Originally published in the Salt Lake Tribune, April 28, 2017
Imagine with me for a minute. You, your spouse and your children have a good life. You have a home, a car and a job. You have iPhones and some disposable income. You are living a solidly middle class lifestyle. Then, the troubles start. Bombs fall. Kidnappings and beheadings occur, even of children. Men come to your home and threaten to kill your children if you don’t join them, or if your sons don’t join them. You know that if you and your family are to survive, you must leave your home and sell or abandon virtually all of your belongings and begin a trek that will take weeks. You have to leave now.
Every border you cross requires payment, for each family member. You cross one, two, three borders and finally arrive in Turkey. If word has reached your caravan, you know to purchase life vests in Istanbul, but having never been swimming or boating, you must trust those selling you life vests to actually sell you something that works. You don’t know that children’s water wings, or an orange cloth vest stuffed with plastic bags, or a bicycle inner tube are not reliable flotation devices. If for some reason you miss your chance in Instanbul, you may or may not get another opportunity. If not, you’ll join more than half the other refugees who attempt a water crossing with no life vest at all.
Finally, you reach the edge of the Aegean Sea where you can see the island of Lesvos in Greece. Life in refugee camps in Greece is no picnic, but it represents a new life of opportunity, one where you and your family can live without terror. Smugglers will send you and your family across that 4.1 miles of water, in the dead of night. They will not come with you. They may or may not let you bring your backpacks. For the chance at a new start, they will charge you between 500 and 2000 euros per person and frankly, they don’t care if you survive.
On Monday, our group of two dozen volunteers with Hope Worldwide Utah went to the north shore, close to the beach where refugees typically land. We watched as helicopters left Lesvos and flew low over the water. We could see several larger ships in the water, heading to the same general area. We listened as a shopkeeper told us it was bad news, that helicopters only flew like that when there were bodies in the water. He told us “My eyes, they have seen too much.” He was right.
Late Sunday night, a raft likely meant for no more than 8 people was loaded with 25 people and sent on its way. Somewhere in that 4.1 mile stretch of water, it met with trouble. By dawn, five bodies had washed up on the beaches. By afternoon, the count had risen to sixteen, including all the children on board. There were only two known survivors. And just like that, the life and death decisions these refugees face to try and just live became very real.
These and other stories like these compelled Dr. Sarah Franklin, Assistant Professor of Cardiology at the University of Utah, to start Hope Worldwide Utah and begin serving. She could not stand by when there was something she could do. It’s what compels my husband and me to drop everything and come to Greece for two weeks. We know we cannot help everyone and in fact, it’s just a drop in the proverbial ocean. Mother Theresa said of her work: “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of the missing drop.”