“My heart is full”, were the apt words first-time volunteer Lucy found herself saying when volunteering on the Greek island of Chios and I knew exactly what she meant. The people, the situation, the place. It’s now my third day on Chios and I’m struggling to share even half of the story and emotion of being here.
There’s Chios, the picture-perfect little Greek island going about its daily business. And then there’s Chios, the inhuman island prison for 1,500 people who’ve done nothing wrong...
There’s Chios’s gorgeous sandy beaches and inviting clear blue waters. And Chios’s boat landing coastline, like yesterday when another 33 desperate people survived the treacherous dinghy crossing to arrive here from Turkey.
There’s the people of Chios like aunty and Kostas and the little old lady who walked up to the warehouse to donate some shoes and slippers today. Locals who empathise with refugees and do their bit to make them welcome. And then there are the people of Chios who won’t allow refugees in their restaurant, who take turns 24-7 to sit at a protest station at the entry to the camp, or who call the police to investigate overseas volunteers who are trying to help.
Volunteering with one of our wonderful partners, Ruhi Akhtar of Refugee Biriyani & Bananas, means working in a team with her ‘brothers’. The young refugee men who need something to occupy their minds as their sentence on Chios stretches out behind them and looms endlessly ahead of them. Awesome young men who take so much pride in being volunteers side-by-side with us as one team. They help translate, explain and humanise the whole situation. It’s my honour to have such lovely guys in my life and in my heart.
We’ve laughed until we’ve cried so many times, we’ve danced and celebrated. But ultimately this is a mask, a facade, a smile hiding deep sadness and tragedy. The biggest tragedy of all is in the hope that’s slipping silently away.... Surely as a human race who thinks it’s come so far, we can do so much better than this?
One family with 4 children are in a tent in camp. Mama told us through the fence in good English that her baby is only 5 months old but has to be looked after by a friend all day as her own tent is too hot. She gets her baby back only as the sun goes down, but then at night he is so cold and could she please have an extra blanket?
Another mum has only one outfit - a long formal prayer dress that she’s worn since she arrived. I smiled and blew kisses with her baby boy whilst saying sorry, not today. It’s not your turn for a change of clothes today.
A young man who gave us his sizes - male, medium, size 40 shoe. And was so grateful to get his bag of goodies later... only to come back looking so sad and being so apologetic with trousers that were too short and shoes that were too big. We had to say sorry. Again. We gave him the closest we had available.
In shāʾa llāh (inshallah) If God Wills... we can get you clothes inshallah. No promises, but we will do our best.