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Resiliency of the Human Spirit

October 23, 2015 by

Editor’s Note: Vivian is blogging from the Greek island of Lesbos, where she and 15 other Bruderhof members have been working with refugees. Read her previous reports.


Earlier this week our team travelled to the north of the island to Skala Sykamina, one of the main landing spots for the boats from Turkey. You may have seen pictures on the news of the boats coming in, with people cheering, waving, and falling on their knees in thankfulness – but to actually be there, to wade into the water and have a child given trustingly into your arms, is an unforgettable experience.

We were there for about four hours, and in that time about fifteen boats came in, each of them with forty to sixty people on it. It’s quite chaotic when a boat comes in, but luckily there are lifeguards there who know what to do. They use the discarded orange life vests to try to wave the boats in, and then try to slow them down as most approach quite rapidly. As soon as the boat runs aground, all the people want to jump out at once, so the lifeguards try to keep them sitting as they attempt to carefully unload everyone, children first, so the boats don’t capsize.

Members of the Bruderhof team help to welcome refugees ashore who have just arived after making the trip across the Aegean Sea

The first little girl I took into my arms was crying; there is a lot of yelling during the process of unloading and it must make the children quite scared. But I carried her up onto the beach and waited for her mother to come. She was dressed all in pink, with little yellow flowers on the knees of her trousers, and for all the world could have been one of my nieces. How I wish I could speak their language, but luckily hugs and kisses are a universal language, and I received several.

a little girl on the rocks at the waters edge

I held another baby boy for a long time while we waited for someone to drive them up to the bus stop. His father could speak a little English and told me that he was four months old. They are from Afghanistan, and when I heard that my heart sank because I know what awaits them at the Moria camp for non-Syrian refugees. As I stood there with the baby in my arms, my arms got tired, and I tried to imagine carrying him for days on end, like so many mothers do, trekking down the island when the busses don’t run. He looked well-fed and clean, but I thought of what he might still have to endure before reaching his final destination, wherever that might be. Since they are from Afghanistan they will wait outside the camp, perhaps for days, until they are let in to get their paperwork. Once inside, they will live in Moria which I can only describe as a morass of human misery.

Several of the women and children were shaking when they finally disembarked, and we sat with them on the beach with our hands on their shoulders, trying to offer some measure of comfort to them as they tried to gather themselves for the next leg of the journey.

life jackets littering the shores on the island of Lesbos

On the rocky beach, I found myself close to tears more than once, as I have many times during the two weeks I’ve been on Lesbos. But I continue to marvel at the resiliency of the human spirit, at the trust of mothers who hand a baby to me, a complete stranger, to hold and love for a few moments. I know some things they don’t know about what they will encounter in the next days or weeks of their flight, but I also know, and I pray, that in spite all of it, the children will mostly remain children, carefree and happy. I may see some of them again as they run to me with butterflies and tigers painted on grubby faces. We will draw pictures and build Duplo trucks and destroy Jenga towers together – we will laugh and cheer and be kids together.


The following video shows Vivian and other members of the team welcoming a boat of Syrian refugees on the shore of Lesbos.

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