ATHENS – On a cloudy Saturday morning in March, Lisa Campbell sits behind her desk in a small trailer at Oinofyta camp an hour outside of Athens, Greece. She's exhausted, overworked, and thousands of miles from her family in Virginia.

She's had three hours of sleep for the third night in a row. The day before, 15 volunteers left and Campbell was stuck with a medical emergency when one slammed her fingers into the car door.

On a volunteer trip to Greece in May 2016, Campbell planned to stay and help for 45 days. She would do some projects to help the residents get back on their feet at Oinofyta camp and go back home.

But aside for a quick trip home in December, she's been here ever since as camp director.

"I was raised in a home where service was just a way of life," Campbell says. "It wasn't something we did special every now and then." 

Currently, 62,000 refugees lie in wait in Greece — waiting to be relocated, waiting to be approved for asylum, waiting to restart their lives. They live in a limbo where they're finally safe from the violence they fled, but not back to their regular lives.

Campbell runs one of about 50 documented refugee sites in Greece. It is her mission for Oinofyta to feel like a community, where the residents can finally feel like people again, not refugees. She works to empower residents to take control of their lives. Children attend school, men sew crafts to sell, women cook in the communal kitchen, and all adults meet monthly to discuss community issues.

Oinofyta receives its funds through donations and other organizations. Campbell says LDS Charities, sponsored by the Mormon church, provides a lot of assistance to Oinofyta and has been helping since the start.

When the refugee crisis started in 2015, she felt drawn to help. Like other volunteers around the world, Campbell left her home thousands of miles away. As co-founder of Do Your Part, an American nongovernmental organization that works with volunteers worldwide, Campbell led the charge into Greece. Despite anti-immigrant rhetoric back in the United States, she continues to champion the voiceless and hopes that by providing refugees with agency and dignity, she can give them a piece of their lives back.

"I am a firm believer that all human beings no matter where they were born, no matter the color of their skin, no matter their religion are human beings," Campbell says. "We all deserve respect and concern and consideration. These people are in a horrible situation and need someone to be here and help advocate for them."

Campbell grew up throughout the United States. Her father was a Navy officer and the family moved often. Throughout her childhood, her family attended the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints every Sunday. She credits her faith for instilling a desire to serve.

"I was raised believing that we are all children of the same God. I see here that God knows each one of these people and me and what our needs are collectively and individually," she says.

She's been doing disaster relief work for the last 27 years. Her husband, four children and six grandchildren support her from the States. She and some other volunteers were working independently after Hurricane Katrina, when they decided to start Do Your Part in January 2006 to do what larger organizations weren't.

Do Your Part is a grassroots nonprofit that focuses on helping people regain self-sufficiency and confidence after a disaster. The organization collaborates with other NGOs and agencies to improve aid. Campbell, now executive director of the organization, has worked throughout the U.S. and in places like Haiti, the Philippines and Nepal.

In 2015, when the refugee crisis in Greece became overwhelming, the group decided to see what it could do.

Do Your Part teamed up with Adventist Help, a project run mostly by volunteers, who are Seventh-day Adventists, and started work on the island Lesbos. They met the rickety boats carrying refugees into Greece and provided medical care to whomever they could. Immediately, they saw a need for more supplies, equipment and volunteers.

"I think once you get here and you see the scope of what's happening and the situation in Greece, you kind of realize that they can use all the help they can get," Campbell says.

Campbell wanted to do more. She went home to spend time with her family but returned to Lesbos in January 2016. After 10 days, she left the island and waited to see what the European Union would do next. The EU was struggling to relocate thousands of migrants and to prevent more from arriving. In an effort to stem the flow of migrants entering illegally into Europe, the EU signed a deal with Turkey in March 2016. Any migrant who arrived in Greece after the deal could only apply for asylum in Greece.  If migrants received asylum and classified officially as "refugees," they would effectively be stuck in Greece.

After the EU-Turkey deal was signed in March, Campbell began looking for refugee camps. She knew Greeks would be needing dozens of camps on mainland Greece to support this influx of permanent residents and that Greeks would need as much support as possible. That's when she saw that Greece was opening a camp in Oinofyta.

"When I saw these camps were opening, I contacted Adventist Help and said 'Are you ready to put all that equipment that we gave you back in action?' and they said yes," Campbell recalls.

After that, the two groups began talking with the Greek military commander in charge of opening the camps. Offering time, money and medical supplies, the volunteers were told to come to Oinofyta camp, an abandoned warehouse next to a factory.

Campbell, the commander and the director of Adventist Help had envisioned Oinofyta as a community rather than a camp. It would be a place where the refugees, or as Campbell prefers to call them the residents, ran the community by themselves. She says it was the most sustainable and humane option for a long-term site.

Oinofyta started with 73 residents and currently houses 535 mostly Afghan refugees. Working directly with the residents, Campbell's and crew asked them what they would like to see and what they needed. Together, they started formulating a plan for the future of Oinofyta.

They started by renovating a blue building at the site. Residents worked together to turn it into a school, where children could take English and Greek classes. Slowly, the community began to take shape.

Next, the residents and volunteers fixed up an abandoned warehouse to create individual rooms for families and dormitories for single men. They built a communal kitchen in the back and cleared a space for a sewing center, where 14 residents make bags and crafts out of recyclable material then sell them online. There's even a beauty salon, where some of the women cut hair in their limited free time.

"They provided the sewing machines in the sewing center. They provided the equipment for the barbershop; they provided the money to waterproof the roof," she says. "So, they're here and they're active, but they don't advertise what they do."

LDS Charities is currently unregistered in Greece and therefore cannot help out directly. While it provides direct aid in Germany, the organization has been unable to register in Greece because of its religious affiliation. According to Campbell, the Greek Orthodox Church controls which faith-based charities enter Greece. As a result, some charities and NGOs have trouble registering as religious-based organizations. Others find ways around the rules.

Campbell and Oinofyta continue to rely heavily on all the outside help they can get. Running a community is expensive, and Greece is in dire straits. Oinofyta relies heavily on international donations and funds from the Greek government.

As for the residents, they are mostly from Afghanistan and many are second- or third-generation refugees. The EU and Afghanistan signed a deal in October 2016 that allows the EU to deport Afghan migrants – those not granted asylum or deemed as "fleeing armed conflict or persecution" – back to Afghanistan.

While the Afghan migrants can apply for asylum, they must have physical proof that their lives would be in danger if they returned home. And like what Syrians in Greece are now facing, the wait seems to never end.

Faiz Muhammad is originally from a northern province of Afghanistan. He was a soldier for 22 years there. He, his wife and three children fled to Pakistan. When he saw that Europe was opening its doors, he tried to go there and ended up stuck in Greece last year.

"Here, we are suffering. There is no life for us here," he says through a translator. "Hopefully, we can go to Germany, Austria, France or something because we just want to get out of Greece."

Although Muhammed and his family want to leave, he's thankful that after a long and dangerous journey they've found a safe place to settle for now. For him, Campbell is the reason to stay.

"Miss Lisa is very kind. She is good for us," he says. "If Lisa's not here, we will not stay here."

In Oinofyta, Muhammad works in the sewing center and his children can at least attend some school.

Qais Amiri is also from Afghanistan, where he was a tailor and sewed dresses and suits. Now, he's in charge of the sewing center at Oinofyta, where he works five-hour shifts. Since arriving at the camp, he's learned some English. He says he left Afghanistan because he had problems there, but that in Greece, he has more problems.

"No job. No food for my baby. No school," Amiri says with a sad smile. He has two daughters both under the age of three. The youngest was born in Oinofyta, and the rest of his family – his parents and siblings – are still in Afghanistan.

Amiri says that Campbell has helped everyone at Oinofyta. But like most residents, he doesn't want to stay. He hopes to go to France or Germany, but more than anything he misses home.

This is something Campbell struggles with daily: how does she convince the people who just want to leave that this can be their home?

Her solution is to help them gain back some agency and dignity and to give them hope for a brighter tomorrow.

"When you understand your own worth, then it helps you get through these kinds of times – to say this is just a phase in my life, this is not who I am," she says.

Campbell says working at the camp gives her purpose and reminds her that she has more to give.

"Why did I get born in America in the 20th century? Why? Roll of the dice," she says. "Because I was white, because I was middle class, I have a lot of privilege. And I was taught and I found out what fills me is serving others, being able to lift others."

 

Reach Executive Producer Lauren Day and Staff Reporter Catherine Clark here and here, respectively.