Jess Govern left her heart in Greece and this fall, she went to go find it.
The Trevecca 2016 alumnus was one of the few students selected to aid in the Syrian refugee crisis this past summer.
She returned at the end of July and began working like any other college graduate, but by October, she was back on a plane to Greece.
Last summer, her team, made up of 10 students, left three days after graduation. Although the trip had unexpected turns at nearly every corner, Govern fell in love with the place. More importantly, she fell in love with the people she met.
Govern says that her team was originally assigned to serve in Serbia, but things didn’t go as planned. The team was told that they were being redirected to Greece when they arrived at the airport for departure.
The team worked in several different camps throughout the summer, teaching English and helping with whatever needed to be done at the time.
“It was a lot of willingness. We would show up and say, ‘Hey, we speak English and have two hands. What can we do?’” Govern said.
The refugees that Govern encountered in her three months overseas had a life changing impact on her. Upon returning to the States near the end of July, Govern said she had a difficult time getting back into the swing of American life.
“It’s really hard to do refugee relief work from America. I’m still grieving with them, just 5500 miles away,” Govern said. “I’m trying not to be super disheartened by America’s response to the crisis, but to be informational and speak light into those things.”
She said she wishes that others around her better understood the gravity of what is happening. Govern described the current situation as the largest humanitarian crisis of our time.
“Journalists are describing it as a death camp. They are using descriptions to make it seem like the Holocaust on purpose. We hear the numbers a lot and we are quick to generalize, but that’s dangerous because it dehumanizes and devalues people.”
According to Mercy Corps senior team leader Javier Alvarez, the refugees bring a sense of hope to their newfound lands.
“We see many middle-class Syrians, especially youth, who want to contribute. They want to finish their studies, pursue further education, or start working as they did back in Syria. We see a lot of professional dentists, teachers, and doctors — these refugees are trained and they can contribute.”
Govern echoed Alvarez, urging her peers to see refugees as people before labeling them.
“All they are asking for is their literal human right for safety, but they are being met with hostility and violence. Remember people as people. They are fathers and mothers and sons and daughters and they each have a story to tell you. I was lucky enough to sit in a lot of tents and hear a lot of stories.”