The Woman behind Chios Esatern Shore Rescue Team(CESRT), Pothiti Kitromilidi. I am lucky to call her a friend and my hero!
Tell me about yourself?
Hi my name Pothiti and I am 42 years old. I was born and raised in Chios and own a little motel with 10 rooms. It is called “The Sunrooms” and is very near the beach. I have an 11 year old son.
How did you start CESRT- Chios Eastern Shore Response Team?
I remember that day very clearly- about 2.5 years ago early in the morning hours, I woke up to the sounds of crying and screaming. I ran to my balcony but couldn’t see anything so I left my son sleeping at home and ran to the beach, where the sounds were coming from. What I saw there was horrible- 40–50 refugees coming off a boat. It was freezing cold and people were soaking wet, crying and scared. I felt so helpless but I did what I could and took them and opened 3 rooms in my motel so they could warm up and feel better.
That was the beginning of everything- it changed me as a person, its sad but true that as humans we don’t understand how awful a situation is until we see it with our own two eyes. It was also the beginning of CESRT, today it is a group of dedicated volunteers from all over the world. In 2 years we have had 2000 registered volunteers pass through here to help refugees.
What was the impact on you?
The refugees had been coming to the Chios since July 2015, but I had never witnessed a landing on the beach next to my home. Many locals had opened their houses and were trying to help refugees.That day I started to think, how could any mother put her child on a plastic boat that was so dangerous and let her child go. But I realized that they didn’t have an option, the danger in their home was larger than the danger at sea or in the hands of a human smuggler. I started to see these mothers and fathers as heroes as they were just trying to keep their families alive.
I was so traumatized by this situation, I posted it on Facebook and many friends responded and said they wanted to help. It was amazing how people from all over the world started to message me to help. I got a message from a lady by the name of Eleni Boubousis from Switzerland who said she wanted to send clothes and supplies for the refugees. I also got another message from a wonderful German man by the name of Casper Thormale, who offered to do a Facebook documentary. Slowly with the help of these two and numerous other volunteers we started to collect donations for these families. But when you have between 1000–1500 people coming every night it was difficult to keep up. We didn’t have enough supplies, my house became a warehouse and we tried to help as many people as we could.
Wow 1500 people a night, that’s a lot..
At that point we realized we needed a system where we could help all the people coming to the island. We had a couple from Scotland who came to help us get organized so we could help more and more people. Some of the locals got together and discussed how we could make our work even more efficient and faster, we all agreed that we needed a person of contact- someone who could be incharge. No one was willing to be that person so I said “Ok I’ll do it.” In my head I thought it wouldn’t be that difficult — but little did I know(chuckles)
Then we realized we needed a bigger warehouse as the donations kept coming. We needed someone to give us a warehouse to use and after our first meeting we got it. Then we started to look for a children’s center and we walked around and saw a “for rent” and right in the city and we got an amazing place. It was like someone from above was helping us. Good things just started happening.
We also started a new project called the laundry house. We started to wash the clothes that the refugees would leave at the landings and recycle them.
In Jan. 2016 we finally started the organization and helped with landings. Our major concern was to get them to a stable place where they could start building their lives and look forward.
How have the landings impacted you as a person?
Landings are always difficult. Even though Ive been through many, it still makes me angry that people have to leave their homes this way because of political wars. After a landing when I see children scared it breaks my heart, but usually after a while they become children again and start laughing and playing-that is when I know they feel secure. In the past two years I have seen 2 children that died before or during the landing- that has been heartbreaking but then I have also seen thousands of them being rescued.
What upsets you the most?
There are many things that upset me, but most of all how this has become a business to exploit the refugees. The smugglers do it and take so much money from people and another big business is the fake life vests. They are sold for so much money but are not even safe. When I see them lying on the beach after a landing it makes me very angry.
You are a true hero!
No I am not, I am just a simple person who wants to help. The real heroes are the rescuers who go in the sea and rescue refugees or the parents who leave their countries and everything behind to give their children a better life- not knowing if they would even survive.