Revelstoke family’s Greek climbing vacay turns into refugee aid mission

The Mediterranean refugee crisis becomes personal for a Revelstoke family after two ships carrying refugees sank off the island on which they were on a climbing vacation. 14 died, including nine children. Now, the Gearys are seeking your help to aid the survivors.

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Revelstoke's Amanda Geary and son Dax pick up supplies for refugees whose ship sank of a Greek island they are currently vacationing on. Photo: Contributed by Amanda Geary

Revelstoke resident Amanda Geary is currently in Kalymnos, Greece with her husband Alex and son Dax for a climbing vacation.

Not long after arriving at the idyllic Greek island to tackle some Mediterranean rocks, they became involved personally with the refugee crisis that’s dominated international headlines this summer.

In late October, two boatloads of refugees sank near their location, one off the coast of Kalymnos. 138 people were rescued, but 14 died, including nine children.

The Gearys have sprung into action to help the remaining refugees, starting a crowdfunding campaign which they are using to buy supplies for the refugees and drop off directly at the refugee centre.

You can find the Go Fund Me campaign at this link: https://www.gofundme.com/greecerefugees

Here is Amanda Geary’s post from her blog at www.getalifeatsea.com. She explains her deeply personal introduction to the crisis:

My experience with the refugee crisis in Greece

WARNING: This is a heavy and personal post.

By Amanda Geary

Late Thursday night/early Friday morning (Oct 29/30 2015) two boats full of refugees sank off the coast of two Greek islands. One of the islands was Kalymnos — the island my son Dax, husband Alex and myself are on currently vacationing on while rock climbing.

Over 138 people were rescued, however, 14 were confirmed dead (9 of which were children and infants). Many are still missing.

We went climbing yesterday to an area called ‘The Beach.’ It is a half-an-hour drive away from the main town we are in and another half an hour hike into the beach-side climbing area. Once we arrived we found debris everywhere. At first we thought it was just garbage — water bottles, some Styrofoam and so on. We then started seeing large pieces of wood, oars, rubber rings, life jackets, and personal items like shoes. We also found a huge, totally-destroyed rubber raft that had been placed over some old rock walls to create a shelter and a fire ring that had recently been used nearby.

This was the place that some of the recent refugees made it to, and also sadly, where some finally lay to rest as their lifeless bodies drifted to shore.

I have been following the refugee crisis in the media for quite sometime, and of course have been saddened by the events that have been unfolding, however, seeing all the debris left over from the recent sinking and also personal items — especially things like baby shoes and toddler life jackets, has really brought the crisis straight to my heart.

This picture is one I took near the beach full of debris and personal items.

Ring

I was going to take pictures closer up, really showing the vast amounts of debris, but honestly, I was just too upset. Hiking out with Daxy all I could keep thinking was, ‘What would I do if I where in same situation the Syrians and Afghans are in?’

I knew that of course, I would pay 1,500–2,000-plus Euro (whatever it took) to shady people smugglers based in Turkey in an attempt to get myself and my family to safety.

(FYI 1,500–2,000-plus is the going rate right now that the smugglers are charging refugees for the crossing from Turkey to Greece.)

The smugglers are placing refugees in totally unseaworthy and massively overcrowded boats with (often) fake lifejackets (filled with paper and not actual foam). If the refugees refuse to board the so-called vessel there have been reports that they are threatened with being fired upon. Once half-way across to Greece the smugglers bail off the death trap refugee rafts and are picked up by high speed boats to get taken back to the safety of Turkey (to ensure they are not arrested by Greek authorities.)

As soon as I got back home to our little hotel that day from ‘The Beach’ I donated all the clothing and toys we could afford to be without to a local charity serving the surviving refugees waiting to be processed in Kalymnos.

Winter is setting in and many refugees only have the clothes that they came across in, or in many cases, nothing at all. Babies in some camps are being wrapped in garbage bags to keep them warm and to protect them from the weather. The items that are most needed in camps currently are; clothing, hygiene products and basic English books and training supplies (So that the refugees can start to learn English while awaiting a decision as to what European country (eventually) they will be sent to.)

If you have gotten this far in my post I’m sure you want to help too.

Here is what I am doing to help on the ground — I am working with local cafes and restaurants that tourist climbers frequent to create donation clothing boxes for tourists to leave items that they wish to give directly to the refugees here on the island. I have also in the process of starting a Go-Fund Me campaign.

I will be raising money for the next two weeks (and beyond) to give directly to those who are aiding the refugees here on the island. I plan to purchase items directly for the camps here with the money raised via Go Fund MePaypal, or direct e-transfer for Canadians (my email for donations is getalifeatsea@gmail.com) and deliver these donations DIRECT to the volunteers helping on the ground. Items I will be purchasing include things like; diapers, wipes, soap, feminine products, et cetera.

After we depart and head back to Canada I will continue to work to support an organization here, on the island, to send more clothing and support items to the local refugees.

Greece is, as many of you know, struggling in a crushed economy. There are simply not the funds or aid available (from the EU or otherwise) coming in to help where help is needed.

Anything you can donate would be so much appreciated.

Again, if you want to donate TODAY you can donate in 3 different ways

1. Go Fund Me ‘Kalymnos Refugee Fund’

2. Donate via my PayPal the following link paypal.me/GetaLifeatSea

2. E-transfer me (if you are Canadian) to getalifeatsea@gmail.com

Note: All PayPal donations will be easily identifiable from my business transactions.

Thank you for reading my post here and thanks in advance for donating — even 5$ helps!

FYI – To buy a pack of diapers here in Greece is about 8 Euro — a pack of baby wipes is 3–5 Euro.

Again, I will be buying mostly baby items for this crises smallest survivors.

Feel free to like and share this post. Thank you again for reading.

Update Nov. 3, 2015 

Revelstoke's Amanda Geary and son Dax pick up supplies for refugees whose ship sank of a Greek island they are currently vacationing on. Photo: Contributed by Amanda Geary
Revelstoke’s Amanda Geary and son Dax pick up supplies for refugees whose ship sank of a Greek island they are currently vacationing on. Photo: Contributed by Amanda Geary

Today we spent the morning shopping for supplies to support the refugees here on the island of Kalymnos. We only spent a small part of everyone’s total donations so far on supplies today as we will be doing more supply runs every 3–4 days for the next 2 weeks while we are here.

We FILLED the car today for 300 Euro with essentials that the Immigration and Support Services Centre here on the island informed us that they needed. Things like diapers, wipes, soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, hygiene products and lots more. 

It was truly awesome!

We delivered the supplies directly to the refugees at the Immigration and Support Services Centre here at the Pothia, Kalymnos port area.

We were also able to meet with other locals who are aiding the refugees by housing them in their shops/stores and chat with them about more specific supplies they need currently.

Many refugees here spend about 3–5 days on the island after initially landing by boat from Turkey. They then must wait here for their initial refugee paperwork to be processed before moving on to Kos, then Athens and then finally onwards to other areas of Europe to hopefully finally settle and make a life for themselves.

So far you amazing people have raised $2105.55 Canadian in just under 48 hours!!!!!

My goal initially was $1,000. We have crushed that goal and so my new goal now is now $3000 Canadian before we leave the island. I know we can do it!

So if you haven’t donated yet know that you can still make a difference in the lives of these refugees direct through me (and Alex and Dax).

To donate go to the Go Fund Me Campaign 

Thank you to all who have shared this post, commented and of course donated so far – you are truly making a difference in peoples lives right now!

At the top of this post is a picture of the supplies we purchased today (with many more trips to come). Please note: We didn’t take pictures of the supplies drop off at the refugee centre as it just didn’t seem appropriate, and quite honestly would have been intrusive (we believe) to the refugees we were interacting with. Thank you for your understanding and thank you in advance for your donation!

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Aaron Orlando
Aaron Orlando is the Creative Director of revelstokemountaineer.com and Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine. He's worked in Revelstoke as a journalist and editor for the past ten years. Got tips on Revelstoke news, entertainment, sports, outdoor life, community or anything else? Email aaron@revelstokemountaineer.com or call/text Aaron at 250-814-8710.