'All you could hear was banging and screaming' - Kiwi aid worker goes to rescue of sinking refugee boat off Greek island

A New Zealand woman helping refugees from the Middle East stuck in Greece with nowhere to go has told of smashing open a sinking boat to help save screaming asylum seekers on board.

Seven Sharp meets the inspirational Jenni James, who left her career to start an organisation that saves lives. Source: Seven Sharp

Jenni James recounted the incident to Seven Sharp while in Auckland on a quick trip home for rest and recreation from her humanitarian work in the Greek Islands.

She started a charity called 'Getting S**t Done' after seeing an online post about refugees fleeing to the island of Lesbos, where 6000 were arriving on boats every day.

Ms James said the refugees are "just like you and me" from all walks of life including doctors, professors, carpenters, parents and grandparents and little kids who had been going to school in their home countries.

I had a sledgehammer. And we just went out there and started smashing the thing open - Jenni James of Getting S**t Done

"To me it was absolutely heart wrenching."

While some of her days are full of smiles - such as trying out bikes before they're given to refugee children - others are harder than Ms James could have imagined.

She said she'll never forget the boat that started toppling over in the sea.

The boat crews keep all the women and children in the hull of the boat, and they had only a small hatch to get out from the bottom of the hull when it was sinking.

"And all you could hear was banging and screaming and scratching on the side of the hull. I had a sledgehammer. And we just went out there and started smashing the thing open. That that's stuff you just never forget," she said.

She showed photos of the boat on its side, people in the water and a person diving from the boat.

Ms James said when she first arrived on Lesbos "everyone was living in little nylon tents" and they needed help with infrastructure such as sanitation, drainage and shade.

At first it was just her working from her mobile van, but others including refugees joined, inspired by her can-do attitude and bringing many skillsets.

The workshop has expanded to a building and the list of what they do has also grown to include making floors, providing electricity and washing machines.

Her new ideas are shops of free clothes to give refugees choice, and a dinosaur playground made from recycled bits and pieces.

Ms James said she's "tingling and shaking" with enthusiasm to get back to Greece because "there's more work to get done, more shit to get done".

The organisation has a Givealittle page, where all the proceeds go directly to the cause.