6.26.2016

June 26, 2016

              I woke up today to another beautiful day here on Samos, Greece. We attempt to take our Sundays off, unless new arrivals show up the day before. Yesterday was one of the few days that we did not have new arrivals so today the majority of the team took the day off. We had 41 arrivals this morning. It takes half the day for the new arrivals registration, by the time that we can have access to them it’s well into the afternoon. We can only assess the critical needs because by high afternoon, the building we distribute out of is several degrees warmer than the outside temperature of 110 degrees. With the sun heating up the metal building, it becomes unbearable, almost impossible to work inside of the cabin.

              I have been absent from the warehouse for the past few days. Three days ago we had 78 new arrivals we needed to distribute to. We had set up a new system in the distribution cabin, to both streamline distribution as well as to keep track of who receives what items since we are running direly low on several items. I find distribution mentally and psychologically exhausting in comparison to any other volunteer work I have had the opportunity to be a part of. In half a day, I interact with more people than I do in a month back home. 

              After 3 days of testing our new system at the warehouse, we decided that there were a few more things that needed to be adjusted. Two volunteers, Paul and Melanie, with the aid of one of  refugee-helpers, spent the day reorganizing the cabin. Paul has a 26 year-old Soviet bike with a sidecar which happened to be the only resource we had for moving shelves from our warehouse to the distribution cabin. The look the Greeks gave us as we were driving holding on to the shelves strapped to the sidecar. I’m not sure if they were more intrigued by the bike and side-car or the contraption of straps and shelves balancing on top.

              This past Thursday the UK voted to leave the EU. The biggest reason was about immigration, both the immigration of the Eastern-European countries, but more directly because of xenophobia. This decision will have little impact on the older generations, but will affect the younger generations the most. They have already seen a drop in the British pound on Friday, the lowest it has dropped in 30 years. The American Dollar has strengthened, which seem good, but it means that exports from the US will decrease. Domestic products will become more expensive for the American consumer, while imports will become cheaper. I had to chuckle at Donald Trumps’ tweet about the Brexit vote as he landed in Scotland. “@realDonaldTrump- Just arrived in Scotland. Place is going wild over the vote. They took their country back, just like we will take America back. No games!” Apparently the man who wishes to run America failed to keep up on current events or failed some geography classes, for Scotland voted to stay in the EU. 

              While I have 3 month’s reprieve from the American politics, Clinton and Trump still lead many of the dinner conversations with refugees, volunteers, and local Greeks. The world is terrified of what will happen if he is elected, as well as concerned how America got to the point that he is one of the two best options America has to represent them. 

The backlashing has already become apparent as fellow American citizen friends have been ostracized for their ethnicity, of which they were neither Muslim or middle-eastern. By skin color they were categorized as not-belonging, though they were born and raised in America. One was a fellow military veteran who received both racial slurs as well as trash thrown at him. Even here I have felt some pressure from the rising xenophobia in the US. To be told, “I was born in this country, you weren’t, this is my country boy,” really shatters the core of a person. While I should not let words get to me, it devastates me to know that this is how many people in the states feel. This coming from someone who know me, that knew of my service to my country in the US Marine Corps, who has done nothing to contribute to our nation, felt like a stab in my back once again from my country I hail as home. 

Though the actions of a few do not represent the actions of the whole, it troubles me to think that any work my fellow volunteers and I do is of any use. If those from our own home countries do not accept those who already live there, how can we expect them to accept and allow those we are helping to integrate into our society? For several hours I spiraled into depression, shaking and confused, trying to hold back tears, and refraining from screaming to the sky about the injustices of the world. I had a moment of weakness and contemplated returning home, because I felt what we were doing was fruitless. I had so many friends, family, and fellow volunteers reach out to me at my time of need and was able to find some peace. Yet, the issue will continue to nag at me, for there are those in the country I fought for, grew up in, that will never accept me as American simply due to race and where I was born. 

I cannot end on such a negative point. Two nights ago my friends Saleh and Pru purchased some watermelons for their café in the camp. With the aid of the “Friendly Humans of Samos” we were able to distribute 500 slices of watermelon with the tea/chai and coffee, a most welcome surprise for those in the camp. It was quite the task cutting 8 watermelons up into 500 slices with nothing but a table-knife and fish filet knife, but well worth seeing the joy and happiness. Thank you all for your donations that made it possible to purchase items that are needed, fund the volunteers to continue our work, and for the opportunity to occasionally make purchases just to spread kindness and make smiles. Keep it up, for if it were not for giving souls like yourselves, none of this could happen.

6.22.2016

June 22, 2016
 
The days are long and the summer heat is intensifying. There has been some speculation by the weather-man that it is supposed to cool down next week, but that was the report last week as well. At the hottest point of the day the temperature pushes well over 110 degrees making it unbearable for any activity to be done. This past winter I couldn’t completely grasp the reasoning behind all the shops being shut between 2 and 6 in the afternoon; now it makes complete sense. I pity those volunteers working in the camp, surrounded by cement and black top, and for those working in the distribution cabin. There is no air condition or fans, and the metal building absorbs the heat. 30 minutes in there and my clothes are permeated, I relish the moped ride back to my warehouse just for the breeze.
 
It is Ramadan for the majority of the refugees here, which means fasting all day. The majority of the refugees sleep to conserve energy as well as to find some solace from the heat. Simultaneously June 20th is World Refugee Day, so the entirety of the week has been World Refugee Day. While it is great to have activities to occupy everyone in the detention camp, the brunt of the logistics and planning falls on the Samos Volunteers. For that reason, I have neglected updates, which by far is no excuse. My father taught me several useful skills as a child that have become quite useful here. Every day I am asked to build something, fix something, plumbing, etc. Incorporate those skills with the ingenuity taught by the military makes me a jack-of-all-trades, master of none.
 
The majority of my days keep me at the warehouse, which appeases me as an introvert. An hour working in the camp mentally drains me more than a whole day in the warehouse. But as more volunteers call upon me for random tasks, and more meetings seem to spring up I find myself using several of my hours running around town. I am using my friend’s moped while he is on holiday in Turkey. I had intended on walking everywhere to reduce my carbon-footprint, but walking everywhere consumes too much time as well as the heat dehydrating me and leaving me light-headed. When Ian returns in a few days I will have to somehow squeeze a rental into my budget.
 
The Turkey-EU deal has burdened the volunteers heavily. The big NGO’s like UNHCR, Samaritans Purse, Praksis, and Medecines Sans Frontiers/Doctors Without Borders have massively stepped back in their roles in the camps. My group, Samos Volunteers, are left with the brunt of the work: warehouse, distribution to new arrivals, distribution to those who have been here for weeks or months, hygiene, helping with teaching classes, distributing dry-food, kid’s activities, even now helping to place new arrivals in cabins and tents. Most of these tasks were relegated by those before mentioned big NGO’s with us handling the new-arrivals, now our group of 10-15 are spread thin between the 1300+ in the camp and the 300+ outside of the camp.
 
Almost every day we have seen new arrivals. This morning there were 70+ new refugees. Though the numbers are not as staggering as this time last year, the deal has only slowed down the flow. Last year the big spike of refugees did not begin until July of last year, and we are continuing to see the spike at a smaller scale. This is another reason why the big NGO’s are no longer playing vital roles, because for some time there were no new arrivals, and human resources cut back on their aid-workers on the island. I don’t believe that they have a contingency plan for this, nor have considered that the flow of refugees is increasing. We are in a bad way in the next month or two as to new volunteers, and could use as much help as possible.
 
Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}

The last week I was in Samos this past winter we had begun collaborating with Medecines Sans Frontiers. It was a relief to see that the relationship has only strengthened in my absence. While they are not in the camp due to certain reasons I am not totally educated on. they support us. In the near future there may be more support from them which would be a huge aid logistically and economically. While the UNHCR tries to butt in and control situation without taking into account the smaller players, Medecines Sans Frontiers implements and integrates the already existing structures.

While I am begging for volunteers I want to offer you the experience that will alter your life forever, in a good way. I am on a Greek island, who’s tourism thrives on those coming to see the beautiful landscape and beautiful beaches. The food is incredible and there is so much history and culture to experience. I work with the nicest people you will ever meet who are from all over, who put their careers and education on hold, and sacrificed their time and money to help others. The displaced people we are allowed to be part of their lives are just like you and I. Great way to have travel, culture, food, and best of all, great people all bundled in one incredible “vacation package.”
 
I have been complimented on my never ceasing smile here or told that I must be a nice person since I smile so much. Just last night Dr. Sandeep Ray landed on Chios, Greece to volunteer with ‘A Drop in the Ocean.’ I met him at UW Oshkosh where he was teaching in the Radio, TV, and Film Department. He will be moving on to Brown University this fall. Molly Fried of Oshkosh, Wisconsin will also be returning this winter; she had previously volunteered this past February with ‘A Drop in the Ocean’ as well, with me in Kos, Greece. It’s an intense feeling to know that we as individuals can inspire others by telling our story.
 
If anyone is interested in helping us either in donations or volunteering, please check our Facebook page ‘Samos Volunteers.’ There will be both a link for volunteers, the groups GoFundMe and PayPal, and a well as a link for a list of our need. I also have a GoFundMe link here as well and can use PayPal or Western Union. I thank you all for taking your time to follow me as well as both your support financially as well as being there for me. Because of you, I am blessed to be a have a life-changing experience and could not do it without you.
 

6.16.2016

June 16, 2016
 
It has been a busy few days, even with the EU-Turkey deal, we still have refugees crossing from Turkey to Greece. Since I have arrived we have received new arrivals everyday other than on Sunday. The numbers in the camp continue to rise, with little to no persons being allowed to leave the island. Whilst the flow of asylum seekers has been slowed, it has not halted those who search for hope. Today, yet another 56 souls climbed onto the shores of Samos, Greece. Today, another 56 humans were clothed, fed, and cared for.
 
Tensions here in Greece are rising. Due to the refugee crisis, the islands are down 60% in tourism, which is the majority of the island(s) annual income. I had the honor to work with many volunteers in Lesvos this past winter on the Hope Center. Sadly, it will never be open or used. The local municipality there is and will do all in its power to prevent the refugees from ever using it. Many of the Greeks believe they are being punished for their humanity and allowing the refugees to come. I have talked with several Greek friends who work and reside here in Samos. There is no easy answer anymore; the islands are spiraling into an economic depression, on top of the national Greek economic crisis. My dear friend Manolis will probably be laid off this winter, and there are no jobs here. Our only hope is to integrated the local community into the volunteer world, incorporating them into the larger NGO’s that have the funds to pay a salary. Even so, this will not dramatically help the situation here. As we push further and further into the summer, the attitudes toward the refugees and volunteers will sour as well.
 
One change that has occurred is the “Samos Volunteers” break away from the municipality. While understandably the local government must look after their own people, we could not align ourselves to them anymore. This being said, we lost our free accommodation. This drastically affects the volunteers; many who would stay for months are now regulated to weeks or less. Consistency is vital, limiting the amount of time one can volunteer means that someone new must be trained on a constant cycle. This also means that we have lost numbers in volunteers, leaving those who can be here with more work and responsibilities. This July and August we will be spread thin. We need more volunteers. We do not ask for any special skills or qualifications, just people willing to make a change. Anyone who has the skills and patience to work with children, teach, distribute, sort, and of course smile will be appreciated and utilized. We need more people to stand-up and say “Here am I, send me.” We need those vessels willing to be filled and used beyond even their own expectations. This is not everyone’s calling, nor do we expect everyone to help. Every individual who volunteers is a drop in the ocean, no matter who they are, they are needed and important.
 

Though the majority of my responsibilities keep me contained to the warehouse, I still am able to squeeze some time in to help out at the camp. Last night the refugee children and the local Greek children put up an art display on the waterfront across from the city square. My days of construction came in handy and we were able to build some displays for the art to be hung on. Many of the volunteers spent the afternoon setting up the displays and preparing the event. It was amazing to see all the volunteers, locals, and refugees all together. There was art/drawings to look at, a video of a presentation in the camp was played, some songs were sung, we even had a young-refugee child beat-box. This public display for the local Greeks hopefully will help them understand what we are doing, as well as to the humanity of the refugees.

Samos Art Fair {AndrewFrania.com}
 
After the show a few of us went up to the camp. It is currently Ramadan, those who are followers of Islam fast all day and sleep to conserve energy. At night they break their fast, so we went to create activities as well as help some of the other organizations. Two friends I had volunteered with last time I was here, Pru and Saleh, help the organization, Friendly Humans of Samos, with an evening café.
 
Samos Art Fair {AndrewFrania.com}
 
Saleh and I spent some time with some refugees constructing benches out of pallets and scraps to provide some comfort inside of the camp. Shortly after we set up a small tent and borrowed a projector from the UNHCR. We set up a cinema right outside the café and played “Mr. Bean” until the Euro2016 match between France and Romania. I would estimate 80 people were congregated together, unified by the universal sport of football.
 
Samos Art Fair {AndrewFrania.com}
 
As warehouse manager there are some certain items that we are direly in need of: underwear, socks, shoes, school supplies, baby strollers/push-carts. There is a list on the “Samos Volunteers” Facebook page as to our needs as well. If you have the time, please take a look at the page. This shows our needs but it also shows you what we are doing here as well. While I can show you pictures of the warehouse, boxes, and volunteers sorting clothes, the behind the scene, the page sheds light onto what the volunteers here are doing in the camps, with the people.
 
I end this post with an excerpt from “Our Greatest Fear” by Marianne Williamson:
 
 “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure… Your playing small does not serve the world… And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, Our presence automatically liberates others.”
 
Shine On

6.13.2016

June 13, 2016
              As I sit here writing this a storm is rolling in. Boats are coming into port and ensuring that their mooring lines are firmly fastened to the dock cleats. While it is just a passing squall, I hope that it is not an ominous forewarning of something else yet to come. Today marks my official first day of work on the “Samos Volunteer” work schedule. Of course, I was listed on the schedule with my nickname “Warehouse,” some things do not change. It has been an easy transition back to volunteering, many of the plans implemented in the warehouse have remained unchanged.
              Since I am a creature of habit, I was able to get my cardio in by walking to the warehouse. It’s roughly 1000 feet above the city of Vathi, Samos where I reside. This is a great way for me to practice reducing my carbon footprint as well, and it is only 60 minutes round trip. My walk there allows me to plan out what I need to be doing, and the walk back allows me to reflect and sort through my thoughts. Volunteering can be an emotional rollercoaster. Sometimes news comes in that is not so positive, but then the next minute some great news will roll in. Those who work directly in the camps with distribution, teaching classes to the children, or other activities have a much higher rush of emotions. It is important to take care of one’s mind, body, and soul or else we may become overwhelmed.
              I have slightly more insight of the dynamics currently here on Samos. The “Samos Volunteers” are the only organization allowed into the camps to distribute clothing. We also teach in the camps, mostly to the children, but adults come and are more than welcome. Their ability to learn English or German will help them gain asylum when and if they are allowed to leave the detention camps. The classes also help keep the displaced persons occupied since most will be here 6 months. We still work very closely with all the other NGO’s (Non-Government Organizations) like Medecines Sans Frontiers/Doctors Without Borders, the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees), Praksis, Samaritans Purse, Calais Action, and several more. All work well in accordance with each other; there has been some acute public-relations work that has been accomplished here.
              Due to the Turkey-EU sanctions the border was closed in March for displaced people to cross and seek asylum. Here, as well as the other islands and the mainland, the refugees are confined to detention camps for an unknown period of time. I cannot confirm yet as to the length, but I have heard as long as 6 months. The refugees are allowed to pass freely in-and-out of the guarded camp, but are regulated to staying on the island. At least our fears of them not being allowed to leave the camp never came to fruition. There have been a few riots in the camp, but we had predicted that already in February. We had warned the Greek military and authorities that if they combine multi-nationalities in a camp that is not big enough, as well as heat, that there would be issues. They of course had to comply with the Greek government, as well as to the sanctions by the EU, but many complications could have been prevented or alleviated.
              While the flow of asylum-seekers into Greece has been slowed by the EU, it has not stopped it. Since I have arrived, approximately 110 have come to the shores of Samos. We continued as we always have, keeping a continuous presence, lest we leave and abandon those who need us most. We cannot fail our primary obligation to our fellow-human. If we as volunteers, defect from our post at this most vital hour, then who else will be there to answer the pleas for humanity? We have been summoned to answer a need, and we will not abandon our mission until we are needed no more.

6.12.2016

June 12, 2016
              After several flights, hostels, a ferry, and 60 hours, I finally arrived at Samos, Greece. This was the first time that jet-lag really affected me. I arrived on Saturday the 11th at 0400 hours, and slept through until late morning. Last night I was not able to sleep until 4 am and did not rise until 1100 hours. I am hoping that by tonight my body-clock has adjusted to proper circadian rhythm.
              Saturday I met up with the majority of the Samos volunteers at the warehouse. A few were familiar faces: Bogden, Saleh, Pru, and Jack. There are another 9-10 volunteers here that I had not worked with before, but we all easily meshed. The warehouse itself looks amazing in retrospect to the mountain of boxes I had encountered there this past January. We spent the afternoon sorting through boxes and constructing furniture for the camp out of old pallets.
              Outside of emergency’s, the volunteers do not work exceedingly late here. Some has to do with restrictions by the local authorities as to our presence in the camps. One of the volunteers was celebrating his birthday yesterday so we went to the beach for an hour or two after we finished at the warehouse. The water was cool and clear.  There was no sand on the beach, mostly rocks and pebbles worn smooth and flat by time. It was so pristine. I had looked forward to returning to the islands in the summer since I had only witnessed them in the middle of Greek-winter. This was also a great time for me/us to get to know each other and strengthen group camaraderie. By the time we all sat down for supper, some 6 or so hours after meeting everyone, the only thought that came to my head was that this was so right. The three months at home I could not find that feeling of belonging or feeling like I was in the right place. Day 1, surrounded with volunteers of relative like-mindness, on an island in the Aegean Sea, inspired with the purpose to help others and make changes, I could never ask for a better environment to immerse oneself in.
              For supper we all ate at Pizza di Piazzi. Last time I was on Samos I spent every night there with the owner, and my favorite Greek, Manolis. He has a son who will be a year this August, his room is decorated with Disney and football jerseys (European football/soccer). I brought one of my Green Bay Packer Jerseys for him, my good-luck Jordy Nelson jersey from Super Bowl 45. He was so happy to both see me and for the jersey. I had missed his son’s, Antonio, baptism by just a few days, so we made plans to meet up at his house and watch the video. I always enjoy the time I can squeeze in to visit with his family, as well as an authentic home-cooked Greek meal from his wife Yoda.
              There are some definite changes here since the beginning of January. I do not want to mis-inform as to everything here. The dynamics of different organizations, the detention camps, even the larger international picture is all different. Hopefully Monday I will be able to get a firm grasp as to the current situation on Samos so that I can inform you properly.
Greece Refugee Crisis {AndrewFrania.com}
 

6.9.2016

It’s been 3 months since I left Greece and the refugee crisis. If there had been an easier and faster way to return I would have taken it without a moment’s hesitation. Rather, I spent the entirety of my time state-side working and saving money to pay for my bills back home in the states and to pay bills in Greece. While I would rather be volunteering in the field, it was somewhat refreshing to catch my breath, rekindle old friendships or forge new ones, network, and explain/tell the refugee crisis to those who knew little to nothing.
I will be staying in Greece until the end of August. My most current plans are to volunteer in Samos, Greece as the warehouse manager. Due to the Greek, EU, and Turkey sanctions our ability to volunteer may be/will be severely hampered in comparison to the beginning of the year. I’ll be spending tonight in Athens, Greece and will meet up with several volunteers I had worked with from the NGO “A Drop in the Ocean” from Norway. They are focused more in Athens and Idomeni where the bulk of the refugees in Greece are currently detained at. Depending on their needs I may find myself back on mainland Greece.
While I still have yet to reach my final destination I am relatively un-stressed in comparison to my first time out here volunteering. Flight changes and layovers have never been a problem with me. Last time I landed in Athens it was a shot in the dark as to where I was staying, how I was going to get there, where the ferry is, or who to even connect with once I made it to the islands. This time it is the complete opposite. I may even have someone to pick me up from the port when the ferry arrives in Samos.
I have no idea what the next few months may have in hold for me. Last time I learned a lot about myself and my relation to everyone else in the world, strengthened family and friend ties, met some great refugees and volunteers, and found myself immersed in the most electrifying atmosphere of humans helping humans. All I know is that I have never felt so right about myself until I began this chapter of my life, so I will continue and look forward to what life has to show me.