Chrysanthe Loizos, program coordinator for International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), is heavily involved in assisting refugees who migrate to the Greek islands. Recently, Ms. Loizos sat down with Global Cleveland to share her story.

Global Cleveland: Tell us a little about IOCC’s work.

Chrysanthe Loizos: IOCC is the official humanitarian organization of the Orthodox Church in the United States. It represents the pan-Orthodox Church in the U.S. (Russians, Greeks, Serbs, etc.), and it provides humanitarian relief and development overseas and, also, response to emergencies here in the U.S. It was founded in 1992 and, since that time, it has provided assistance in more than 50 countries.

Global Cleveland: Could you describe your role within the organization?

Chrysanthe Loizos: I am representing IOCC in Greece. IOCC has been working in Greece since the early ‘90s. But, at that time, it was really … a base from which to provide assistance to the Middle East and other projects. But, in recent years, with the Greek economic crisis, we’ve been providing relief domestically in Greece. So, we partner there with Apostoli, the humanitarian organization of the Church of Greece. We’ve been working with them to provide assistance to Greeks who have been badly hurt by the economic crisis. We’ve now also turned our attention to responding to the refugee crisis.

Global Cleveland: How does IOCC assist the refugees?

Chrysanthe Loizos: About 850,000 refugees and migrants passed through Greece last year, with the destination of Western Europe in mind. We provide food, hygiene kits (a cloth bag containing soap, a toothbrush, toothpaste, and other items), sleeping bags, and blankets.

Global Cleveland: What struggles have these individuals faced in their travels?

Chrysanthe Loizos: Over the past year, border access had been gradually restricted. In March of this year, the border closed entirely. There are now over 50,000 refugees and migrants stuck in Greece. Roughly one half of those who are stuck are Syrian. Others include those from Iraq and Afghanistan. These people have now arrived in Greece, thinking they were just going to transit through and make their way to Germany or other parts of Western Europe. Now, that’s not possible for them. At least, not in the immediate term. People are living in all kinds of sites that have been established by the government, and we are continuing to provide food aid, along with water and sanitation. And now, we’re starting projects in non-formal education, because close to 40% of the population are children.

Global Cleveland: What motivates you to do this work?

Chrysanthe Loizos: I think, for me, it’s a couple of things. My grandparents were all immigrants. Although they weren’t refugees, they were economic migrants who left their native land in search of opportunity for their families. Although refugees aren’t leaving by choice, I think I’ve always felt some connection to that experience. … I think my own personal faith compels me to want to work for a faith-based organization, [especially] one that’s living out the mission of the Church in its daily practice.