Samos - Day 1

On-the-Ground in Samos
Day 1 (Saturday)

Our Founder, Amber Bauer and Trustee, San Mahanta landed in Samos at 8am this morning to volunteer on-the-ground with our partner organisations for the next two weeks.

Samos island’s population is est 35,000 and the current refugee population is est 4,500. That’s a 10% addition that islanders are, understandably, struggling to cope with.

We found the Vathy Refugee Camp right next to the islands’ main Samos Town (pop. 6,500). It’s been built for 650 people and is beyond bursting at the seams. The immediate hillside on all sides is packed full of tents with no sign of any facilities like toilets or showers. The weather is bitterly cold today and I just can’t imagine waking up in a freezing tent, trying to stay clean, or where you’re supposed to go for the toilet. It’s immediately and obviously inhumane and I’m once again feeling devastated at the UK and Europe’s decision to respond to a human crisis in this way. We are better than this.
— Amber Bauer
 

Our first view of the Vathy Refugee Camp. I’d seen photos, but it was still a shock. Firstly, it’s bitterly cold here. I’m layered with thermals and fleeces and warm boots. Yet at the camp, it’s canvas and tarps everywhere. And people are so cramped together.

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We arrived to the Refugee 4 Refugees shop which is a stone’s throw from the sea and set a little way into Samos town. It’s got apartments above and a Greek shop to the right. Conveniently it also has the all-important Jumbo store and a supermarket opposite. This is also where we met the brilliant refugee volunteers (community volunteers). Amazingly, one of the very first things one of them said to me was ‘thank you so much for being here and for coming to help us.” 

The warehouse, funded and provided by the Samos Municipality, is a shared space about a 20 minute drive from the shop. We set to work making up the last of the women’s packs for next weeks distribution. Over 1000 packs in a mix of size S, M, L and XL were needed, but previous volunteers had already made up hundreds... we just had to finish off!

At least a few volunteers need to be willing and able to drive the minibus and car in order for stock and people to be moved between the shop, warehouse and port. There’s limited space in the shop and so only items being distributed that week can really be stored. And we did frequent runs back and forth from the warehouse to bring down what’s needed.

Unfortunately it’s not possible to invite the people from camp to choose their own clothes yet, so instead co-ordinator Anne and the volunteer team give specific items each week. A basic hygiene pack was being given out for women and children including toilet paper, toothbrush, soap and shampoo. It was an incentive for women to come to the shop so they could be given a ticket for a women’s clothes pack next week. And an example women’s pack was 3 jumpers of varying warmth, a scarf, pair of socks and toilet paper.