West Valley grads spend year helping refugees near Greece - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

West Valley grads spend year helping refugees near Greece

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The boys will be attending Whitman College in the fall but want to continue volunteering. The boys will be attending Whitman College in the fall but want to continue volunteering.
GREEK-MACEDONIAN BORDER -

BY: Jody Barhanovich

The Nea Kavala refugee camp straddles an abandoned runway a few miles from Greece’s northern border with Macedonia. There are Syrians here, living with Iraqis and Afghans. The tents all look the same, but refugees from each country prefer to live in their own corners of the sprawling camp.

The camps are filled with people fleeing war and violence, and seeking a new life in Europe, and although the Greek government is helping directly with some of these camps, they rely heavily on non-government organizations and volunteer labor.

Last year two of those volunteers had just graduated from Spokane’s West Valley High School. They have college plans but decided to spend a gap year volunteering overseas.  

 “This is a group of people similar to my own socio-economic status that are fleeing their situation because the conditions have become impossible to live in,” said Cameron Connor.

The boys volunteered through the Green Helmets, a German organization that specializes in reconstruction after disasters. Cameron and the volunteers turn these large sheets of plywood into foundations for the refugees tents.

“We make a frame to begin with and on top we lay OSB’s, the plates you can see here, and from there we saw them in half ship them out stack them there and not only do we distribute to this camp we also have trucks come and deliver to other camps as well,” Connor said. 

The boys were able to create friendships with the children in the refugee camps and even allowed the children to help build floors with them.

“A lot of the times they’ll come in and work with us or even they’ll sit down and watch us work and just have conversations with us and we speak very little Kurdish or Arabic and they speak a little bit of English but generally through a little bit of enthusiasm and hand gestures we can convey our meaning,” Connor said.

Cameron and Grant Gallaher say volunteering at the refugee camps was a life changing experience and they agreed the hardest part was seeing children is such dire circumstances.

 “So many of these kids are so intelligent and so creative and really could do something great for the world and they might not have the chance too, and that breaks my heart," Gallaher said.

Cameron and Grant worked with earthquake victims in Nepal for four and a half months before volunteering at the Greek refugee camps. They say both were eye-opening experiences that changed their view of the world. The boys will be attending Whitman college next fall, but want to continue volunteering in the future.

“I really want to spend the rest of my life working with people in difficult situations and help them get out of them, help them better their own lives,” Connor said.

 No one can say how long these camps will be needed, but volunteers will continue to play a vital role.

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