On-the-Ground in Samos
Day 7 (Friday)
Today we spent the day with the brilliant team at Samos Volunteers.
Our first shift was at the Laundry Station with Jess, Agus and Emmanuel. And it’s best to share some quick facts and figures I think!
- opened June 2018
- they’ve washed, dried and folded 9,600 bags!
- open 6 days a week 12 hours a day
- the volunteers love the laundry shift!
- mix of ticketed areas of camp each day and 24-hour washes instructed for health reasons by the team at Mediquality
- can do washing for people once every 4-6 weeks
After learning the ropes in the laundry we headed to The Alpha Centre - the Community Centre run by Samos Volunteers - where Ciara gave us the tour.
More than 500 pass through their doors every day. They can drink tea, play games, read books, learn and charge their phones. When you walk into Alpha there are guys everywhere! There’s serious games, tournaments even, happening in chess, chequers, backgammon and monopoly... guys chatting, reading, sleeping. And everyone is charging their phones of course! The SV team adapted the sockets especially to get as much charging capacity in the room as possible!
One unmissable fact... that the Alpha Centre gets through 25 bags of sugar every single day. I guess it’s sweet tea that’s popular!
Women are allowed in all parts of the Centre, but tend to prefer their own space and so there’s a women-only room at the back of the ground floor, and also the basement is for women and children only. If you don’t provide a separate space then many women simply won’t come to the centre at all, so it has to be done. And on Saturdays from 9am - 3pm the whole Centre is reserved for women and children.
Upstairs is the education space which is a child-free zone - three classrooms and a quiet area for informal education open to anyone aged 15 and up who wants to come. Mostly providing language lessons.
Samos Volunteers go to Camp morning and afternoon every day with activities for children. The morning is more educational, eg reading circle, teaching words like ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, singing and colouring. The afternoon is for crafts, and on Saturdays they make it more crazy... like last Saturday they did ‘scientific explosions’!!!! I’m hoping to join them for one of these sessions!
“The kids are really smart. One kid from the Congo who’s 10 years old asked me - ‘Do you have a degree?’ And when I said yes, he said, ‘don’t your parents expect you to get a paid job? Why are you doing THIS with a degree?’” - Ciara.
Jess then told us about Still I Rise and the Mazi Centre. Mazi means ‘together’ in Greek and is an education centre here in Samos for Camp kids aged 12-17 year. She messaged Nina and pointed us in the right direction and we headed off... And found an amazing place!
Open and bright and friendly, Mazi is a safe space for 12-17 year olds that’s open to their 150 registered students 6 days a week. There are 45 girls attending and all classes are mixed. Half their students are unaccompanied minors and half are kids in families. Their classes are split beginners, dreamers, achievers and advanced. And lessons include cultural awareness in Europe, eg fighting isn’t the way to sort out differences, equality and gay rights. Saturdays are social days only and include a hot meal of burgers or pizza.
We loved everything about this place except that it can’t help everyone! There’s a waiting list of 60 kids and, although they have 75 unaccompanied minors registered, there’s about 150 more in camp who don’t have Mazi to come to every day. I really wish they did.
Feeling in need of a little air, exercise and clearing our heads, we left Mazi and walked the 1.5 hours uphill to the volunteer house just before dark. Every time I see the view over the beautiful town of Samos I’m drawn to the sliver of white and blue on the hillside just above, and of all the people making the best of life there from their cold, small tent homes.
The situation is bleak in Vathy Camp today, but it’s saving grace is the proximity to town life, to volunteer services and friendly faces, but also normal life like shopping and coffee shops (for those who can afford).
We decided to get some air, exercise and thinking time and walked the 1.5 hours uphill back to the volunteer house and the world’s friendliest cat!