back in Germany that I am in close contact with. I help them with questions regarding their German lessons, asylum rights and many other issues they encounter along the way.
I try to take time out daily, to communicate with the multitudes of people who are alone in Germany and need support. Oftentimes their families have stayed in Iraq or Syria due to lack of money.
They must pick one family member to send to Europe to try for a better life. The crossings alone cost upwards of 1500€, just for the dangerous sea journey from Turkey to Greece.
Each time I come to volunteer in Greece I purchase locally to support the Greek economy.
Usually the items needed the most are shoes.
I started a crowdfunding campaign six months ago to support the demanding needs on the frontline. I pay for my flights, hotel and food with my own money and only use the crowdfunding for necessities such as:
You can donate to it here:
I have also created a Facebook page to bring awareness, post petitions, communicate and share photos and stories about my travels and work.
As I leave Kos today, I reminisce about all the wonderful people I have been so fortunate to meet.
The brave people fleeing from their countries, the compassionate volunteers, and the wonderful local Greeks, all working together to give some dignity and respect to people fleeing war.
Photos by Marcus Valance