Cecilia Wambach is a retired professor of Mathematics from San Francisco who is a regular volunteer on Lesvos, and the co-founder of REAL (Refugee Education and Learning) one of the multitude of small NGOs who operate on the island. More specifically, they provide volunteers at Gekko. She and the majority of the rest of her team camp out at Thermi, some ten miles up the coast from Mytilini – though camp out does not do it justice, as they stay at Votsala, a very comfortable and well-appointed motel. At one time, I had considered staying there too, but decided it would be too remote and difficult to organise transport back and forth. For me, I am sure that was the right choice; I enjoy being at the heart of things, able to come and go from both Gekko and Mosaik at my leisure.
Last night she arranged a dinner at Votsala for all of her REAL team, and somehow I was also invited – largely, I suspect, because I am of a similar age. Nor was being un-REAL my only distinctive quality; I was the only male in the party. The meal itself was excellent, quite the most haute cuisine I have encountered in Greece.
Cecilia herself, despite being 75 or so, has a bubbly, effusive personality. Each one of us was invited to say something about ourselves, what had brought us to Lesvos, and a little about the work we are doing here. This might have been awkward and twee, but in fact was interesting. The largest group there were all from the swim program, working with the Gekko girls, as well as some young women from Moria, to teach them to swim and be confident in water. It also went a little way to redress the balance of opportunity between the genders, whereby the boys in the school have free rein to wander Mytilini in the evenings, while the girls are confined to their houses.