When asked how she decided to volunteer with Lighthouse Relief, Gillie Stenvers, a tall, British expat based in Portugal gives a quick reply: “Totally not happy with the idea of retirement, rapidly heading for the dreaded 70th Birthday, so I came to Greece.”
Since joining Lighthouse Relief in September of 2016, Gillie hasn’t stopped moving. She’s been too busy teaching English to Yazidi residents, engineering a board games club or designing crafts for the Female Friendly space. While she creates handicrafts with residents, Gillie always finds a way to slip in an English lesson.
As you might have guessed, moments with Gillie are filled with disarming silliness. These moments follow her bottom line: “If you can’t laugh about it, don’t do it. Seriously.”
Two weekends ago, she broke her toe, and true to form, an image appeared over the volunteer group WhatsApp chat. Gillie had transformed the bandaged toe into a puppet with a smiling face and embroidery floss for hair. The following Monday, Gillie showed up to the morning briefing in a rabbit costume with a sign that read, “LH Twerp!” and laughed loudly when Renate Hamilton, Lighthouse Relief's Epirus regional coordinator, insisted Gillie rest, forbidding her from camp for the week.
But how could Gillie stay inside when she needed to persuade residents into playing backgammon and chess during a session of her board games club?
Gillie also had no intention of staying seated for Wednesday dinner, a staple event for Katsikas Lighthouse Relief volunteers that she hosts every week. Because only Gillie can make “Gillie burgers.”
Gillie is one of over 20 Lighthouse Relief volunteers in the Epirus region. Here, biting cold has crept into the camps of Katsikas and Filippiada, where Lighthouse Relief is carrying out programs.
But thanks to the tireless efforts of our volunteers, we continue to offer residents a variety of activities, including handicrafts, language lessons, opportunities for self-care in our Hammam, and most importantly, spaces of respite.
Our volunteers come from every corner of the world and possess diverse skill sets, but they all contribute to every unique Lighthouse Relief Family that inevitably takes shape in each of our locations.
“Gillie’s been a sister, mother, aunt, carer, cook—each one of us needs something in our life and she’s always there,” explains regional coordinator Renate.
“She’s a protector of the the group."
Truly, she is. Gillie rents the apartment three feet away from the Lighthouse office. Her door is open to any volunteer who needs a warm place to have a cup of tea. Pre-cut packets of slippers, purses, and bags, all destined for the Female Friendly Space, have submerged her couch.
Gillie claims that her hospitality is “self-service,” but she always seems to be turning on the kettle and asking, “Who wants a hot drink?”
“She is someone who is retired and should enjoy her retirement,” says Javid K, an Afghan resident at the Katsikas camp, “And instead she comes here and treats everyone the same.”
A few weeks ago, a group of Yazidi residents echoed Javid’s sentiment during an frenetic day of football fun at the Ioannina stadium. UNHCR had teamed up with veterans and legends from FC Barcelona for football workshops with refugees in Epirus, concluding with a friendly match with PAS Giannina.
This group of Gillie fans greeted the volunteer at the banquet for UNHCR’s FC Barcelona event by chanting “Gillie’s fantastic!”
Where had they learned the word? Gillie, of course.
Skilled volunteers (like Gillie!) are the backbone of Lighthouse Relief. We depend on dedicated individuals from every corner of the globe to shape and carry out our programs. Now, more than ever, we need passionate advocates for the refugees fleeing persecution and conflict. This holiday season, whether you volunteered with us, or follow our work from afar, we encourage you to join our fundraising campaign, or donate to our holiday appeal, which will ensure our ability to continue providing long-term and emergency relief in Greece. Thank you for your support and all that you do!