Dear Friends and Family,
This last week I voluteered with two organizations on the Greek island of Lesvos: One Happy Family (OHF) and House 4 Humanity (H4H) . These organizations help refugees of the Syrian crisis by providing food, clothing and a community space. From Lesvos, you can look across the water and see Turkey, where so many refugees are stuck. Because of the proximity (a mere 18 miles), nearly half of the refugees that have entered Europe come through Lesvos. Back in December of 2015 nearly 2,000 people were arriving daily. Even in the time I spent on Lesvos, five boats arrived within three days, one of which carried 75 people.
I helped OHF and H4H in various ways—from feeding three-month-old babies, to stuffing sanitary pads in hundreds of bags, to organizing diapers, to teaching English. I heard survival stories. I heard of loss—loved ones killed, luggage holding the collection of a lifetime stolen, years wasted unjustly in jail. These refugees have lost not only their loved ones, but the lives they knew. I’ve seen the eyes of some of the happiest people I’ve ever met go dark remembering that which they desperately wish to forget—having to leave everything behind and escape their own homes in order to save themselves.
I was presented an opportunity to help these people, and I ask for your help as well. Behind a community canter sat 2,500 kg of donated clothing (around four tons) about to be thrown away. They had been rained on and were dirty, dogs had been playing with them and snakes found the wet piles a lovely home. However, the vast majority of the clothing was in perfect condition, completely salvageable and simply dirty. Many still had the tags on them. To throw this much clothing away was, in my eyes, criminal. I held a child’s winter coat in my hands and remembered the stories of those who froze to death in the tents of Moria Refugee Camp. I thought of the pictures of thin plastic tarps sagging beneath the weight of two feet of snow. If a salvaged coat could save one person, then I will have succeeded. I also considered the kindness of those who had scrambled to donate this clothing, who did what they could to help people in crisis.
I was told that if I could handle the clothes they wouldn’t get binned, so I contacted Alison Terry-Evans, founder of Dirty Girls (http://dirtygirlsoflesvos.com/). Her organization takes the discarded clothes and blankets left on the shores of Lesvos after refugees arrive, professionally washes them and redistributes them. They have not only saved lives, but made a massive environmental impact by preventing perfectly usable material going to landfill.
Alison and I will be working together to have the clothing laundered to hospital sanitary standards and redistribute what would otherwise end up in a dump. The entire project will cost 5,000 euro to have the clothing brought to the laundry, cleaned and trucked to community centers. Alison, a truly wonderful and selfless soul, has kindly agreed to split the cost with me (because she is an angel). All donations made here will be going toward taking clothing in great condition, cleaning and placing them in the hands of those in need. Summer clothing will be sent back to OHF and H4H, among other organization, and will go to some of the friends I made there over the last week.
We all have varying passions. One of mine is fashion. From dressing up in my mother’s clothes as a girl (which I still do), to second-hand shopping in San Francisco, clothes are special to me. While this means that my bag will always be 3 kg too heavy at the airport, clothes allow me to feel ready to face the world with confidence and provide a sense of safety. Doesn’t everyone deserve to feel that way? Clothes hold hope and potential for the future. Clothes tell the world who we are, who we wish to be and how we feel that day.
Humans judge instantly, heavily based on appearance. Proper clothing allows these refugees an opportunity at individuality, dignity, respect and normality. The clashing, garish patterns of ill- fitting outfits that hang from their bodies right now are a blatant signal of their refugee status, preventing them from ever blending in as just another human or becoming a local. In those clothes, they are perpetually reminded of what they have been through; they’re a trap, a label they cannot escape. Cleaning and distributing fresh clothing to organizations like OHF and H4H, which allow the refugees to ‘shop’ for and pick their own clothes, mean refugees are granted agency and choice, allowing them to feel human once more.
I don’t expect everyone to appreciate clothing the way I do, but I ask for your help in both saving 4 tons of clothing from going to landfill and allowing those in such great need an opportunity at dignity.
I've managed the raised 2,300 Euro needed to wash the clothing. All donations over this goal with go to Dirty Girls and One Happy Family. It costs 1.70 Euro a kilo to sanitize clothing. Can you help me with as many kilos as you can manage? Anything helps. 1 kilo means you have washed a pretty dress for a little girl or a pair of jeans for an adult. 5 kilos in an entire outfit. 100 kilos provides for an entire family.
I thank you in advance for your consideration and anything you see fit to give. All donations are tax deductible and go to Dirty Girls.