Documentary tells story of Greek islanders who saved drowning refugees

A Syrian filmmaker has made a documentary about the Greek ‘island heroes’ at the frontline of the refugee crisis, some of whom have been nominated for the Nobel peace prize

When thousands fled my homeland of Syria in 2015, on the perilous sea journey to the Greek island of Lesvos, many were rescued and cared for by the islanders. They showed extraordinary compassion and humanity.

When the refugees began to arrive on Lesvos, the people spontaneously put their lives on hold to help and give hope and refuge to the displaced men, women and children who landed on their shores. From the darkness of the war in Syria, a light shone from Greece – a place I came to know and love.

From the darkness of the war in Syria, a light shone from Greece

Our documentary, Ode to Lesvos, is about these individuals who, with an unbreakable generosity of spirit, provided hope and positivity to some of Syria’s displaced families. When the opportunity came to make a film about them, I didn’t hesitate for a second.

People like the fisherman Stratis Valamios, who spent months on end rescuing people from the waters around his home in Skala Sikaminias, saving boats full of water with 50 or 60 people on board – many of them woman and children. For him it’s simple; we should all help one another because tomorrow we might be the ones in need.

Stratis Valamios

Fisherman Stratis Valamios used his boat to rescue those at sea, an act he says he didn’t think twice about

Other islanders, like one of the grandmothers, Aimilia Kamvisi, tell of how they brought food, kept refugees company and looked after babies. They are the heroes in a film that represents one chapter in a larger, evolving story. It shows how these simple acts of kindness and positivity made a difference to the lives of those who made such a dangerous journey in search of a better future.

Having worked as a documentary filmmaker and journalist in Syria and knowing first-hand the horror and despair refugees face as they seek safety, shelter and a better future, I was inspired to tell the uplifting story of the response of the community of Lesvos.

Grandmother - Ode to Lesvos

Aimilia Kamvisi is one of three grandmothers who took care of rescued refugees on a daily basis. Now, she and the others say they miss the families they helped

In 2013 I was completing my film, Return to Homs, and visited Germany in the summer to start the editing. By September I realised that the conflict in Syria was not going to be resolved quickly, so I decided to apply for political protection residency in Germany for myself and my family.

We were fortunate enough to escape the devastation of a dangerous sea crossing, but I know only too well the traumatic passage through testimonies of relatives and friends.

For me personally, in my darkest moments, I remember the heroes I learned about in the films I have made. Then, I never lose hope. They inspire me to look forward in my filmmaking and in my personal life – no matter how difficult. They drive me to stay positive and to never give up.

These simple acts of kindness and positivity made a difference to the lives of those who made such a dangerous journey

Watch the full Ode to Lesvos film at:

Ode to Lesvos was created by Scotch whisky maker, Johnnie Walker and its Storyline initiative – which gives a voice to real life stories from around the world. As part of the film launch they are encouraging people to donate to Mercy Corps

Read it and don’t weep.

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