Amy coordinating refugee volunteer efforts

Three months ago Amy (’07 Hospitality, Finance, ’08 MBA) and Colin Pappajohn (’06 Finance, ’08 MBA) were on their way to the third largest island in Greece, a place known for its amazing food, beautiful beaches, pristine forests, rivers, and olive groves. But this was no vacation. While finishing up volunteer work in Italy and Turkey, they felt called to support the European refugee crisis in Greece.

They flew to Lesvos where they are helping to build “Better Days for Moria,” a small non-governmental organization (NGO) that supports Camp Moria, the official registration center for refugees arriving from Turkey—an effort they say is the most rewarding experience of their careers.

Colin and other volunteers at Better Days for Moria

Amy and Colin work 9 – 12 hour shifts recruiting and training long-term volunteers who fill in the service gaps of the main camp. Volunteers coordinate housing, disseminate information, and distribute dry clothes, tea, and food to refugees that are bussed from the boats arriving on the beaches.

Amy says the situation is “an emotional rollercoaster I cannot describe”—a mess of bureaucracy, duplicated services, and chaos. Sanitation is a problem, as is distribution of food, clothing, and blankets. Registration lines can be so long that sometimes people have to wait in the camp for up to four days.

Despite the chaos, things are generally improving every day. The small group of volunteers has grown into a registered, charitable organization in Greece, says Amy. They now have 24 hours of coverage by a constantly changing group of 60 – 70 volunteers.

Amy takes a call at Better Days for Moria

Amy says all of her international business and finance classes helped prepare her for this adventure. As an undergraduate, she studied abroad in Switzerland, which gave her a taste for the bigger world outside of Washington state and a hunger for international travel. The Carson College was a great family to become a part of, and it felt like a natural choice to continue her higher education when the one-year accelerated MBA program was offered, she says.

“During my MBA program, faculty member Raul Sanchez gave me a glimpse into the world of sovereignty of nations and human rights,” she says. “He taught us how to see all sides of the story. I didn’t know it at the time, but that class would be most invaluable.”

She said coordinating a team of volunteers and understanding the complexities of brand management for a new NGO are just a few of the tasks where having a degree from WSU has made a difference.

“The biggest thing that the Carson College did to help me develop a global perspective was create an international classroom,” says Colin. “We had classmates from Taiwan, China, and Korea. It brought in different points of views, and we had invaluable cross-cultural exchanges. It was in itself a cultural experience.”

A new welcome sign in many languages to greet the refugees arriving at the camp

The Pappajohns plan to stay in Lesvos through April. When they return to the United States, they hope to work with refugees in America and promote awareness of the movement.

“My WSU business foundation has contributed to my ability to lead and manage a team of volunteers in a stressful and constantly changing environment,” says Colin. “But it’s only one small piece of a much bigger puzzle. The larger pieces are the dedicated individuals who identify a problem in their own community and act. Global impact starts small, and it’s easy for everyone to do.”