It has been 4 days since we left the Bay Area and headed to Lesvos. My total time of actual sleep is about 14 hours (including a few hours on the plane) and I feel that I will probably collapse at any moment. I know that after you read this post you will ask me to get some rest otherwise I will get sick, and you are probably right. However, my excited body and hyper energy won’t listen to y’all, but I assure you, I will be just fine.

Lesvos is a beautiful island and I felt in love with its capital, Mitilini, the moment I landed. Mitilini is one of three major spots on the island where refugees start their journey through Europe crossing from Turkey. Their journey to freedom and a better life comes with a very high price tag; expensive fees paid to the smugglers to cross the water from Turkey to Lesvos, and a high death toll of refugees due to bad weather, defective boats, or wrong landing over a rocky beach.

Local people in Lesvos are very friendly and supportive of the thousands of refugees who cross their little island every day.

My first two night shifts were full of excitement, but also anxiety. I was mainly greeting refugees who had just landed and helping translate from Arabic to English. Most of them were soaking wet, cold, frightened, some injured, and all totally exhausted. I tried to calm them down and explain where they were, because most refugees have no idea where they land and how much further they have to travel. They first need to process their refugee status papers, they need to know what to say to the authorities, and need assistance and direction to the camp’s food, shelter, and warmth.

This is personally one of the most emotional and difficult tasks that I have ever experienced, but it is without any doubt the most rewarding one. Witnessing the changes in the refugees’ energy after hearing my calming and welcoming voice, seeing the grateful look on their faces, receiving heartwarming hugs, and melting in the sweetness of the children’s smiles, were absolutely priceless.

These refugees lost their homes and everything they owned, and many lost their loved ones back home or during their journey to freedom. They took a risk, placed their hope and trust in the hands of strangers and volunteers who met them with warm hearts, open arms, and countless hours of hard work and dedication. These volunteers have restored the refugees’ faith they lost in humanity, and I am very grateful and honored to be one of them.







Better Days Ahead

Moria is the largest registration point and transit center assisting refugees on the island of Lesvos, Greece, run by UNHCR. After a long, cold journey on the Aegean Sea, people are assisted from the shore through other volunteer groups who coordinate with Moria and Better Days for Moria, two camps that will look after them until they are ready to continue their journey to Athens and other parts of Europe. They are taken to the Moria camp to register with FRONTEX, the European Border Control Agency. There they are given food, medical attention, and clothing by Better Days for Moria, a private volunteer group who runs a camp next to Moria. The Better Days for Moria camp works in conjunction with the Moria Registration Site and sits on private land rented from a local farmer. They are completely run by volunteers and donations and are positioned right next to Moria, so they can easily assist those who need help with their transition into Europe. They are not beholden to the strict rules of the UNHCR and are able to offer kindness and more information than the larger more bureaucratic camps can offer. Better Days for Moria is where we spent our first two days as volunteers working the night shift from 1 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.

Greeted by a friendly yet visibly exhausted team of volunteer workers, we were given as much information as possible about roles/responsibilities needed at BDFM, and how the Moria registration system works. That system can change day to day, hour to hour, and never fully manifests into a clear concise process. Somehow, among the chaos, things keep moving at an impressive rate no matter how many issues arise or how many people arrive at any given time. There are extremely busy times when dozens upon dozens of people arrive who require immediate assistance, but sometimes it’s slow, and we organize everything as much as possible before the next wave of people make their way to land.

Better Days For Moria offers aid to people from many different nations including but not limited to Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. People are brought from the shore off boats and taken via buses to the camp. As soon as the buses arrive, BDFM tries to provide translators to explain the registration process, and to provide everyone with as much information as possible about what BDFM and Moria can provide. People have to go to the Moria camp to complete the registration process. The registration lines at Moria can be cumbersome, and people can be caught waiting long periods of time wet, hungry and exhausted before they are allowed into Moria. The BDFM camp tries to look after them before and/or after the registration process but sometimes that is not always possible depending on how long it takes them to get from the shore to the camps and how long it takes them to get through the registration process. If they need immediate medical attention they are taken to the medical tent at BDFM and given aid. If they are hungry they are taken to the kitchen and fed soup, porridge, tea and/or water. If they are soaking wet they are taken to the distribution center for clean, dry clothing and sanitary supplies. Some require medical attention, many are soaked from the journey, but all are hungry and ready for rest.

Youssef spent his time greeting people from the buses, translating information, and utilizing his native Arabic language as much as possible. There are not a lot of translators at the camp, so his work was in demand and very much appreciated. The rest of SURF spent a lot of time in the distribution center or working on the tent team. The distribution center houses clothing, sanitary supplies, tents and sleeping bags, and provides separate enclosed dressing areas for women/children and men. They are helped out of their wet garments and into warm, dry items such as jackets, hats, scarves, gloves, and anything else they need to feel more comfortable during the duration of their stay. Better Days for Moria collects all wet clothing in good condition and packs it up for the Dirty Girls of Lesvos. The Dirty Girls of Lesvos are an eco-conscious grassroots organization who pick up dirty clothing, blankets and shoes, clean them and redistribute them to the camps for continued use.

Sometimes Better Days for Moria has what they need, but often they run out of much needed supplies. For example, on our second day it was a very cold night and we did not have any gloves in adult sizes and very few children’s sized gloves. With that said, the camp does an excellent job at providing each person with what they reasonably need with the few resources they have. After they are fed and clothed the tent team works hard at providing shelter for each family. There are several large tents that should hold 10-15 people, but in most cases they cram over double the amount into the space because of the quantity of arrivals and lack of land that can hold shelter. When the larger tents are full, smaller tents are utlilized to provide enough dry shelter for the duration of their stay. The first day it rained lightly, and was bearably cold, assuming you were wearing proper garments, however the second day it was MUCH colder and we received a lot more people than the day before. Most people will stay at the camp for a day or so until they purchase a ticket to Athens and continue their journey. For those who are unable to continue for financial reasons, there are groups who sponsor families to help get them to where they need to go. More on that later.

It’s difficult to describe every emotion we experienced and share everything that happened. There was an older wheelchair bound Afghani woman who needed help out of her drenched clothes. With many communication barriers to deal with she was quickly given the best clothing options possible and was later seen enjoying soup by the fire, laughing with her peers. There was an old man wearing wet socks and shoes two sizes too small, ashamed he could not get himself out of his soaked footwear by himself. He noticeably swallowed his pride and allowed a volunteer to help him. Later on he was seen walking freely around the camp with a steaming cup of chai tea talking with his family. There was a woman with a young girl and small baby who came in completely soaked. Among other things, she needed clean diapers and a place to use the bathroom and clean her daughter’s hands and face. The portable bathrooms are cleaned daily in the mornings around 8am. She arrived half an hour before the cleaners were due which means the bathrooms were a frightful mess. Not only did she and her children offer zero complaints, they waited patiently for 30 minutes until the cleaners got the bathrooms back to a more functional state, and still thanked us profusely for helping them so quickly. Was every person this easy to assist? No, but most are so very grateful for what little we can offer, it’s difficult to become emotionally dragged down by the atmosphere because of the constant gratitude we receive from everyone.

There were boxes and boxes of one type of thing, and none of another. There were people happy to get a coat, even if it was the wrong size and ugly. There were people frustrated that we couldn’t give them new shoes or pants because theirs were good enough, and we had to save supplies for people who needed them more. There were people whose faces showed a level of exhaustion more than we’ve ever known. There were families of dozens crammed into a tent made for many fewer. There were people accustomed to having money and choices and opportunities who were adjusting to receiving handouts from strangers in a foreign land, but there was one thing all of us had in common. Whether you were stricken by unforeseen circumstances in your home country, drawn here to volunteer for a short or long period of time, working at a government agency, independent organization, or grass roots program, none of us know what type of days, or how many, lie ahead.






Orange and Grey

A breathtakingly beautiful blood-orange sunrise filled the gloomy sky and dissipated the dreary morning atmosphere. It perfectly mirrored the warm emotions that washed over us as we anticipated the start of our mission. Seconds later, that same intense color contrast would trigger a completely different set of emotions in our inexperienced minds. Out the windows to our left, life vests littered the beaches of the stunning Mediterranean island, and a boat of refugees emptied onto the shore. It just got real. It was a human moment, and just the kind of image we needed to remind us of the gravity of the situation. The word “refugee” feels too detached to use as a moniker for the people in need, and that is what they are, people. Humans, just like us, in a struggle far deeper than most of us reading this will ever encounter. Not only do we want to raise awareness about the plight of the Syrians, Afghanis, Iraqis, and many others who are fleeing in search of something safer than their homes can offer, we want to humanize their story. With that, in the next week, we will share their stories through our own experiences in hopes that you can understand, or at the very least take in who they really are. It was never about us, and we knew that, but that bold clash of images and feelings made that more clear than it had ever been before.



With over $60,000 raised in donations we are off to Greece! Thank you to everyone who helped us reach our goal, spread the word about our cause, offered resources and most importantly to those who understood the importance of the plight of the refugees. We can’t wait to share out stories with you and begin our mission.

SURF Welcomes a New Ally

SURF is excited to welcome Lisa to our group. She will join us on our mission to help with the European refugee crisis.

Lisa is a Bay Area native who works with intimacy, shame, and trauma. She’s looking forward to this opportunity to assist beings in crisis and in bringing the perspective of this experience back to her work and the culture of the Bay.
Welcome Lisa and thank you for donating your time to help our cause.

One Week Away

At almost 58k dollars we are one week away from heading to Lesvos to support the refugee crisis. Tickets are purchased, accommodations have been booked, and our hearts and minds are ready for whatever our travels will bring us. We are still humbled by all the support we have received from friends, families, colleagues and strangers alike. It’s important to us we share our supportive efforts with our donors once we land in Lesvos. Check this website for regular updates about what we are doing with our time, how we are using your donations and the constant influx of the crisis at hand.

To our 2015 Donors

Everyone who donated to the SURF mission in December 2015 will receive a thank you letter and a receipt of your donation today, so you can use it for the 2015 tax year for tax deduction purposes. Donations made in 2016 will be delivered later and can only be used for the 2016 tax year. If you did not receive an email, or if there are any discrepancies in our records, please email Youssef directly at:
Many thanks to all donors. Because of your generous donations, we reached a milestone of $50,000 in less than a month. Your donations are the biggest factor of the success of our mission. Thousands of refugees are depending on us, your donations will make a difference in their lives.

Happy New Year from SURF

For millions of people, 2015 was a year full of challenges, sadness, pain, and grief. However, we want to start this chapter today with some positive notes and an appreciation for those who contributed to our cause and restored the trust and hope in humanity. We have received over $48,000 in donations to the Syrian United Refugee Fund (SURF), which will be used to support our mission to help the refugees directly in Greece. We will continue our fundraising campaign through the end of January when we depart to Lesvos Island. Thank you everyone for the donations, love and support, and may we all have a blissful and peaceful New Year.