Samos - Day 10

ON-THE-GROUND IN SAMOS
DAY 10 (MONDAY)

I glanced up and saw a woman giving a large bottle of water to Omar as we stood in the warm winter sun finalising our distribution plan for camp. He was trying to say no, she needed it more, but she insisted. I was surprised when Omar turned and handed the water to me. He told me it happens often in sunny weather... because the people say that they are used to the sun, but me - and our other fair skinned, light haired volunteers - we’re not used to it and we need the water more! Only a couple of days before we’d heard that the people have to stand in the food queue for 3-4 hours every day... but it’s not the horrible food they value, it’s the one bottle of water they have each day. It was a precious and humbling gift.
— Amber, Founder of Donate4Refugees

Me and about 20 other volunteers were in the Vathy Refugee Camp ‘large overspill area’ with Omar of Refugees 4 Refugees. Our task for the afternoon was to give each of the men a brand new sleeping bag in a tent-to-tent distribution. (The Camp women and children had got the previous week from the free shop in town, but it’s not possible for the men to receive that way at the moment.)

Tent-to-tent distributions really need quite a lot of volunteers as they have to be friendly, firm and efficient! Because, whilst the most common responses are “merci”, “shoukran”, “thank you” and welcoming invitations to join various families for chai... there can also be “I didn’t get”, “why are they only for men”, “my friend is in hospital, we need more sleeping bags in this tent”... It’s completely understandable as we’re helping people who are cold and hungry. People who feel vulnerable and powerless and alone.... And so sometimes even the smallest hint of something unfair can be all the spark needed to set off a flood of emotion... and upset and anger. We do our best to avoid this at all cost with a tent-to-tent distribution, for the safety of the Camp. So we’re friendly, fair and quick! No chai. No prolonged conversations.

Leading one of the three volunteer groups Omar split us into, I set off to our assigned distribution area of the camp, each of our group carrying a box of 10 sleeping bags. Language can be a surprising barrier when you need to be friendly but efficient and I was extremely grateful to volunteers Nancy, who can speak French and a little Farsi, and Hussain who could translate English to Arabic. Don’t underestimate the power of communication, and the complication and anxiety of misunderstandings!

Today was a good distribution day and together we successfully gave out nearly 1000 sleeping bags. Men and women understood who got and why. Most people were very grateful... one asked for a blanket instead saying ‘nights very cold, very cold, blanket warm”, and some others seemed unsure what the sleeping bag was, but took it just the same!

We left camp to the sounds of invitations to join people for chai, or share their dinners of camp rations being re-cooked on open or gas fires inside tents... however little they have, they always seem happy to share. There was anxt from a small few too... some African men feel descrimination and are naturally defensive. If this happens tho, it didn’t happen today. Everyone equal.

I’ve included a lot of photos on this blog and I hope you have time to take a look? Three little girls who’d come to the shop for children’s clothes distributions in the morning who wanted to show off their new outfits! The smallest of tents which are often shared by 2-3 people. Bigger tents that immediately look spacious, only to hear 8 or 9 people live there. We came across immaculate tents where so much pride is taken in their tiny canvas homes on the hillside, and tents that you could barely recognise as a place someone lives. We saw people cooking, smoking hashish, making chai, cleaning their dishes in mud and rubbish... And one guy dressed all in bright white which is something I’m never able to do in any circumstance without a stain of some sort in seconds and looking filthy in minutes. Yet his outfit sparkled!