‘Here’ by Mary Beth Leland

Catherine Conrow

Diary entry written by Academic Workshop teacher Mary Beth Leland while she was in Greece. To read the full article on Leland, click here.



Here, where who ever hasn’t dubbed it WWIII simply hasn’t been to Athens.

Where today a woman went absolutely crazy, banging her head against a wall and using shards of glass to slit her wrists, screaming that her baby has been missing for 4 months, where yesterday a refugee jumped in front of a train and died and it didn’t even make the news.

Here, where corruption runs deep on every level, where volunteers watch criminals cherry pick the kids they will traffic as sex slaves and can’t do anything about it. Where women prostitute themselves for the equivalent of a dollar and change because their kids are starving, where women are kidnapped and sold, where 10,000 registered refugee children disappeared last year and we all know what happened to them.

Here, where a 4 year old girl was brought to our squat with blood between her legs, 4 men the suspects…

Here, where tens of thousands sleep on cement with no pads, bodies strewn everywhere in every random position looking dead but just asleep with no mat or blankets in the middle of chaos, where they may go weeks without showers or changing their clothes. Where a girl has been tied to the wall for 6 weeks because without her medication, her parents can’t figure out how to keep her from killing herself,

Where we found 3 feet of sewage in the basement and dragged the furniture out piece by piece for a week, and the furniture is power washed in the same yard where the kids splash in the same water used to clean raw meat.

Where a 2 year old girl takes her nap on a dirty public stairwell and her parents are nowhere to be found.

Where I watched a 7 year old girl light her face on fire while her mom just watched and shrugged, where some of the parents are so traumatised that they’ve lost the will to care for their children.

Here, where my friend tells me about smugglers drugging her 1 year old unconscious so they could sneak him through the mountains undetected, and him being dropped twice, landing limp on the ground, she thinking he was dead. Where there are 50,000 unique and harrowing escape stories like this, trapped in Greece, and millions more around the world.

Here, where women walk around with black eyes from being beaten and children with dark sunken eyes from malnutrition and lack of sleep.

Where young men, tough and scared from war, revolutionaries who chant at protests and organize thousands of people to march through the streets peacefully but loudly demanding humanitarian treatment, at night stare in your eyes with the anger of men who witnessed beheadings and piled corpses of babies on top of UN cars when the UN tried to say that Syria didn’t need help, that quickly devolve into little boy tears, sobbing because they just saw a video of their sisters and cousins eating grass and leaves in Syria because that’s all that’s left in their town that’s surrounded by assad’s army which is surrounded by the rebels, and ask if they can call you mom because they miss theirs so much.  

Where kids follow us around begging for a school and yet in some places we aren’t even allowed in to create a school because of riots.

Here, where rape is more common than breakfast – but where “I was raped” is also used as a lie because it can lead single women to more services like emergency housing or food for their kids, and you never know what’s true, but you do know that “a quick death in Syria, a slow death in Europe” is more true than than your own need for air.

We are losing an entire generation. If they become violent, it’s because we gave them no choice.

We must #opentheborders.

Here, there is so much more good than I ever knew existed.

Here, a refugee from Pakistan unwrapped the bandages from his foot, exposing holes from where nails were hammered in, and offered the bandage to me, because he saw a blister on my toe. People who have lost every dollar, every possession, every home and many loved ones, still tell me that they will do absolutely anything necessary to start a school, and when food is served, they refuse to eat unless the plate served to me, their guest, is bigger than theirs.

Where when we, with heavy hearts and conflicted consciences, evicted 3 families w children because they took over our classroom for shelter, and now they have nowhere to go, still went with us to the store to buy school supplies and help carry them back and paint the very same classroom we kicked them out of.

Here, there is love and humanity in every smile, and people have come from all over the world to bring those smiles. Here, we kiss on both cheeks with every greeting and share water bottles with strangers regardless of the filthy conditions. Where a single mom, a Muslim from Syria, with only pocket change to buy her son an ice cream, which she got from begging, empties her pockets to help feed a homeless Palestinian Christian because love has no religion.

Here, on the first day of school we took them to the beach – because we told them to dream and not stop living and they all begged to go swimming, and since then, they’ve been called the Dream Team. I wasn’t the only one who watched them race into the water and reflected on the fact that the last time they were in this body of water, they were running for their lives, and thousands didn’t make it.

Here, the kids still stand up in our leadership meetings and dare to dream, and organize, and hope, and demand school, and not give up. They greet me every morning asking with an excitement that borders on anger, “School? School today?!” and occasionally spit at us because it’s taking too long (forgive them!) and but we remind them that they are loved and beautiful, and in the next moment are our most reliable helpers. When asked to make a speech on the school’s opening day about education, they make their speech about hope because the education and hope are synonymous, and they discuss how being a teacher or a human smuggler – one who sneaks people out of warring countries – are their dream professions because both save lives.

I think they would be willing to die for a chance to go to school. Hopefully they won’t have to.

At least not here.