Where It All Began

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Let’s start where it all began…

At first glance, the Captain’s Table in the harbour of Molyvos, owned by Melinda and Theo, looks fairly similar to many such popular restaurants across Greece. But appearances can be deceptive, as it is here that the Starfish story really begins and the Captain’s Table remains the focal point of all of our operations here in Lesvos. Melinda began to get involved with helping the refugees in November 2014. Along with a team of locals, she started to offer food and words of comfort to desperate people fleeing from war and risking their lives crossing the sea in overcrowded dinghies. As the numbers increased rapidly throughout 2015, volunteers flew in from all over the world to help support Melinda’s efforts and Starfish became an official non-profit organisation in October 2015.

The Captain’s Table is where plans are made, strategies to cope are created, alliances are built and lifelong friendships are made. Everything that Starfish is and does has its genesis in this very special restaurant. On a more practical level, it’s handily placed right next door to the port police in the harbour. This means we know when the coastguard goes out to rescue refugee boats that are in distress. When we see the coastguard leave the harbour, all of us here are incredibly nervous; will the people be okay? Is everyone safe? Or will urgent medical attention be required? Starfish is responsible for looking after all refugees rescued by the coastguard and we spring into action once we know there are people on their way. We give them emergency blankets, food, water, dry clothes and we welcome them to Europe. Starfish also assists in registering the refugees brought in by the coastguard and they are given free bus travel to the registration camps in Mytilini where they receive their papers for onward travel. The Captain’s Table is the place to come to for general information about Starfish, where volunteer inductions take place and is the venue for media interviews over a coffee and some delicious fava bean dip.

Behind the harbour, we have a small food store which is often stacked to the rafters with cheese, bread, fruit, water and biscuits. It has been christened ‘Sandwich Factory’ as in busy times it’s a well-oiled cheese sandwich creating machine! At some points during the summer, we had people there making thousands of sandwiches around the clock to ensure that everyone arriving here got something to eat. Although we now have a kitchen at our transit camp at Oxy, Sandwich Factory is still an important part of everything we do here. There is always room for one more cheese sandwich!

A little further up the hill we have a clothes storage space. A local woman, Anastasia, lets us use it to store all the donations that people are kindly sending us from all corners of the globe. Starfish has been working the post office staff exceptionally hard and some days we receive over 50 packages of clothes and shoes. It’s vitally important that these items are sorted and stored appropriately so we can find whatever we need quickly. There are 11 rooms in the house and each room contains different types of supplies. There are Starfish volunteers in our clothing storage area every single day, unpacking boxes, sorting through donations and making sure that rogue pairs of shoes don’t sneak into the tent and sleeping bag room. We now have two other storage spaces in the villages of Eftalou and Kalloni so that we can ensure that we have enough dry clothes and shoes to give to all of those who need them. We also receive many heartwarming messages from all over the world attached to the parcels, which always lifts our spirits.

As well as volunteers, there is also an invaluable team of locals in Molyvos who do lots of important behind the scenes stuff. Their work is vital and Starfish couldn’t operate without them. It’s truly amazing how much the Greek people have helped with the refugee crisis, especially given the backdrop of recent economic problems in Greece in recent times. It also goes to show that amazing things can happen if we all work together.

So we will leave you for now … the sun is setting here in Lesvos and the waters are calm. The coastguard has just gone out, so people are still arriving here needing our help. Everyone here at Starfish wishes you a safe and beautiful evening.