ON-THE-GROUND IN SAMOS
DAY 8 (SATURDAY)
What a great day today! Maybe it was the bright Greek sunshine lifting the mood?
It was a busy start at the Refugee 4 Refugees shop as a queue was waiting when we arrived. The women happily took a pen whilst they were being registered and, instead of kids’ drawings, Anne’s scribbling wall was soon full of lovely messages in French, Arabic and a little English.
The team kindly let me leave them about an hour in and I went to meet with the brilliant Bogdan, one of the co-founders of Samos Volunteers, who’s been on Samos about three years. He explained that donor money was especially scarce for them in October 2018 and it coincided with 1800 new arrivals to Samos by boat in the single month! This prompted a call for more groups and a big (and successful) fundraising drive for them.
Since October the interest in Samos has risen and there’s now a lot more help. Thankfully.
By lunchtime I was at the Alpha Centre Women’s Day ready to be put to work. They’re good for volunteers this week though, and the Centre was busy but not too hectic, so I wasn’t going to have to work too hard!!! I popped my head in the door of the music and dance room, to the basement where the kids were playing and headed upstairs to the craft room. This week was Lavendar Bags so I picked up a needle and thread and joined in! I’m not a very crafty person so am pretty proud of actually making something 😊!!! One woman wanted to make bedding for her daughter’s doll as the lavendar bag looked like a miniature pillow 💕.
By 3pm the men were waiting outside to be let back in to the ground floor for sweet tea and phone charging. The calmness of Women’s Day was almost over for another week! But now it was also time for afternoon kids’ activities in the camp and so I jumped in the car with veteran volunteers Jess and Ciara, and new volunteer Lisa, to sing and play with the kids.
Ciara and Jess blew me away! Absolute stars they arrive in camp full of ideas, energy and enthusiasm, the kids came, formed a circle and we all started singing. The songs are simple and perfect because they need the kids to take turns singing and doing actions, with the rest of us following. I later asked what language the songs were in, and they’re all either made up or English so that there’s no favourites, or no ones excluded by language. Then lots of confidence-building, turn-taking singing and actions later, and it was time to lay a tarp for the weeks’ activity, prepared earlier by Ciara and Jess.
First crayons to let them scribble all over the targets, then the kids were organised into three lines (easier said than done!) and given bean bags to throw for points. So much fun if increasingly chaotic! I left Roly Poly, as its known as, humming ‘fe fi fo fum’ to myself and in awe of Ciara who says these kids and the twice daily activities at Camp are the reasons she’s still here 💖.
With big hugs I said my goodbyes to this amazing team and went in search of one of the latest volunteer projects starting up on the island... Action for Education who also operate in Chios.
Fifteen minutes later I found Jacob and the team with paint brushes in hand at a lovely single floor house in a very peaceful mostly residential area (there’s a church opposite and a restaurant next door) at the other end of Samos Town. The building is fab with pillars at the front, big windows, high ceilings and banana and orange trees in the grounds. But this being the volunteering world... the idyllic building also has no power or water yet and the roof must be fixed! But that doesn’t put anyone off!
So after a quick tour and a catch-up about the plans, I grabbed a paint brush and joined in until it was too dark to see. Which, actually, wasn’t very long! (I’m sure they couldn’t have done it without me 😂).
Once the building is fit, it’s going to be a daily education centre for 18-23 year olds, open to around 60 students morning and afternoon and around 200 in total a week.
So today was another of those really upbeat and happy days when you see the very best of human nature in the volunteering world - and in the humbling appreciation of the work everyone does to help make life just a little easier during dark days. That’s not to take anything away from the people stuck in the stupid damn Camps... because their resilience and strength is what always inspires me to be here and what makes me so damned ashamed of how our countries are treating them.
I really believe in years to come every volunteer will have touched many lives and memories. Someone said that volunteers give hope and I really think this is true.