November 24, 2016
Today is Thanksgiving Day, and for once I am beginning to feel homesick. On one hand I wish I was home watching football, gorging on holiday foods, and surrounding myself with friends I haven’t seen in months. On the other hand, I am blessed to spend this Thanksgiving with friends from all over the world, both volunteers, refugees, and local Greeks. The past year volunteering has given me insight as to what to be thankful for in ways most people will never comprehend. Each day I am in the camp trying to meet basic needs and improve the quality of life. I watch refugees in queue everywhere, waiting for food, medical, legal advice, and waiting for asylum approval.
In comparison to being at home in the states, I see people in tents, walking in sandals or barefoot in the cold and rain, food that is sub-standard and lacking of nutrition, and I watch as hope subsides for those who wait or are refused asylum.
This year I have so much to be thankful for. I have an American passport which allows me freedom of travel. While I have had no income this year, I am blessed to have friends and family sponsor me to continue volunteering and touching lives. I lost my apartment due to a fire this summer, which showed me that I had no need for the material goods I had believed were crucial to my life in the states. I left my friends and family at home which allowed me to add more people to my circle of friends and family. I was able to see what I took for granted, and for that I am extremely thankful.
The camp is still at approximately 2300 persons, or 3-4x the capacity. It has been a tedious couple of weeks meeting the needs as the temperatures continue to drop. Samos Volunteers completed two mass distributions to the men in the camp of boots, rain ponchos, socks, winter coats, hats, gloves, and scarves. The children and women had already been distributed these items a month prior. For 3-4 weeks we had no other option but to tell barefoot men and men in sandals that we had no shoes or coats for them. It was a blessing to see them smile, to see them at least warm.
Middle of November one of our community volunteers married another Syrian refugee. It is an amazing story. He had lost his child in the war, and his wife had left him. His mental health definitely was at a crucial point of collapse; everyday though he volunteered with us in clothes distribution and helping new arrivals find their way. It was beginning of November when I began to see the change; his mood swings were less abrupt, and he was smiling and at peace. When he broke the news to me that he had remarried the group immediately planned a wedding reception. The night of the reception was amazing. We all danced, I made a quick toast to the new couple, and both the bride and groom were both surprised and ecstatic. For the volunteers and the refugees that were in attendance, it was a memorable night full of positive energy; after monotonous days of volunteering in the camp, surrounding ourselves in an environment that had so much negativity, the evening of the wedding was bliss.
The local-environment is beginning to change. While on the other islands we had received negative implications from the host-community/Greeks, Samos has remained relatively quiet until recently. There have been two protests this month in Samos, one of which many volunteers participated in a demonstration against the protest. There were many facist and racial speeches and actions, but many of the talking points were valid. The Greeks of Samos do not want the hotspot here. They know that the quality of life is sub-standard. They also can no longer play host to the refugees because they too are suffering from the Greek economic crisis. They no longer want the EU to blackmail their country into holding all the refugees, they want their central government to represent them. As liberal culture of equality is taught to the Greeks, they themselves struggle to feed their families, heat their houses; they see the millions of Euros spent on the camp, yet no help goes to them. Samos is currently at a ration of 1:8 refugees to Samians. As Turkey re-nigs on the 1927 agreement of what belongs to Greece/Turkey, the influx of Muslims helps feed Erdogan’s claim that the islands are Turkish.
It doesn’t help that there are nationalities in the camp that incur problems. The Greeks on the islands used to leave their keys in their cars, houses unlocked, no fear of robbery, etc. Now the crime rate has increased. Women are afraid to walk alone at night, shop owners worry if their shop will be robbed overnight, and riots in the camp often make their way into the city. The majority of the crimes committed in town are from asylum-seekers from Northern Africa, and also the same group often causes massive negative issues in the camp as well. I understand why the Greeks have their qualms, yet the biggest issue is with the EU and opening the borders.
Before I finish, I would like to give a few updates as to future plans. Within the week many of the volunteers and a couple community volunteers will all be moving into a house together. I would estimate 8-10 of us can fit into this 5-7 bedroom house. This will house the long-term volunteers which will help us coordinate as well as give us something to call home. Many of us need solace in each others company, but we are spread throughout the city. I look forward to having my friends and volunteer family finally under one roof again.
My funding will last me until the end of December, after that I must reside on hope and faith again. I am not to worried since faith and hope have taken me this far. My intentions are to head to E. Africa 1 March, 2016. 26% of the world’s refugees, or 18 million, are located in this region of the world. The plan is to take a team of volunteers with the social media platform of donors and volunteers we have built in Greece. There is a possibility of creating education hubs that will partner the local universities in E. Africa with the online refugee university. We also have the possibility of utilizing micro-loans for entrepreneurs and innovators. Many of the camps in E. Africa have populations of 200,000-400,000 people. Help is needed there, and as we transition the volunteer responsibilities in Greece to the NGO’s and GO’s with mandates, it is our responsibility to help others in different locations.
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. I wish I could celebrate it with you, and I dearly miss pumpkin pie, green bean casserole, turkey, stuffing, and gravy. Thank you to all my donors, for those who follow my blog, and for those who have contributed to help the refugees. Take nothing of your blessed lives for granted, for one day here in the camps will make you ever so grateful for every aspect of your life.