Beyond the headlines

My name is Laura Pierce and I’m a lot like you. I’ve read the headlines about the refugee crisis and that’s all they seem to be: headlines. All I see in photos are mobs of people, one big river of humanity, moving on what appears to be a highway of suffering and international red tape. I can’t wrap my head around it.

Right now, the biggest “crises” I see in my American existence aren’t crises at all. They’re inconveniences. Losing my bus card. Forgetting to pay a bill. Asking my housemates to please turn the volume down on “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.”

I’ve no idea what it means to be hungry; to be exposed to gunfire; or to be desperate enough to put my family into a boat bound for a nebulous destination.

For the last 3 1/2 years, I’ve had an office job. I sat in front of a computer in a Seattle skyscraper, drinking enough coffee to choke a horse and taking matters very seriously. This was a comfortable life, and I liked the people around me, but it really wasn’t living.

So I quit my job in late December. With money set aside, I purchased a camera and a ticket to Northern Greece. Thanks to a refugee aid organization called Salaam Cultural Museum, which takes newbies like me under its wing, I will finally get to see the refugee crisis in a personal way: as a volunteer. I want to be useful, to meet some of these people, and to better understand this thing that is sweeping them along.

I have no idea what will happen during my time at Thessaloniki’s refugee camp, or what will follow after it. But that is okay for now. What a tiny mystery those things are, compared to not knowing where you are going at all.

I’m writing this blog for two reasons. I have a close circle of friends and family, and I would like to keep them informed, of course.

My other reason is for the people I do not know, and it is this:
To those of you who are also tied to your desks, to show just how do-able this is. If I screw up royally, well, you will know about it. But I hope in a small way that this blog can shed light on some amazing and resilient people – and how it’s possible for anyone to be a helper.


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About this blog


I worked as a volunteer at Frakapor refugee camp in Northern Greece in January 2017. While Frakapor is now closed, the camp opened in 2016, and was located in an empty warehouse in an industrial area called Sindos. There was no running water and sanitation needs were served through outhouses and mobile showers. Run by the Greek army, the camp consisted of a cavernous building filled with people’s tents — a village under a single roof.

Frakapor may have been roughshod, but it was a community where people’s lives were deeply intertwined. Families who received upgraded lodgings in town frequently returned to Frakapor to spend their daylight hours with the neighbors they knew. There was open weeping on both sides, as families boarded buses taking them from Frakapor to new lives in other cities.

My intention had been to write this blog as events were happening around me. But we were so busy during our waking hours that it was a relief to go back to our hotel and just sleep most evenings. So, my project remained largely undone. I returned to Europe for a second time in spring 2017, this time working with refugees in France and the Greek island of Lesbos. All this time, however, I could hear the clock ticking on this project.

Frakapor was a world between worlds. The knowledge that these families moved on to asylum, of course, fills me with hope. But for just a short time, these people — most of them Syrian Kurds — lived in a place where they did not have to assimilate. They had their own culture in Frakapor, as rough as their circumstances and surroundings were.

I’m hoping this blog will give insight to other people who want to travel — and to be useful to their fellow man while they are doing it. I think the best way to get to know a country is to be useful in it. Given all the roughness in the world today, any gesture of kindness, no matter how small, is important.

If you want to help, it matters.

If you want to be part of something bigger than yourself, it matters.






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My name is Laura Pierce and I am a Seattle resident.

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