Chios Eastern Shore Response Team (CESRT) is a group of international volunteers who assist refugees with everything from boat landings, distributions of clothing, tea, and needed non-food items, to parenting and child activities, as well as language learning. CESRT works with local authorities (municipality, police, port authorities, coast guard, etc.) and international NGOs (UNHCR, Norwegian Refugee Council, et al.) to help people transition during this major crisis. CESRT was initiated by Pothiti Kitromilidi, a Greek single mother with a 7 year old son, who was moved by the plight of the refugees when she came upon a boat load of people on the shores of Chios. Her passion and determination to find a way to help attracted others, and so a team of volunteers grew, some long term, and others short term. Each morning the volunteers gather for reflection and tasks for the day are prioritized and assigned. Volunteers assist with day-to-day practical tasks with compassion, respect and a friendly face of welcome for the refugees who arrive off boats, frightened, exhausted, and not sure what to expect, in need of food, clothes, and a safe place to stay.
For many refugees, stranded in an interminably slow asylum process and living in primitive conditions in Souda camp, with approximately 1,000 individuals & families or Vial detention centre with approx 800. The CESRT* Language Centre (initiated by teachers from Galway, Frank & Eileen Hall), represents both a chance to develop skills and a source of hope. Language classes in English and Greek offer the students a rare ’normal’ activity carried out in dignity, respect and reciprocity with teachers from Europe, Australia, and the Americas. Four class times each day cater to women and men of all ages, all levels, and all nationalities, and each Friday afternoon this special community is celebrated with tea, coffee and music! Language is the key to culture, connection and expanding horizons. Frank (an Irish American) & Eileen took a year’s sabbatical from their teaching positions to develop the language centre.
CESRT offers individuals an opportunity to donate their time and skills to assisting refugees in their time of great stress and fear. Above all volunteers bring their compassion for plight of individuals & families fleeing persecution and/or dreadful poverty. Many have been exploited by traffickers and some have lost family members at sea and are in a state of shock & grief. In witnessing the pain and suffering of the refugees volunteers gain new insights into the effects of such trauma on individuals and families, and the importance of advocating for the rights of those who are displaced because of wars, conflicts, famine and to work for peace, justice and equality for all, and to provide a welcome for the ‘stranger in our midst’