After two trips to Lesvos last year, The Worldwide Tribe Co-Founder, Dan, packed his bags for a third time in January and set off on a one-way ticket to the front line of Europe's refugee crisis.
Working with Pikpa, an amazing organisation that look after the most vulnerable refugees and support aid efforts across the island, Dan's role has evolved to include a little bit of everything. From volunteer coordination, to rescue operations, from NGO liaison to project management, Dan is on hand to make sure shit gets done...
"Its 3:45am and the alarm goes. That's my cue to get my gear ready for the night-shift on the south Lesvos shoreline."
As a member of the rescue team, Dan spends the early hours waiting to spot incoming boats on the distant horizon. These boats are packed with terrified refugees making the crossing from Turkey, only a few miles away; a small stretch of sea which has become one of the most dangerous in the world over the past year.
"Sometimes we wait a few hours in anticipation, casting our eyes on the horizon for the familiar shape of the boats and those fluorescent orange jackets. In the distance we spot something...someone flashing the light from their mobile phone...a boat...10 minutes away. We zip up our wetsuits and prepare ourselves for the unknown. Who knows what state the people making this journey will be in upon arrival."
Dan tries to be a welcoming face for those arriving on Lesvos, to let them know that they'll be looked after now, but the situation is serious.
"Yes, they've made it to the shore but these minutes are still crucial, people are in shock, hypothermic, traumatised. Everyone needs warm, dry clothes, food and water, and often emergency medical attention, especially the youngest and most vulnerable. Sometimes a mother will pass her child to me to get them to safety as soon as possible, as they can get caught up in the crush to get off. Some of these babies are more responsive than others."
Weeks of early mornings on the shoreline take their toll...
"I have become rather numb to the shock, pain and desperation that I see but also feel. At first it was easy to keep count of how many boats I've helped ashore. But sadly that number has grown so big that I've lost count. The emotion is intense, and sometimes after a day of receiving 20 plus boats there is no emotion left inside me. I have on numerous occasions shed a few tears, the last time was walking back along the shore to the ambulance with a tiny baby in my arms. Often I find a quiet spot to compose myself...it's only natural I suppose."
Thanks to the incredible kindness of people all over the world, the rescue team have an ambulance on hand to treat those who need it, wetsuits for themselves, and blankets, dry clothes and shoes for the new arrivals.
After the morning shift on the shore is over, Dan heads back to Pikpa camp to get the volunteers ready for the day. From making fresh orange juice for the volunteers, to running the meetings and coordinating tasks for the day, he makes sure his volunteers are well looked after. The team spirit at Pikpa is amazing.
"After brekkie I host the volunteer meeting and get everyone to work, cleaning the camp including the toilets and terrain. We tore down a huge old chicken coup and created more firewood for Moria, where we hand out water and oranges to the people waiting there. We collect empty boxes in order to refill them with 1000 hot meals for people for the night."
After lunch Dan might head out for meetings, and work on other tasks. He's been able to arrange free first aid training for the whole of the Pikpa team, has acted as a translator for the Spanish lifeguard team, Proem Aid, and has even hosted an educational session with a school in Geneva via Skype.
"I have been really active in the UNHCR meetings. Normally I only attend the rescue team meeting and the shoreline coordination group but I've also been asked to got to the UNHCR meeting on PROTECTION, all about welfare of refugees and children."
Evenings see Dan back at the Pikpa camp, helping to clean resident's homes in preparation for new arrivals, before heading to bed for an early night, ready to do it all again tomorrow.
"I can't really say that I am used to the horrors of Lesvos. But what I can say is that I have an army of amazing volunteers standing beside me. They have become not only friends but my family."
To keep up with Dan and his work in Lesvos, and everything else we're doing at The Worldwide Tribe, you can find us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Photos blogger's own