It All Started With One Drop

By Trude Jacobsen, Founder – A Drop in the Ocean

I slow down as I drive past. It’s 30 degrees in the shade and the warm Mediterranean air stands still on this day late in August. There is faint smell of gravel, ocean and oregano. The girl who trudges slow up the steep gravel road is approximately 3 years old, the same age as my daughter Isabel. She has blonde hair, with eyes full of something I have never seen in a small child before. I can see she is completely exhausted. Her little body must carry her the next 70 kilometres to the registration camp in Mytilene. It will surely take her many days.

Yet, she has a determination in her eyes. Her blue eyes tell me that she must do it. She must do it for her mother who walks alongside her carrying her little brother, who is the same age as my own son. They have no choice. The journey they have made means life or death for this small family of three. There and then, I imagine myself with my two youngest children, in the same situation.

I pass even more slowly and I react immediately. Aisha, the Syrian woman in the passenger seat beside me, understands. She reaches out a hand and dries the tears that silently run down my cheek. The car is already full of small children and mothers in exactly the same situation as those we just past. To have to make a decision of who to help out of so many who need it, is both painful and heart wrenching, yet so much more meaningful than doing nothing.

I wrote the paragraph above after my first day on Lesvos. A Drop in the Ocean was ‘born’ on Friday 21 August, 2015. Not as an idea of a charity or aid organisation, but out of an acute need to see who the people really are, behind the steadily increasing numbers reported now and then on the news that summer. The numbers were mentioned in passing, after the ‘important’ news about how a potential ‘grexit’ would affect the economy in Norway and Europe. The numbers appears as a footnote in the discussions about whether Norway had the capacity to accommodate 8000 asylum seekers, over a three-year period.

This Friday it was reported on the radio that 130 000 refugees have arrived in Europe via the Greek Islands over the first seven months of the year. They were described as refugees, not people. During this radio announcement came the need for me to see with my own eyes. Who are the people coming? Is it true that is almost only men, as it has been portrayed in the Norwegian media? How are the small Greek Islands managing to handle the situation? I had arrived home from vacation in Athens only five days earlier, without noticing this stream of people. The pictures displayed on the Greek news conveyed little of what was taking place on the islands to the east.

Eight days later I was on my way to Lesvos. The destination was more or less randomly chosen, and was based on which airline would allow me to take as much extra baggage as possible. The Facebook group ‘Dråpen I Havet’ (A Drop in the Ocean), was created so that my friends and family could follow my journey. The name was chosen because I thought that there were so many people that needed help, and my small contribution would only be as meaningful as a drop in the ocean.

As I drove from the airport to Molyvos, on the north of the island, I met a sight that gave me chills, despite the August night being nearly 30 degrees. Hundreds of people shuffled along the roads, carrying no baggage other than small sleeping children. Elderly people on crutches struggled forward into the night. People slept alongside the road. The closer to Molyvos I came, the more people there were.

The following days would prove to be busy. The first dinghy I was involved in assisting came in underneath a steep cliff, approximately 4 kilometres after the asphalt road ended. The relief one could see in the eyes of the people was overwhelming. Finally safe. Finally dry land under their feet. Hugging, tears, selfies. ‘We are saved. Thank god! Thank Allah!’. I had filled my rental car with water, nappies, clothes and shoes, which were welcomingly received when they came ashore, as they had to throw all their baggage overboard as the boat began to take in water. A young woman came up to me, she was pregnant with three weeks until her delivery date. She told me that her water had broken, and she was having her first child. They had rung an ambulance, but it didn’t come.

From this steep cliff, they must walk 70 kilometres to arrive at the reception centre where they must register. 70 kilometres is a long way to walk if you must carry a small child, whilst wet and exhausted. It is unimaginably long for a highly pregnant, or an elderly woman over 75 years of age with fresh, untreated injuries from the war. Out of the approximately 60 people on board this dinghy, I managed to cram 12 people (including myself) into the small rental car. The rest must begin to walk along the long road.

After three busy days on Lesvos, I travelled home to Norway with a myriad of thoughts and impressions. They need help here! How can I best help as many as possible? Over these days more than 2000 people had arrived daily on the beaches on the north side of Lesbos, and I hadn’t seen a sign of a single aid organisation. I posted the video below, and decided to do something more with all the offers of assistance I had received from home. The Facebook group had now grown from 200 to 11 000 during the few days I was away, and many people wanted to help. There was nothing else to do, but roll up our sleeves and work for a better world! Perhaps it is only a drop in the ocean, but with enough drops of goodness, the sea fills eventually.

The video below is from my first trip to Greece helping refugees (Norwegian speech only).