July 12, 2016
My days are beginning to blend together, it’s becoming hard to remember what I did from day-to-day. Sunday’s are the only day I can differ from the others because every business is shut and it is the volunteer’s day of rest. The past Sunday was a well needed day of rest, the wear and tear is becoming very apparent on the faces and body language of the long-term volunteers. I somehow managed to sleep until 11am on Sunday with a grand total of 12 hours of sleep. I doubt I have slept that long in the past decade. Most of the team took a drive to the south-side of the island to relax and swim in the sea. It took an hour and a half to drive across, but it allowed us to take in the beautiful mountainous landscape, the villages perched on the hillsides, the coastline, and the green forests.
There was a forest fire that started up near where we all work and live, and the winds spread the fire all the way down across the island. At one point the fire could not have been over 1 mile from where I stay at. For at least two days the firefighters and military fought the fire, we would watch as helicopters would fly back and forth dumping water from the port on to the blaze. I have yet to know how many houses were destroyed or casualties/loss of life.
As always the tensions are increasingly growing. The municipality of Samos sent a call for help for 700 local children who need their basics of life met. Athens refused them. As summer keeps on continuing with no dramatic change in tourism, the people feel their wallets growing thinner and the worries of winter survival weigh more heavily on their minds. A nearby island, Leros, has suffered a dramatic loss of support from the islands. On Saturday a group of 150+ Yazidis (the oldest known ethnic group, religious group, also referred to as “The People of Eden”) were attacked by Greek locals. The police did not intervene, and several volunteers were threatened. While the volunteers have often been threatened, it has never caused them to flee. All the humanitarian aid organizations have left, as well as the majority of the volunteers. There are only a handful of independent volunteers that remain to take care of the 8,400 refugees and to stand between the refugees and hostile Greeks.
The Turkey/EU deal is about to officially fall apart, thus we are planning for another surge comparible or more than last year. The EU tried their best to say they had a strong handle on the refugee crisis by not allowing them to leave Turkey. Since Turkey is not EU the EU played the card out-of sight, out-of-mind. The African’s have been protesting for two days now, leading to an evacuation of European Asylum Support Office/EASO in the camps. The precedence for asylum seekers is Syrian’s, so many of the other nationalities have been in the detention camp for up to 4 months. They are beginning to lose hope, and feel that they are nobody’s. When the Turkey/EU deal falls apart, Europe will have to acknowledge that they must find a way to accommodate the wave of humanity, not hide them outside their borders or in prison camps.
The group of volunteers have been amazing. We have almost finished sorting all of the donations, which means that we need donations to start coming back in. The past week I have had the pleasure of having Ion Wolf working with me on projects. The team sorting has been doing so well that I have been able to focus on projects and slowly catch up. There have been several volunteers that I have worked closely that have left, it’s hard saying goodbye to people who are in sync with each other working on the same goal. The amount of work we accomplish as a group was noticeable enough for Medecines Sans Frontiers/Doctors Without Borders to help fund the group. It was a huge victory for the group to know that our toil had not gone unnoticed or appreciated.
I would like to thank all of my donors who have helped me out. I had a week of stressing out about my funds since we have to pay for housing and transportation now. Your donations relieved a lot of worrying that was compacting on top of everything that I am doing out here. You gave me the ability to breathe again, and also remind me that I am not alone on this. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
July 3, 2016
Though it has been more than three weeks since I arrived in Samos it seems more like three months already. One more week done, and my body can feel it. Every morning I wake up feeling more exhausted than before I fell asleep, but at each day’s end I can fall asleep without any hesitation. Though it has cooled down to the high 90’s, 100 in the afternoon, the sun still takes a toll on our bodies.
I was able to spend the majority of the week focusing on the warehouse. We have been collaborating with several other groups, one in particular, the Dutch Boat Refugee Foundation. I had previously worked with them in Lesvos, Greece on the shores, but now with the decline in new arrivals they have switched to medical work and educational classes in the camp. We were able to inventory the warehouse finally, which raised some alarms as to what we do not have. This helps as different groups visit the warehouse daily in search of items. Sharing a weekly inventory database will save everyone time, gas/money, and also help keep the limited resources available for emergencies.
I finally found time this week to work on a project I had been thinking about for three weeks yet never could find the time to start it. Between myself, Petros, and Ion we were able to build an electric-free air-condition. Many of the cabins at the camp are metal with no air-condition. We can neither afford to put units in their cabins nor do we have full confidence in the wiring throughout the camp. We drilled holes through a board, and cut water-bottles in half.
Next we inserted the mouth-part of the bottle into the pre-drilled holes and then removed the caps.
As air moves through the open end of the bottle it both causes the molecules to slow down, thus cooling, as well as forcing the air moving through to speed up causing more of a “breeze.” This concept was developed in Bangladesh a year or two ago and has dropped temperatures inside by up to 9 degrees Fahrenheit. If the prototype works as anticipated, then we will purchase more boards and pre-drill and cut them to each window’s size.
While we can create better quality of life for those in the camps, we can also make use of the empty bottles everywhere, and teach recycling, sustainability, and ingenuity.
I had a few meetings this week concerning employment with some of the international organizations. Though I am not quite ready to sell out to “the man,” I must devise a long-term plan if I am to continue in the humanitarian field. If I was to make the transition from volunteer to aid-worker I would be able to obtain a one-year work visa as well as benefits and pay. I am conflicted because this decision is mostly based on money.
I primarily spend my off-time at Pizza Di Piazza making use of their free WiFi and their generosity. Many times I do not have to pay my bill because I bring all the volunteers there and because I frequent there often and am friends with the owner and all the staff. The view on the terrace is right on the sea-road thus allowing me the view of the entire city and everyone walking by. Every time I find myself there I am greeted by all the staff, my dear friend Manolis the waiter, and the owner and his wife. The local Greeks who frequent there know me by name and make sure to tell me hello.
Sitting on the terrace allows me to see all the volunteers and refugees walking about It’s hard to go 5 minutes without seeing someone I know, this place makes me feel home and that I belong.
The owner of Pizza Di Piazza, Theopolis, and Manolis both are trying to work on paperwork that would show that I would have a place of employment with them. This will allow me to apply for a one-year work visa. I’ve contemplated returning to university, but also the three weeks here have brought many things to my attention. I am well networked with the local community, refugee community in the camp, the different organizations on the island, and my network of volunteers and organizations I have previously networked with. This fall will mean less volunteers since many are in university and must return. One of the coordinators will have to return to grad school as well. There is a need for long-term volunteers to keep relations intact as well as to ensure that existing operations continue. I believe that a year of continuing volunteering here is much more vital than finishing my studies. Though I can raise more awareness at home, there is a massive need here that is much more important. If the work-visa works then I will have to find donors to pledge monthly to allow me tuo continue for a year.
We do not distribute in the camp on Saturdays unless there are new arrivals. The past few weeks we either had new-arrivals or else an event to plan and prepare for. This Saturday all we needed to do was focus on the warehouse. There were at 15-20 volunteers at the warehouse. Every project I had been intending on working on were accomplished before lunch. There were several different projects going on, yet everyone found the niche that they felt most comfortable with. It was amazing to watch everyone from different backgrounds all working in cohesion on the same goal. We all shared lunch together which was a first to have this big a group in the warehouse or sitting down together. Many volunteers brought a prepared dish, some cooked food while we were working in the warehouse, and all contributed a euro for purchasing certain foods that we needed to complete the meal.
After lunch we continued working in the warehouse for a couple of hours. Most of us were in a food-coma as well as feeling the energy spent combined with the sun. We all met at the local football/soccer stadium that evening. We had a team of volunteers and refugee volunteers play against the refugee team. The volunteers lost 1-4 but everyone won. It was a huge success and now there’s rumors of this becoming a weekly event. This would allow for solidarity between the volunteers and refugees, allow us to find a common ground, give the refugees in the camp something to watch and enjoy, and for the volunteers it allows them to spend time with their refugee friends outside of work. We finished our night at Pizza Di Piazza, a table of French, Belgians, Brits, Syrians, Palestinians, Iraqis, Burundi’s, Sudanese, Nigerians, Somalians, Romanians, Americans, Spanish, Germans, Dutch, etc. all breaking bread together. I struggle to find more beautiful moments in life than one like last night.
I would like to thank all of you for following my blog and for those who have made donations. I have had several people tell me that they read every post and that is a huge encouragement to me. There are days that the human in me is depressed, exhausted, struggling to find strength. I always get a note of encouragement, someone telling me thank you, a post telling me that I inspire them, a donation, a hug from my mom via a volunteer I work with. Without these I would be hard pressed to continue sometimes. There are times that there are other volunteers here who start to hit a low and I often find myself quoting a message sent to me earlier in the day. Thank you all for being here for me, for your donations, for your notes of encouragement, for your solidarity with humanity.