British Columbia

North Vancouver volunteer returns from helping refugees in Lesbos, Greece

A North Vancouver woman says seeing the photo of 3-year old Alan Kurdi drowned on a beach inspired her to help on the front lines of the refugee crisis.

Laurie Cooper says seeing the photo of 3-year-old Alan Kurdi inspired her to help on the front lines

Hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria and Afghanistan have arrived in Greece this year. (Petros Giannakouris/Associated Press)

A North Vancouver woman says her two-week experience helping refugees on the beaches of Lesbos, Greece was both humbling and inspiring.

Hundreds of thousands of people seeking a new life have poured into Europe by sea this year alone, a UN agency says, with the vast majority of the asylum seekers landing in Greece.

After seeing the photo of 3-year old Alan Kurdi drowned on a beach, Cooper decided she wanted to help on the front lines. She says it was an overwhelming experience, especially when she saw for herself how little the refugees had by the time they landed on the beaches.

She realized they had left everything behind, including friends and family, jobs and livelihoods.

"The refugees themselves are such incredibly strong people. They have lost everything, I mean literally everything. When they arrive on the beaches if they're lucky they might have a little Safeway bag of stuff," she said.

'She will haunt me forever'

Cooper says she will never forget one particularly inspiring woman and her family.The Afghan woman had been rescued by the Coast Guard along with her husband and two children.

"[She was] very  beautiful, very very skinny and pregnant," said Cooper. "Her skin was a dark grey, she looked so ill."

Cooper offered to drive the family up a one-kilometre hill to its next destination — a bus stop.

On the way she saw a food vendor.

"You're not supposed to stop when you're carrying refugees, But I just thought, screw it"

Cooper bought the family fruit for their journey ahead — one she knew would be "horrendous." Then she remembered she had one more blanket left from the pile her physiotherapist in North Vancouver gave her before she left.

"I ran and got it, and I wrapped her in it and gave her a big hug. It was like hugging a bird she was so fragile. She just hugged me back, big smile on her face," said Cooper.

Then, she and her family were on their way.

"I left her with a blanket and some fruit, and I don't know what's going to happen to her," said Cooper.

"She will haunt me forever."

Generosity in Greece and Canada

Cooper says most of the refugees arriving in Greece were families with children. Despite the economic hardship in Greece, local residents were very generous toward them, she said.

"I was blown away by the generosity of the local people ... these people give and give and give and they are so kind and generous."

Cooper founded the organization, Canada Caring, and says it will continue working to support refugees in Canada and Greece. The Canadian federal government has pledged to accept 25,000 Syrian refugees in the coming months, with flights starting December 10.

Canada Caring is holding a fundraiser Sunday, December 6th at at 6 p.m. PT at The Raven Pub in North Vancouver.

To listen to the full audio, click the link labelled: Kurdi photo inspires woman to help in Greece.