Helping People in Need

The story of the Starfish Foundation

A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement.

She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!”

The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied, “Well, I made a difference to that one!”

The old man looked at the girl inquisitively and thought about what she had done and said. Inspired, he joined the little girl in throwing starfish back into the sea.

– Adapted from The Star Thrower by Loren C. Eiseley

For centuries people have been drawn to the Greek island of Lesvos for its natural beauty, relaxing hot springs, poetic traditions and sleepy atmosphere. In the summer of 2010, a different type of traveller began to arrive: desperate men, women and children, fleeing war, death and destruction. It was a mere trickle at first, small dinghies with handfuls of people, mainly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. But towards the end of 2014 the numbers increased, boats made for 12 people were crammed with up to 60 souls. The refugees’ journey to Lesvos was long and dangerous and they needed help. So a group of local people began to pitch in, their efforts coordinated by Melinda McRostie, owner of the Captain’s Table restaurant in Molyvos. At first she gave out food and words of welcome and comfort. But when summer came, 100 refugees a week turned into 1,000 refugees a day…

Soon, people all over the world began to hear about what she was doing to help on this Greek island; tales from holidaymakers, the internet and the media began to work their magic. Before long, volunteers and tourists were arriving to give their time, money and effort to make sure the new arrivals were not alone. The team made sure the refugees had food, water, dry clothes and onward travel to Mytilene, where they could be registered and given papers to continue their journey.

During the summer and autumn of 2015, record-breaking numbers of refugees arrived on Lesvos, sometimes more than 60 boats a day. So a transit camp was built in the car park of a nightclub called Oxy to provide food, water, shelter, medical facilities and buses to Mytilini for every refugee. Donations from tourists and volunteers from around the world all helped to make this possible.

When the flood of arrivals slowed down during the spring of 2016, the Starfish team thought carefully about how to redirect our efforts. As a local organization, we decided to suspend our volunteer program and focus on a few ongoing programs while continuing our efforts to assist local people—the island that weathered the storm of migrants and volunteers alike now faces the challenge of rebuilding the tourist economy that evaporated during the crisis.

Meanwhile, Starfish continues to do what it always has and what the people of Lesvos are known for: providing a warm welcome to travellers, standing together to take on the challenges they face, and most importantly, never overlooking the value of offering help, for it is by living out the spirit of Starfish that the world will be changed.