More than 15,000 women, men and children have died crossing the Mediterranean Sea in the last several years, most fleeing violence and looking for a safe home. Sonoma County artist and activist Eric Leland gave 100% of the profits from the sale of his fractal burn art to Refugee Impact’s work to help these people looking for a better life. Made from discarded wood objects, each piece is a one of a kind, and represents hope for precious lives too often overlooked. Eric uses 12,000 volts electricity to burn wandering trails through the wood surface, representing the tremendous energy and lengthy paths followed by people fleeing persecution.
Refugee Impact held a benefit art sale for people living as refugees in downtown Petaluma CA. All proceeds from the sale benefitted Home for All and Dirty Girls Of Lesvos Island. The old Seed Bank building made a great setting and attracted a very talented group of local artisans.
Helping families living in squats and refugee camps in Greece and on the island of Lesbos has become a mission for the 44-year-old Leland, who moved from Fairfax to Petaluma in June to teach special education at Sonoma’s Adele Harrison Middle School. She and her husband of 22 years, Eric Leland, 46, support families in limbo through various efforts with Refugee Impact, including the “Refugee Hopelet Project,” where they offer for donations bracelets made by refugees from life jackets they wore during their sea crossings.
Over 10,000 refugees have drowned in the 4.1 mile stretch of the Aegean Sea that separates Turkey from the Greek island of Lesvos, while fleeing violence and war in the Middle East and Africa. To this day, they continue to brave the dangerous sea crossing. These “hopelets”, an initiative started by refugee impact volunteers in Greece last summer, are made by refugees and volunteers from parts of the life jackets from the lucky refugees having survived the journey. Hundreds have been sold in Greece, across Europe and the United States. Recently, a Fairfax resident bought 10 to bring to his friends in Germany!
The power of youth activism is infectious. Nine year old Sinjin, a Marin County elementary school student, is on a mission and no one can stop him! He’s raised hundreds of dollars and brought classmates on board to support refugees in Greece. He even traveled from the SF Bay area down to LA to attend a leadership conference due to his work with refugees, and has make several public speaking appearances to talk about the cause.
Basic healthcare is a luxury most refugees have little access to. Joseph, a refugee living on the streets of Athens, was in critical need of dental care, and due to it being too painful to eat, his health was further deteriorating. Through our on-the-ground network in Greece, we were able to rapidly identify a dentist who provided emergency dental care for Joseph. Additional online volunteering helped raise money to unite a father and his 4 children, one of whom he had never met, as his wife was pregnant when they were separated by ISIS. Finally, when a two children lost their father, who died of a heart attack, while crossing the border from Syria to Turkey, our network contacted lawyers in Europe who negotiated the safe housing of the children in Syria for months until they were reunited with their mom in Germany.
Neighbors in Fairfax came together to cook mason jar meals to the community in exchange for a donation to HOME (online at www.homeforaday.gr). Many neighbors reconnected with one another, and several met for the first time while learning more about the current struggles of refugees stranded in Greece. Hundreds of dollars were raised over the course of several dinners, which was then given to the NGO in Greece and was used to buy food for home cooked meals for refugees living in terrible conditions in refugee camps.
12 is not too young to make a difference! A local middle school student Chloe Craft learned about the suffering of refugees living in squats in athens from the volunteer work of a local high school club, and took action. She began writing letters to refugees to express support, and held an event for her dojo partners to do the same as well as had a letter writing table at a local fundraiser. She has already sent one batch of letters to refugees in Athens, and is preparing a second batch for delivery in the summer of 2018.
Supporters are pitching in to buy airline tickets and travel necessities to families awarded asylum - 2 families have already been supported in October, 2017. After a harrowing journey and often over a year with their life on hold, sometimes the only barrier between freedom and living in a squat is the price of an airline ticket.
Home for All invites refugees on the island to be guests at their table, who eat (for free) together with volunteers, locals and tourists, creating a moment to relax, to have fun, to meet new friends, and to step out of the daily routine of the refugee life. Feeding dozens of refugees daily, for years, takes a tremendous amount of support - Home needed a central online resource to showcase their work, encourage more volunteers and grow their donor network. Eric Leland of FivePaths, a local technology firm, strategized with Nikos and key volunteers to build HOME a website integrated with online donation and volunteer management tools at https://www.homeforaday.gr/.