Xander Schultz and Zoë Pappis Schultz co-founders of WWBT (When We Band Together) share how they are transforming a warehouse into an emergency COVID-19 clinic in Europe’s largest refugee camp — Moria, in Lesvos, Greece.
But before we get there: if you are one of the people who often wonder how do those who run projects such as this one start or whether they’ve always been passionate about these sorts of actions — we’ve got you covered. Read on to find out how it all begun.
Xander and Zoë got engaged and were looking for a spot in Crete for their wedding. They were amazed by the beauty of the land, the colours and the culture. However, they realised quickly that the areas they were exploring were also places where human tragedy was taking place. They started to learn about the refugee camps and instead of focusing on the preparation of their big day, they decided to volunteer together in Lesvos. They didn’t know much about the refugees nor did they know what they could do at the camp, but they were committed to serving people living there.
As if often turns out, where there is a will, there is a way.
The couple started doing a little bit of everything: they were taxi cab drivers to help people who landed on the island get to the nearest camp. They were also supervising the security and managing teams of volunteers.
It was November 2015. About 3,000 refugees were coming to the island every day. About a million people passed through Lesvos in 2015–2016. It was mainly Syrians fleeing their country and the war that was happening there at the time. Then, it shifted to more Afghans escaping the remnants of American-Afghan conflict.
After a month of volunteering, Zoë and Xander were leaving the camp. The couple wanted to make sure they stayed involved even after their departure. They wanted to find a way to not only keep supporting the refugees but to do so in a holistic way.
Zoë attended an up-cycling class when she was in college and this experience sparked an idea to utilise the discarded life vests which back then started becoming sort of a symbol of mass migrations and the refugee crisis. There were hundreds of thousands of life vests on the shores in Greece. The couple decided to start collecting them and hire locals to create something new out of these symbolic items. The next step was to sell the new product in the USA and hopefully create some sort of awareness and collect funds which then would be donated back to the island.
They called the armbands “Zoë bands” (Zoë means ‘life’ in Greek). They released their product at the time when the refugee crisis had the headlines. After a couple of months when the level of coverage started receding, Zoë and Xander focused on the more traditional forms of fundraising around their newly created organisation. Currently, most of the funds come from their friends and family, one-off donations, grants, as well as small fundraisers.
When it comes to their approach, they both put emphasis on the importance of curating the aid projects in a way that they not only try to address the issues facing refugees but also create a sense of ‘normal’ life and give purpose to people who have found themselves in such difficult living conditions.
A lot of pain and struggles in refugee camps are intentional and governed. They’re created to discourage people from coming there and to instead choose different countries. A reform in camps feels impossible at times but it’s possible to rent a place next door and create a safe space for the communities there, for example, a women's centre with a playground for kids.
The way the camps are governed shows that we, as humanity, have institutionalised harm and so it’s up to every individual to scramble and work on solutions to deinstitutionalise them. Zoë and Xander have now rented a property to set up a COVID-19 health clinic nearby the camp and they’re currently looking at more properties around it so that they hopefully can create a beautiful village around the camp that would provide relief and break from the terrible conditions inside of it.
The couple is working around the Moria camp, the biggest camp in Europe with a capacity of 2,700 people. Currently, there are 20,000 people in the camp. They have to stand in 3–4h food lines. There is no more free accommodation so those who arrive have to steal wood to built shelters for themselves. Additionally, there’s very little water and soap. These are terrible conditions in general, however, in the face of a pandemic, they are literally life-threatening. There is no possible way to keep social distancing in check, to wash hands frequently, and to self-isolate.
This is why Zoë and Xander have focused on transforming a warehouse into an emergency COVID-19 clinic with 80 beds and 15–20 staff employed. This way they can try to keep the virus from infecting the camp as much as possible.
The couple decided to stay human in a very inhuman situation and do something to make it even a tiny bit more bearable. Not everybody can launch an organisation, not everybody can go to the places where camps are located and be hands-on help where needed. That’s okay. What’s important is to stay aware, not look away from injustice, act for good within our capabilities and educate ourselves. If we can donate, that’s amazing. If we can volunteer or start an organisation, even better.
However, it’s not the scale of action that makes it valuable and needed, but it’s the intention and commitment to it that sparks the positive change in our world.