Refugees are real people with real stories.
The stories and images shown on the news only tell a small part of the story, say Jared and Rhonda Bourn.
“I don’t think we can read statistics or numbers anymore without thinking they are just numbers,” said Jared, 29.
The Red Deer couple recently worked in two refugee camps on the Greek Island of Lesbos for close to a month.
On the shores of Lesbos, boat load after boat load of refugees arrived from all directions on the rocky shoreline at all hours of the day. On a clear day, the shore of Turkey is clearly visible.
Men, women and children from countries such as Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Bangladesh arrived into the welcoming embrace of medical staff and volunteers from all around the world.
Many were cold, shivering, and wet but most were relieved to finally make it to safety, said Rhonda, 27.
A van takes the new arrivals to the Sikaminea transition camp where the Bourns worked in the clothing tent — handing out necessary clothes — and other areas of the camp.
Here refugees wait to take a bus to a registration camp in Moria on the southern part of the island. The camp is a former military base.
The wait is anywhere from a couple of hours to overnight, depending on when the buses are running.
Another two to five days is spent waiting for registration papers to stay in Greece and to receive help from agencies.
“You just can’t believe what you are seeing,” said Rhonda. “There were tents everywhere and tons of NGOs lined up to help.”
Registration was divided into various groups.
They spent a week helping organize the lines and people on “Afghan hill,” a place where non-Syrians and Iraqis were registered. Another week was spent on the Syrian side of the camp and working in a tea tent handing out hot chai.
The journey across the ocean is not cheap. Some people use their entire life savings to make the often-treacherous journey.
A whole mix of people including immigrants and refugees from all walks of life were in the camps.
“We talked to people who were just so grateful to have made it to Greece,” said Rhonda. “There were people who were sad. They had left family behind in Turkey because they did not have money to take them over. Families were split up.”
Many said they wanted to go to Germany, Sweden or England.
The couple volunteered through Euro Relief with Rhonda’s parents, Daryl and Kathy Snider, and were on the island from Dec. 15 to Jan. 12.
The Bourns are still trying to process the overwhelming and eye-opening experiences.
“Regardless of your opinion of what is going on with the Syrian refugee crisis, do something that helps,” said Rhonda. “Whether that is something in your community or help people around the world because there are needs everywhere. Do not let that stop you from doing something … Treat people how you want to be treated.”
“Each time it has changed my world view and opened my eyes to what other cultures and places are like,” said Jared. “I think it has made me more emphatic and understanding of where other people are coming from.”
CrossRoads Church has set up a website to help guide people in ways that they can get involved with the refugee families in Red Deer.
For more information, visit www.crossroadschurch.ca/currentwaystohelp