Hearts Unite in Service: Newlyweds Aid Refugees on Humanitarian Honeymoon
Ethan Zohn and Lisa Heywood Zohn kicked-off their marriage with a humanitarian mission to aid Syrian refugees in Northern Greece, raising $45,000 to support a large refugee camp. Ethan, known for his third-season win on CBS’s Survivor reality series, shares how that trip left an impression far more meaningful than honeymooning on a sandy beach every could.
In a small canvas tent inside a warehouse in Vasilika, Greece, five shoeless Americans silently huddled with an 8-year-old Syrian refugee and her mother. We were hiding from the Greek police, who had officially banned foreign visitors from entering the refugee camp, inhabited by 1,200 people stranded here after fleeing their countries. Beside me, my wife of three months, Lisa, was shaking with fear; we’d learned that we would be arrested if found inside, but we couldn’t resist visiting the “home” of our new friend, Helena. Thankfully, we had already made some friends among the refugees, and they hid the five sets of shoes we had politely removed before entering Helena’s tent. When the police finally passed us by, we were smuggled out the back way through a ragged hole in a chain link fence. My wife turned to me and said, half kidding, “I could be on a beach right now, but I married you!”
The term honeymoon typically conjures images of beautiful beaches, swinging hammocks and champagne glasses clinking with the sun setting on the horizon. Our honeymoon was none of those things. We certainly could have been on a beach, but we wanted to do something a little different. After our amazing wedding celebration, we felt the best way to show our gratitude for the well wishes, generous gifts, and our fair share of attention, was to do something to spread all the love that we received.
Since winning “Survivor” and surviving a rare form of cancer, my life has been laser focused on helping to make happiness real for others. I have been fortunate enough to travel the planet and immerse myself in many different humanitarian efforts, and I wanted to share my love for service and volunteerism with my wife. To see each other in a new set of circumstances and a whole new light could only strengthen our vows.
I reached out to the crowdfunding platform Crowdrise to see if there were any opportunities to join an existing campaign. We were put in touch with the amazing Mallory Brown, who created the Crowdrise 24-Hour Impact Project. Mallory travels to a nation in need, sometimes working with a family, a child, or an entire village, and – using video and social media to communicate the issue at hand – raises funds to solve an immediate problem.
The next impact project was headed for Greece, to help Syrians living in a refugee camp. Lisa and I were going along.