After reading an article in which a Syrian refugee woman begged a Greek volunteer to kill her and her family, John Skene knew he had to do something to help.
The 28-year-old Victoria resident and business student had seen photos of three-year-old Alan Kurdi’s body washed up on a Turkish beach, after the boat his family was on from Turkey to Greece capsized. But it was the article about the mother that spurred him to help with the Syrian refugee crisis overseas.
“She was soaking wet and her children were hypothermic and near death,” said Skene of the female refugee in the article. “It really just struck a cord. I have a seven-year-old brother so I think seeing any kind of child in a situation other than being a child is not okay.”
Two days later, he used his school tuition money to buy a plane ticket to Lesvos, Greece (an island in the northern Aegean Sea off the coast of Turkey) to help with the refugee crisis. The City of Molyvos is the initial arrival point in Europe for more than 4,000 refugees arriving by boat daily.
Skene, who also volunteers with the Victoria Cool Aid Society and AIDS Vancouver Island, will be helping at a former night-club-turned-transit-camp just south of the city called Oxy, which is run by a volunteer group called Volunteer Coordination Lesvos and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
He’ll help direct refugees, and distribute water, food and clothing.
“I’m expecting to see death, I’m expecting to see chaos. I don’t know if I’m ready for that but you just go and cry and get back into it,” he said, adding the camp doesn’t have enough staff or resources. “I’m expecting to see a lot of good things too. People coming together.”
Skene spent more than $1,800 of the money he saved for the 2016 school year to pay for the flight and accommodations — money that he earned working several jobs in the last year-and-a-half.
“It was a struggle going back and forth last week about it, if I should do it and I just figured money comes and goes, but this is an opportunity to really help a lot of people and to represent Canada and Victoria while I do it,” he said.
He has also set up an online fundraising campaign, in which half the funds will go towards recouping the travel costs and the other half will go towards aid on the ground in Lesvos. He hopes to raise $3,000.
Skene is leaving for Greece on Monday, Nov. 9 and will be there until Nov. 21.