By Ashley Lodato

You may have noticed that Winthrop resident Lauren Kurtz is home, after nine months out of the valley. Lauren was in Greece, working with a refugee program affiliated with her church, SEND Ministries.

After a training in Cleveland, Lauren spent most of her time in Thessaloniki, Greece, at a church refugee center, where refugee families could stop by to use a washing machine, take showers, obtain clothing, get medical and dental care, and just spend time in a warm place.

Most of the refugees were Iranian and Iraqi, but a few were from African countries as well. Lauren says she communicated with the refugees in broken English (theirs), broken Arabic (hers), and lots of smiles and hand gestures (the universal language). Lauren, who is 19, really loved working with moms and kids; she got a lot of time to play with the children in particular.

I asked Lauren if her theater background in the Methow Valley came in handy during her relief mission (you may recall seeing Lauren on stage at The Merc, most notably as Aslan the lion in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” and as Gollum in “The Hobbit”). She replied that it helped her develop the stamina to maintain high energy over long periods of time.

Lauren also used her stage background a little bit entertaining residents within a refugee camp. Although relief workers were not typically allowed inside camps — their focus was offering services off-site — at one point an American blues band came through Thessaloniki and it was decided that the band should play inside the camp; Lauren and some other volunteers got to accompany the band inside the camp.

Lauren noted that those of us far removed from refugee situations tend to think of refugees as a mass of humanity, as opposed to individual people. “Even though these refugees come from broken places,” she says, “they are the warmest people you’ll ever meet. They’re so open, kind, and wise — you’d be surprised at how far they’re willing to go for each other and for their community.”

Lauren spent some time on the island of Lesvos as well, working long hours at another refugee center. “It’s hard,” she admits, “not knowing what is going to happen to all those people I met. Some may get sent back to the countries they fled, others could end up in human trafficking.” Still, she says, there are so many good people out there; she has faith that many of them will make it to new homes.

“People are generally not what you expect them to be,” Lauren told me.  “You’ll never regret reaching out to refugees in your community.”


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