Mission Made Possible: The closing chapter of the ‘Tom Cruise tents’ story

Back in October, a joint GAiN team from the UK and Netherlands went to volunteer at Moria, the new arrivals refugee camp in Lesvos, Greece. What followed was a series of events that were neither planned nor expected, but resulted in another team returning in February to assemble large tents donated from the Mission Impossible set! 

Facebook & Flimsy Tents

Danielle was part of the GAiN team that headed to Lesvos in October.  She set up a private Facebook group to share updates with friends at home about her experiences at the refugee camp. In one of her updates, Danielle shared that many refugee families were sleeping through cold nights under inadequate, flimsy tents. Her friend Tim happened to read this update.  Tim knew that some of the tents from the recent Mission Impossible film had been donated to a UK charity he was connected with called Med Aid International.  When Med Aid heard about the situation on the ground in Lesvos from Tim, they were very happy to pass on their ‘Tom Cruise tents’ to GAiN UK if we could get them to the camp! What an opportunity!

Med Aid’s generous donation of the tents moved GAiN UK to not only send the tents to Lesvos, but also to fill a whole container with needed supplies.  As we shared this vision, many more people in the UK got involved in donating needed items, packing boxes and funding the transport of the container to Lesvos.  The week before Christmas, the container was full and set off to Lesvos with more than 500 boxes of winter clothes, rain boots, sleeping bags, blankets AND the three enormous tents!

From Tents to Team

Back to Danielle’s original Facebook group about her Lesvos trip. In addition to Tim (of the tents) amongst Danielle’s friends was also a couple called, Collin and Jen.  They had been involved in various packing sessions with previous relief appeals for GAiN in Birmingham. Danielle asked them if they would consider volunteering their time to be part of the group who went to collect the tents from Med Aid in Bedford and bring them back to our depot in Birmingham. They said yes!  Collin, Jen and the group spent time assembling each one of the three tents making sure all the parts were together and labelled to make it as easy as possible for those putting them up on the island.  What Collin and Jen didn’t know at that point was that they would end up being part of the next team of volunteers going to Lesvos in February! 

The Real Mission Impossible

On day two of Collin and Jen’s week in the camp with GAiN UK, the team got the call over the radio: “Great news! We’ve been given permission to put up the tents!” They gathered together and collected the largest of the three tents: a 72m²tent that was going to be used to provide shelter over an area of benches used by the Red Cross for community events they run in that part of the camp. This proved to be somewhat of a challenge, working around a tree that was in the way. Together with other volunteers from the Red Cross they did whatever they could to get the roof on. In fact, this was going to be the easiest of the tents they would put up that week. 

The following day they set about putting up one of the the 42m² tents. The designated area was very uneven and so the team spent the morning, in the high winds and heavy rain, levelling the ground, resulting in a rather muddy pool in which to assemble the tent! 

By mid-afternoon they got word that eight families were going to be moving in that evening. In fact, the day before 165 new people had arrived via boat onto the island. This news gave fresh motivation to push through and battle against the elements. As soon as they had finished putting up the tent, they were already radioing for the families to move in.

Collin reflected, “We were so grateful to have seen so immediately the impact and benefit of our hard work.”

The third and final tent ended up being the real mission impossible! They moved up to higher ground, next to where the families had moved in the previous day.  It was even windier than before! The conditions were much harder, and many more hands were sent to help hold down the canvas because of the high winds. 

“This was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. There were points when I wanted to cry, when it felt like it was too hard, and I really couldn’t see how we were going to do this and complete it safely” recounts Collin. “There was a real sense of urgency and desperation to get it done, as I was so aware that as soon as we were finished it would become someone’s home. We really wanted them to be dry and safe, knowing that the wind was unlikely to subside that evening.” 

The team pushed through, getting the side canvas secured and then the end that blocked the worst of the wind. Whilst the team were working on the third tent some of the families staying in the other tent came to thank them, shaking them by the hand and expressing their gratitude.

What motivation to keep going!

Sharing stories of need and hope

Collin shared, “We all had points when we thought it might not happen. It was truly mission impossible, and a miracle that we were able to get it up. In the end it was the best one that we assembled.  It was such a real privilege to have been able to accomplish something so tangible in the camp that was going to directly and immediately be of benefit for these people who had already been through so much. I felt an overriding sense of hope in the people we met. They have already had to fight hard and sustain hope just to get this far. Even though they have very little, it is the hope they hold onto that keeps them going.”

Danielle reflected on her experience of the past few months and all that has come from just a few Facebook posts. “When I went to Lesvos in October with GAiN UK I felt a little bit awkward about sharing the story of what I was doing – I didn’t want people to think I was showing off or trying to draw attention to myself on social media. But I realised that when you are a witness to suffering, pain and loss on the kind of scale experienced by those in the Moria Refugee Camp, there is a responsibility to talk about.  You can never know which parts of your story are going to connect with others, trigger something new, be meaningful in their lives or lead to something unexpected. It’s humbling to be part of something so much bigger than yourself.”