January 8, 2017
Happy New Year, I’m afraid it has been extremely hectic so far this year on Samos, Greece. We woke up the first of the year with messages from our New Arrival WhatsApp group that 66 arrivals had landed during the evening festivities. 22 had landed 3 hours into the new year, and 44 others had followed shortly thereafter. On the 4th of January another 44 landed on Samos, bringing the totals for January to 110 thus far.
Winter has finally set here in Greece with torrential rain, freezing temperatures, and snow. We have been blessed to only have light flurries here at the camp in Samos, but Lesvos has experienced heavy snow as well as many of the camps on the mainland. While the other locations have experienced snow, the precipitation here has been rain in abundance. Four days of rain tested the resilience of the tents, and many did not survive the howling wind at 40kmh/25mph. If those living in tents were able to escape the wind and rain, they also had to endure the sub-freezing temperatures. I am under the assumption that the medical teams will be overwhelmed this upcoming week with sick refugees who are both cold and wet.
The volunteers this week were scrambling to make ends meet. This week has been holiday season for the Greeks. The 1st of January there were no workers from the government organizations to help the new arrivals. The 2nd of January also is a national holiday so the majority of the organization workers were missing. The 5th of January is also an Orthodox holiday, Three Kings Day (in reference to the three wise men and the Julian calendar) in which no organizations were present. With the decreased presence of those mandated/funded to represent the needs of the refugees, the volunteers have bore the brunt of the duties.
In response to the rain, wind, and freezing temperatures our number one priority has been to identify the families and vulnerable persons living in pop-up tents. We have been fortunate enough to have the support of the UNHCR and RIS who focused on moving these people into large family tents or into cabins. We were able to ensure that there were no families with children living in pop-up tents. Another activity we have taken on is tea distribution in the morning and afternoon in collaboration with UNHCR and Samaritan’s Purse. The hot tea with a little sugar adds some warmth to the soul as well as some sugars/carbs to help the body endure the elements. I have been on the morning distribution and it is a blessing to see how welcoming this simple item can be. People queue up before or after breakfast, some coming two or three times. No one is angry, all smile and say thank you. Despite rising early to boil water, this is one of the most positive distributions I have been a participant in for quite some time.
It has been an uphill struggle attempting to force the mandated government organizations and non-government organizations to assume their responsibilities as prior stated. Late winter of 2016 Samos Volunteers ran out of tents and had to resort to other means to provide shelter. We were fortunate enough to have Medecines Sans Frontiers donate us tents, but housing allocation is under the mandates of RIS/FRS under the funding via the European Commission. All summer of 2016 we warned the groups on the island that we could not provide tents, yet they failed to heed our warnings. With the past week of inclement weather and new arrivals we have totally expunged any tents in stock. As people come asking for new tents they all walk away with empty tents. For the past three months Medin ran out of toilet paper that the volunteers distribute. Once again, MSF provided tissue paper which worked as an alternative but that too ran out. We had been purchasing 250 rolls of toilet paper a day, but can no longer afford it, nor wish to continue since funding is allocated for that basic need. We are on day 7 of no toilet paper, as well as no future promises of that gap being filled.
On a personal note I myself am doing well. The cold does not affect me as much as the other volunteers, but many of the volunteers are sick. This holiday season an extreme amount of funding came in, which allows me to worry about one less thing. Much appreciation to all my donors, you truly inspire me and give me hope in the goodness of humanity. I have been researching my project in E. Africa and working on the collaboration with Cisco and Bayer Pharmaceuticals. I am fortunate to have a solid contact here in Greece who has worked in Uganda, as well as Paula from Startup Boat Foundation who has been making the connections. Via Paula I may have an opportunity to go the UNICEF conference in Jordan, as well as continuing the collaboration with Bayer. I am currently struggling with leaving Greece for the cause in E. Africa. If crossings to Greece increase, should I continue my stay due to my experience and connections, or go to a place where there is less aid and more need?
2016 was a whirlwind of experiences. I met the most amazing people both refugees and volunteers. Awareness was made both by means of social media and presentations. Friendships were made as well as alliances with NGO’s. Due to volunteers and donors I saw the best humanity has to offer which inspired hope albeit my pessimistic demeanor. While I observe the world tearing itself apart, and fear for the future, I am excited to see what amazing things in 2017 that humanity will accomplish. As I end this post, please consider what you as an individual can do this year; the harvest is great, but the laborers are few. You as an individual can and will make a difference, never forget your responsibility to your neighbor and those who need help most. We are each other towers of support, and we together will change the world. Until the next post, keep up the good fight, I look forward to seeing your impact on the world.