A Manzanita woman has been an up-close witness to the humanitarian crisis that has washed upon the shores of a Greek island — 6,200 hundred miles from the Oregon coast — the first, safe haven for tens of thousands of refugees desperately fleeing the death, destruction, and tragedy of civil and other warfare in the Middle East.
Mindi Bender, a retired special education teacher from Michigan, made it her mission to help however she could last year when she visited friends on the island of Lesvos. The island lies in the eastern Aegean Sea, facing the Turkish coast. At the closest point, the two landmasses are only 3.4 miles apart. That proximity has made the island a logical destination for refugees and economic migrants.
Bender will share her experiences — in pictures and words — with fellow Oregonians before she returns to Greece later this month. “Pilgrimage: Photos and Stories of The Refugee Crisis in Greece” will be presented Monday, Apr. 17 at 7 p.m. at the Hoffman Center for the Arts in Manzanita.
Bender first learned of the refugee crisis in 2015. “I have visited Lesvos since 1989 for yoga retreats,” said Bender. “I love the people of Lesvos. Their economy and the tourist industry in Molivos village have been decimated by this crisis.”
Before international aid organizations arrived in the autumn of 2015, the local Greeks were dealing with the flood of refugees.
“The wider world didn’t take notice until media carried pictures of a drowned toddler washing ashore. I saw some online video footage recorded by someone I knew there who was dealing with the search and rescue efforts daily,” she said. “I recognized my favorite places all along the shoreline, and felt deeply called to go there and be of service. I found several local and international humanitarian aid groups accepting volunteers.”
Bender spent three months on Lesvos last spring, working with the local community, helping with the environmental clean-up effort, and volunteering with a humanitarian organization in a refugee camp. She also taught an English language class to refugee children from several different countries.
Bender hopes her presentation will give a human perspective on what has been happening. She will share photos, tell some stories, and have a variety of news articles to peruse. “I want to share the beauty of the people I met there. I want to personalize this crisis,” she said. “These are beautiful human beings living in dire circumstances, hoping to start new lives in safe places.”
The presentation in Manzanita will be free of charge.
Financial contributions will be accepted and greatly appreciated. All donations will be used to purchase a variety of necessary goods, educational materials, medical supplies, etc., and will be selectively distributed to directly benefit refugees and trusted organizations.