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Helping Refugees in Greece

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Helping Refugees in Greece

Hannah and her family in Greece (Oinofyta) in 2017.

Hannah and her family in Greece (Oinofyta) in 2017.

Hannah and her family in Greece (Oinofyta) in 2017.

Hannah and her family in Greece (Oinofyta) in 2017.

Olivia Ruschioni, Contributor

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Hannah Edwards, a Nashoba sophomore, traveled to Greece last month for a service trip, where she spent time with Syrian refugees in a camp called Oinofyta.

Edwards was first introduced to the idea of a service trip at 11 years old, when her family traveled to Ecuador. Before leaving for Ecuador, they raised money and collected school supplies for the kids and were able to build a new school on stilts so they could attend school year-round. The Edwards family has been participating in service trips for the last five years, and wouldn’t give up the opportunity for anything.

When asked about the best part of going on a service trip, Edwards said, “My eyes are always opened to the rest of the world and getting out of the kind of bubble I sometimes get stuck in when I fall into the troubles of my own life. They have changed my life in a countless number of ways and I can’t think of anything else I love more.”

Some of the members of the Edwards’ church have helped them make connections, allowing them to embark on their annual service trip. However, it is usually just Edwards and her family, as they do not participate through a nonprofit organization.

Hannah said, “People tend to applaud that but I can’t help but disagree with that appraisal–anyone who looks at those amazing, tired, intelligent, beautiful, and hopeful kids would have to be crazy to not want to be there with them and help them every single day of their lives.”

The first time Edwards went to Oinofyta, which is about two hours outside of Athens, Greece, she was 13 years old. She said, “It was so amazing we went back the next year just to stay at the camp for 2 weeks and not do anything else.” The second year they returned, the refugees had started making bags out of recycled tents and clothing. With nowhere to sell them, the products were going to waste. This job continues to provide them with much needed income for their families.

After her first two trips to Oinofyta, Hannah was able to start a nonprofit company to support the refugees, “Refugear”. She has been selling the bags that the refugees are making for the last six months. As she tried to grow the business, more pictures and insight on how the refugees have been making the bags was needed. On January 25, 2019, she and her mom drove to the airport to go back to Greece for a third time.

In previous years, Edwards played with the kids and worked at the refugee camp, but this time she was also observing the refugees make their bags to learn how to better market and advertise them to the public.

“The refugee camp has taught me that although there are problems in the world, we can’t turn our backs on them because we are scared or because it seems like too much. There are people who need us and don’t have what we have,” Edwards said.

Right now, there are about 600 refugees living at Oinofyta, most of them with nothing to do. They say they have “no reason to get up in the morning.” Some of them have been given jobs to make the bags, which they love, but others at the camp just have nothing to do but lose hope. They want something to do, but are given nothing. Each and every refugee has the capability to work and help out, but there are no opportunities for them to do so.

Americans rarely go to Oinofyta. The camp is now under a different leadership, IOM, so nobody and no organization is allowed in. The refugees need a lot of help but it’s hard to help them now. Limited contact and distance with the refugees makes it extremely difficult to help.

Hannah reflected on her experience in Oinofyta: “Through the camp I have made some of my best friendships, been taught lessons of faith, hope, perseverance, and strength; and it has taught me that no matter who you are, where you come from, and what you believe in, you can love just about anyone. It has taught me that sometimes, you just need to have faith that things will be alright, because sometimes that’s all you can do. It has taught me that family and friends are everything and they can lift you up in the hardest times.”

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