Life-changing holiday sparked mission to help refugees

The English lessons for school children in Athens. Picture: Joel Gage
The English lessons for school children in Athens. Picture: Joel Gage
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An Upper Beeding man who witnessed the suffering of refugees attempting to enter Greece is fundraising to help those living in squalor across Europe.

Joel Gage was on holiday on the Greek island of Leros in September 2015 when a refugee boat sank off the coast.

Joel with a few refugee children. Picture: Joel Gage SUS-170215-112719001

Joel with a few refugee children. Picture: Joel Gage SUS-170215-112719001

The 37-year-old decided to spend his two week holiday volunteering and helping refugees.

He launched a Facebook page and a Crowdfunding campaign to support the refugees before he founded his charity Aegean Solidarity Network Team UK.

He said: “When I got back home from Greece I started to fundraise and raise awareness of the problem.

“There are no words to describe the situation out there. You have to see it with your own eyes because you just don’t know where to start.”

Refugee children in Leros. Picture: Joel Gage SUS-170215-112735001

Refugee children in Leros. Picture: Joel Gage SUS-170215-112735001

The charity has so far helped fund a number of projects including English lessons for schoolchildren in Athens, contributing food, clothing and building work to convert a disused hospital in Pipka into a refugee centre and also funded a trial alongside Austrian charity ECHO100Plus to provide hygiene packs on a bi weekly basis.

The charity is currently fundraising to buy a special support chair for a three-year old boy from Afghanistan with cerebral palsy living in Athens. Doctors have said with the right support and therapy he might be able to learn to walk when he is older.

Leros has a population of less than 8,000 people including around 800 refugees between Pipka and Villa.

Joel added: “The Greek government is already in a fragile place and cannot support the large volume of people.

Joel Gage

Joel Gage

“The media does not show the suffering of these people and I don’t understand why.

“What people need to realise is these refugees are trying to escape the same things we are terrified of: ISIS and war.

“We know we are limited in what we can do but if we can help a few people then at least that is something.

“There is a major health issue for these refugees as they managed to escape where they come from, endured a terrible journey and now they have been told they will not be able to reach their final destination.”

You can help support refugees in Greece by donating to Joel’s charity here.

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