Lena Kristin Ellingsen – About volunteering on Chios

Lena Kristin Ellingsen is one of the actresses in our video ”På flukt” launched in July 2018. In the fall of 2015, she was one of the volunteers who traveled to Greece to help. Read about her experiences as a volunteer on Chios here.

portrett av en kvinne
Foto/Photo: Renè Zografos

Why did you travel?

– In the fall of 2015, the whole family lived in LA. My husband and I had saved money to live there for a little while, I had borrowed beautiful clothes from Norwegian designers and planned on treating myself, enjoy a holiday, go to parties and enjoy family life. At the same time, the refugee crisis hit Europe and I had a really bad conscience, I needed to do something and to show my opinion. I could not accept that Norway took so little responsibility, so when I came home again, I realised that I could be useful where the crisis hit the hardest, with a Drop in the Ocean, on Chios. I collected financial aid from friends and acquaintances in order to contribute specifically with food and clothing to the refugees on the island.

What did you see on Chios?

The first experience was packing the cars to patrol at night. I joined two of the men in the team on their watch and got acquainted with check points and the routines for receiving boats with refugees. It was dark and I remember that I was extremely nervous about what could happen. We drove around all night, checked the various posts several times and in the morning a boat arrived. I was so relieved that they had crossed safely and it was amazing to witness the cooperation between the various NGOs who came to help in the port.

How was it to be there and what did you experience?

“I was there for a busy week and for a large part of that, my friend was there and I am very grateful she was. That way, we could regularly vent our frustrations from our experiences.  At the same time, we quickly became very familiar with the other Drops, who had, in a very short period of time, worked out routines for patrolling, distributing food, washing and sorting clothes, visiting refugee camps, etc. I felt safe as a Drop, I felt well taken care of, but in spite of that, I could not help the feelings I got when meeting traumatized people who had just survived a crossing in hard weather, I felt repeatedly unable to help them quickly enough, give them sufficient attention and warmth. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to meet many of them again in refugee camps and be more present with play, conversation and distribution of food. The experience gave a mixture of feelings; rewarding, frustrating, frightening, sad and enlightening, all at once.

Was there an experience which made a special impression?

“I was called in the middle of the night and I had to come and help because there was a boat that had come in with a lot of injured people, I have never had such a high pulse, I hurried to the beach where luckily both healthcare professionals and volunteers had arrived. The weather was rough, many had scratched themselves  on the sharp rocks and it was difficult to get eye contact with many as they were still so terrified.

Changing clothes on soaking wet adults is a very special experience. For a brief moment they put their destiny into your hands and you must manage this responsibility to the best of your ability. I felt that I did not manage this as well I wanted to and I wish I could have stayed for longer to be able to get better at these encounters.

How did the journey affect you?

“When my friend, Ragnhild, traveled home a few days earlier than me, and I had time to reflect on the existence of the refugees, I completely broke down. I saw families with young children and trash bags in their hands, boarding a ferry to Athens, with an unsafe future, heading towards a closed Europe. It is heartbreaking to think about. But I’m so glad I met some of them and helped give some hope for their journey ahead; it felt meaningful. I’m still thinking about returning, the boats are still coming, the crisis is in no way over, it has become even harder to cross borders, refugee camps are full, conditions worse, aid agencies fewer. The need for help is as large, if not larger and that A Drop in the Ocean makes it possible to volunteer, is incredibly fine.