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Tembi is from Seattle, Washington. She used her vacation time in November 2016 to volunteer in Lesvos, Greece with EuroRelief, helping to bring order to their system of organizing donations, as well as working in Moria camp assisting with clothes distribution and housing coordination.

~ Interview by Talitha Brauer


Alright, so you were telling me about meeting with the leadership of the NGO?

Yeah, so currently, because it's such a short term volunteer project, many people come in. It takes a couple of days to get oriented, and it's hard to really find where you can contribute. Especially skills and abilities for people who come from a skilled vocation. So, part of what we've been trying to figure out is how to create a track that people can actually come in and volunteer according to their vocational skillset. So that if you have accounting skills, or management skills, you can immediately put that to use in a more coordinated fashion.

So you're trying to help it feel a bit more efficient?


It seems like it's very hard to have consistency when the team is changing, and then it's even harder for there to be a kind of overarching structure, when it's always so reactive.

Yeah. So, a couple of the keywords: Knowledge transfer, process improvement, documentation — so when people do shift over, that the critical things that have been done and learned are not lost, and you don’t just rely on the one person that introduced how you do this job. We've been working on putting some of those things into place, so that there is a kind of a how-to manual that will be updated constantly. We recognize that things change all the time, but [it gives] a place to start.

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And what's your background in the States? What do you do in your day job?

I do International Trade for the US Department of Commerce. A lot of people management, really. I have a team of about 200 that work in the medical and healthcare technology sector, and we connect US exporters, suppliers, and manufacturers with overseas opportunities in a variety of ways. So, a lot of creative problem-solving, working with people from cultures around the world, helping people to find the education and information that they need to make the right decisions.

There's a lot of that that really is transferable, even though [we're] in a very different setting, you know, of creating order out of chaos!

Totally. And how did you get connected to the work here? What brought you to Lesvos?

I've been looking for a way to get involved in the refugee crisis for quite some time, and just googling it does not bring up a whole lot of useful things, like, "how do I volunteer?".

And my brother is with Youth With A Mission, YWAM, and he told me that the whole focus of YWAM Europe this year is the refugee crisis. So, then I got connected with the YWAM group that was working with Eurorelief, providing teams of people that come in and volunteer. I came in as an individual, and stayed on a big boat in the harbour with 40 other people, sharing a room with 6 girls, taking cold showers at the marina — it's amazing, 'cause I know how to vacation! (laughing)

Tembi & Sharif organize clothing donations. Lesvos, Greece, November 2016. Photo: T. Brauer

Tembi & Sharif organize clothing donations. Lesvos, Greece, November 2016. Photo: T. Brauer

So this is your vacation for 2016?


Amazing! So it's a month of volunteer work?


And what's been the biggest challenge for you in the last 3 weeks?

The biggest challenge I think for me has been finding order and process. 'Cause I'm a very process-focussed person, and that's what I do in my daily job, is create structures for people. So, not having all the information, or knowing where to plug-in, or how things work, or who's leading that, was a struggle, but it was also an opportunity and everybody's very responsive when I've said "Hey, this is something I would like to try to put together". They're saying "Go for it, do it, it's a great idea!".

So what’s been your biggest joy or the most encouraging or positive part of the experience for you?

One thing that stood out — I've developed some good friendships with some of the residents there. One of the gals came up to visit me and said hi and she said she'd just come from an Afghan wedding that was happening in the camp. And I said, "That sounds so cool, can I go?" She was like, "Sure!"

[Listen to the full story in the audio clip below]

So just seeing - cultures still flourish.

I know that for them, that obviously was not the wedding they had envisioned or wanted, but that life still goes on, the journey still happens, and people are still getting married in a refugee camp, and being invited in so warmly by people here was a really incredible experience.

26 October 2018 ~ Since her time in Lesvos, Tembi quit her job of 16 years to spend a year helping NGOs and ministries in South East Asia restructure their organizations to make them more efficient and sustainable. Talitha followed up with Tembi in Indonesia via Facebook Messenger.

December 2018: There are currently an estimated 6,000 residents living in Moria refugee camp, with almost 2,000 people in the overflow tents of the Olive Grove, the property next to Moria camp. The residents continue to face the same challenges of living with little purpose as they wait on asylum appointments, wait for the food-line, and wait for their future.

~ Story and imagery by Talitha Brauer, November 2016 and December 2018, Lesvos, Greece.

Published 19/12/2018

For regular updates of current conditions in Moria, check out Afghan photographer Ahmad Ebrahmini’s Instagram feed.


To support a local Lesvos NGO providing education, activities, and work for refugees, check out Mosaik Support Center for Refugees and Locals.