8.28.2016

August 28, 2016

It has been an extremely long week. The pressure of the long-term volunteers and coordinating group leaving has increased the work load for both Bogdan and for myself. While I still am focused on the warehouse, I find myself absent from it ever so much. My day is busy with phone calls, Facebook chat groups, and meeting with people in a hectic coordination schedule. This past week is the final week of the majority of short-term volunteers which will make coordination of human-resources much easier. We can focus less on explaining why or why not we do things, showing volunteers where to be, introducing volunteers to key people from other groups. The next week we will be slashed to half of our group. While we may have to increase some work individually, we will also be able to be a more sustainable, impactful group.

This week everything has been in place for the winter stock to begin its organization. Bogdan and I have begun to plan a way to implement our winter clothing distribution while still continuing the normal clothing distribution. Since we have reached the point of less volunteers and less donations to sort we can focus from daily warehouse activities to perhaps once or twice a week in the warehouse. I’ll of course be there somewhat daily to meet the needs of other organizations and our daily restock. I have a rough estimation of what we have for the winter, and I do not think we will have the same issue of low stock like we did this past winter. Last winter we ran low on scarves, gloves, and hats. I have a surplus from shipments that arrived late in the spring, as well as several thousand sets from an organization that is leaving. The one thing we may be wanting will be winter jackets, hopefully I will have a more concise picture within the weeks’ end.

The camp is almost at half the residents that were there the beginning of the summer. This is a huge aid due to our shortage of volunteers. It is a strange feeling walking into the camp not seeing tents crammed everywhere, people congregated in the few open spots, and masses of children thronging to me as I drive up on my moped. Most of the group now has been here for several months, some up to 6 months now. There are so many familiar faces, and a handful of new faces. Each week we still see new arrivals, and the numbers are slowly picking up. All of these faces carry a sad look, with a slight air of hopelessness. It’s the faces that they see on a regular basis that help them through each day as well. We both need each other to carry on with each day's task.

These past couple of months I have struggled as to what to post on this blog. I am not an active presence in the camp, but more of a logistics and administrative actor. My day-to-day is more focused on how to keep the operation going long-term and sustainably. I am going to add weekly a short story of how two people came to meet each other in Samo, Greece. Each time one person will be represented by a displaced person, and the other person will be a volunteer. Depending on indiviual and family's permission, there may be some stories with no picture or just a picture without volunteering a face for protection reasons. I hope this will help show the human in each of us know matter what nation or region of the world we call home.

If any of you are interested in volunteering, we could use help in the upcoming months. As summer draws to an end, many of the volunteers must end their holiday and return to university or work. By next week our team will be slashed in half from the usual number of volunteers we had all summer. While any amount of time is appreciated and well needed, we are looking for volunteers to come especially for 3 weeks minimum. It takes almost a week to understand the processes we have in place. It is a life changing experience and the opportunity's to use whatever talents you have are endless. We need people with initiative, ideas, and creativity. If you would like to help but cannot, please consider contributing either to my GoFund me or PayPal to help make purchases for refugee needs and to support the volunteer infrastructure. The world needs each and everyone of you in whatever way you can help: someone to stand up and help, a voice to be there for those who can not be heard, or supporting by helping in donations and contributions.


Thank you from Samos, Greece.

8.20.2016

August 20, 2016

It is the weekend here on Samos, Greece. One could easily get used to the weather that we are having now. In comparison to the heat wave that we had this past June, the weather now is comfortable enough to sit outside on the terrace mid-afternoon. Most mornings I can wake up, make my morning coffee and breakfast and enjoy the view of the island. Coming from the frozen tundra of Wisconsin, being able to view the entire city from my studio, the sea, and the mountains, one is ever mesmerized by the beauty that life holds.

My morning drive to the warehouse or wherever my volunteer duties is one of the most pleasant experiences as well. The drive on my moped from my studio to the warehouse generally takes less than ten minutes, but those ten minutes are often my inspiration to guide me through the day. The city of Vathi, Samos becomes very active at 8 am, everyone driving and walking to work, to the shops, etc. to begin their day before the afternoon hear and siesta. On my drive down from my studio into town, I acknowledge all the Greeks who are in front of their houses watering their gardens, the man working out of his old VW van, the shop owners rolling open their windows or sweeping the sidewalk in front of their shops, and the farmers selling their produce out of the back of their trucks by the church. None of us know each other, nor speak the same language, yet we recognize each other on our daily routines and both understand a smile.

My drive to the warehouse takes me past the Medecines Sans Frontiers office. Almost every humanitarian-aid worker and I have had professional dealings with and often enjoy each other’s company over a coffee. If I drive by at the right time, there are 5+ of their staff sitting outside of their main office which is at an intersection that I have to stop at until the light turns from red to green. They all greet me, and I in return. My drive then takes me past several shop owners who are driving into town, all of us beeping our horns, waving, and yelling “Yashu/Hello” as we pass by. As I start to leave the town and drive up towards the camp and warehouse there are several refugees walking down. Many know me, much better than I know them. Even if I do not individually know them, I do my best to beep my horn and wave. I fell this is important for them psychologically, to feel accepted and recognized and people. I eventually make it to the warehouse, the group going to the camp have the cars filled with clothes. We all shake hands, hug, and greet the new volunteers. Those that are volunteering in the warehouse for the day also share the same experience. Perhaps it is the small community, or else the climate differences coming from the frozen-tundra of Wisconsin, but I have never had mornings like these here.

This past week we finished sorting the rest of the donations that came from Spain and Switzerland. The winter clothing area is almost finished being set up and moving the winter stock from storage. By mid-week we will begin sorting everything, half has been sorted and is beginning to be shelved, the other half of unsorted winter clothing will take a little more of a week to sort into their proper categories. We received donations from two groups leaving the island on Friday, yesterday. Medecines Sans Frontiers dropped off two van loads of food kits, clothes, and hygiene kits. Apostole, a Greek church organization also dropped off a pallet of socks which we were in dire need of. It will be sad to see these organizations leave, but it was a relief to myself on the logistic side to see some of our needs met.

Once again I must implore for help in donations. This past Friday we ran out of men’s trousers, and even shirts we will run out of within the next two weeks unless a large donation arrives. Summer has helped us with distribution by allowing us to give shorts, sleeveless-shirts, and sandals, but winter is coming. From the Chinese shops in town we can purchase these few items, but purchasing shoes and trousers cost triple, and our budget is comprised of donations. I am scared to see what happens this fall, if nothing arrives; I am even more terrified with the possibility of a large-scale flow of refugees like last winter. This is not an isolated issue. Every warehouse on the islands and mainland are suffering from lack of men’s items. With our current women’s and children’s stock of clothing we will be able to sustain their needs for a year, but none of us are going to be able to meet the needs of the men.

8.18.2016

August 18, 2016
As usual, I have been extremely busy since my last update. More volunteers who were here for the duration of the summer have left, leaving vacancies that are oft hard to fill. We make do with some of the short-term volunteers, but the consistency factor is sorely lacking. Within a week roughly 66-75% of the current volunteers that we have will return back to their home countries. On the other hand, within the next few weeks we will start to receive the volunteers that will be here for one-month or more. Right now it is a crazy transitional period, especially with several of the coordinators finally terminating their volunteering stay.
 
The weather is starting to change; the north winds have returned with a cool breeze which is extremely refreshing after this long-hot summer. We all know that these north winds bring winter as well, and within a month-and-a-half, the weather will turn for the worse. Winter is not like the bitter cold of Wisconsin, with snow and ice, and air temperatures that hurt the skin. Rather it is a wet-cold, biting through every layer of clothing. When it rains here, it pours. I have begun to re-organize the warehouse to be better prepared in comparison to last winter. Some of the team has been helping me construct shelving on the outside addition, and others have begun to sort through our winter stock. Within a few weeks we will begin to distribute cold-gear on top of our regular hygiene and clothing distribution.
 
The north winds do not only bring rain and cooler temperatures. They also bring refugees in boats sailing south with the favor of the winds to their backs. Last year, October was the busiest month, and this past week we have begun to see the rise in numbers of displaced-people crossing from Turkey. This morning we had 13 new arrivals, two mornings ago 31. The past two weeks we have seen more refugees come to Samos, Greece than we have all summer. We stand prepared, and I am ever so thankful for the preparations that we have been working on rather than falling into a complacent state of mind.
 
October is the end of tourist season for both Greece and Turkey. Tourism is a huge part of both country’s economies so the refugee-crisis plays a huge part. President of Erdogan of Turkey has threatened/blackmailed the EU that if they do not give Turkish citizens visa rights that EU citizens have, he will release the refugees in Turkey into Europe. The EU refuses to allow Turkey to join the union because of their massive human-rights violations, especially since the coup this past July. If the EU does not comply, Erdogan will allow the 2.7 million Syrian refugees to cross into Europe. According to some statistics, there are 4-6 million refugees in Turkey that are Syrian, Afghani, Iraqi, Pakisani, and many more countries. For the aid-workers and volunteers, we forsee a crisis bigger than last winters crisis.
 
Since purchasing a round trip costs $700, and the one-way $550-600 I had booked my flight home for August 24, which is 6 days from today. Due to the need of both long-term volunteers and because three of the five coordinators will no longer be with us, I decided to stay. I could not on good conscience leave the responsibilities of five solely on one person. As the news and rumors continue, I am not sure that we will have enough volunteers here, least-wise those who are already connected with the Greek-community, human-rights organization community, and the refugee community we help/work with daily.
 
While I will continue to keep my GoFund me account active, I would prefer to use it for needs of the refugees. Donations via this account have slowed down, and now that I am staying here for several more months I am stepping out on faith. I have categorized my monthly bills here, and believe it is possible to find donors to pledge monthly to cover my bills here. I have talked with several people (volunteers, Greeks, friends and family) who wonder how I have continued volunteering. To everyone I tell them “faith.” Faith that there are good people out there who see what we are doing, and who also want to help. Faith that those who want to help, but cannot due to raising a family, spouse, work, education, etc. find that they can help by enabling those who can physically help. I am going out on a limb here, but these past 8 months I have seen humanity at its greatest. By faith I have made it thus far, and by faith I shall continue on.
 
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Here is a list of my monthly expenses:
        
Rent for Studio and Electricity: $225 / €200
     Food and Basics of Life: $270 / €24
Cell Phone Data: $45 / €40
Petrol/Gas: $35 / €30
 
   Total: $575 / €515
 
 
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I have talked with one of my best-friends who lives here, Manolis, and he will let me use his moped for free while I am here. If there is a surplus at the end of the month, I will apply it toward my unpurchased flight ticket, or make purchases for refugee needs. If interested in supporting me monthly, please personal message me at frania46@yahoo.com. I can also be reached on Facebook as ‘Andrew Ainarf’ via Facebook chat where we can coordinate either by messages or verbal talk.
 
My deepest gratitude for all my donors and those that follow me. While I miss home dearly and would love to see many of you, I believe that I must continue on. It is very difficult to take pictures this time. For those that volunteer and work in the camp it is illegal for us to take pictures, and even outside of the camp it is difficult because of protection laws and prevention of exploitation. I would encourage all of you to like and to check out our Facebook page: Samos Volunteers. There you can see what projects we are working on, as well as view some pictures that have been approved to give you better insight. Since my work keeps me more in the warehouse, logistics, administration, and meetings, this will provide a clear picture of what my group Samos Volunteers does to impact the lives of others.
 

8.11.2016

August 11, 2016

This past week has been very tedious and taxing. I’ve stepped back from being ever-present in the warehouse. Each day a volunteer who understands the system oversees/supervises the other volunteers off of a basic talk with me or from the task list that I post in the warehouse. The other actors/organizations on Samos all have my phone number and email, so they contact me via one of those two sources so that we can collaborate and share NFI (Non-food items). Having less of a presence in the warehouse the past week and a half have allowed me to work on projects I have not had time to focus on, but it has also afforded me the time to take on more responsibilities as well.

We are coming to the end of summer, when the majority of our volunteers must return back to university. Each week several volunteers leave, mostly short term (3 weeks or less), but several long-term volunteers have begun returning to school, work, and their lives. The long-term volunteers are relied on and often thrown into responsibilities that they had not anticipated before arriving. As they leave, the two of us that will continue volunteering are beginning to anticipate the work-load we will have to add to our plate. We will persevere, of course, and hopefully those coming in the near future will be ready and willing to step up to the plate.

For those who may have a yearning to join us in solidarity here are some of the projects from the last week the group has been working on. In the warehouse there are some that have been working on basic graphic design to help with the mapping-layout, clothing categories, and general guidelines/SOP’s. The warehouse volunteers have also been working on getting the winter clothing area organized and ready for volunteers to begin sorting. In the camp we still teach English, as well as other educational classes. There are several activities for men, women, and children to keep everyone occupied, granted, the children activities are much easier and easier to raise funding. We try our best to have community-helpers, refugees/displaced people, volunteer with us in all of our activities in the camp.

A couple of weeks ago we opened a library in the camp with books in 4-5 languages. It’s always a blessing to see those that participate in the English classes picking up books in basic and intermediate English. We were given permission to finally paint the camp this past week. The walls are ordained with paintings done by people residing in the camp and the few volunteers who consider themselves artistic. While there are still fences, concertina wire (a cross between barbed-wire and razor-wire), and an ominous police and army presence, the camp is beginning to have color and shows some display of humanity.

Last week began a new activity with the Pakistani men, cricket. I have no idea what cricket is, but those who participate are highly elated. We also have a weekly football/soccer match. This has expanded from Africans vs. Volunteers to a mixed team of people from the camp, a team of volunteers, and a team of Greeks as well. Sports are definitely a great way to lay aside cultural differences, focus on the love of the game, and to build friendships.

We had a deep conversation this week pertaining to the professionalism of volunteers, the protection of the volunteers who are displaced people, and friendships with those who we are here to help. For those that are refugees/stateless/displaced/migrants we have the responsibility of their protection. There are a few that we have accepted as both friends and volunteers, yet at the end of the night they return to their tent in the camp, and we western volunteers return to our flats or hotels. We have allowed some volunteers who have become close friends to lose their social identity to the identity of volunteers. Those in the camp often identify them as volunteers, as do many of us. From 8pm-8am we are not with them. If someone was to hurt them because of their identity to us, then we would be responsible. We decided after much talk that we shall continue the friendships we have, but do our best to separate our individual friendships to becoming associated to the group. While organizations forbid friendships with the refugees, we as volunteers are here to provide the human aspect. We cannot prevent friendships from happening, nor do we wish to prevent them. We just need to be mindful that our relationships can put people in vulnerable positions.

This past Friday there was a fire in the building below my apartment in the US. Luckily nobody was hurt, but many of my possessions and those of my roommates were ruined. This was one of those situations where I could cry and mope, or laugh since there is nothing I can do about it. I of course laughed, but also took it as a sign. I had a few days prior told my friend I share an American cell-phone contract with to cancel my line. The hardest part of the decision was giving up a phone number I have cleaved to for so long. After the fire, I realized that it was just another step of pursuing the path of life I have been involved with these past 8 months. I have come to realize that possessions have held me back for so long; possessions have tied me down and forced me to pursue dreams that were not of my own, but rather the society/environment I chose to identify myself with. I could not ask for a better misfortune, or rather a sign.

I am slowly slipping into a more administrative position while balancing logistics at the same time. This will afford me more time with my dilapidated laptop which also means the ability to update my blog more regularly. If you are interested in volunteering or desire to know more of what we are doing here in Samos, Greece feel free to look at my Facebook page – Andrew Ainarf, or the group Facebook page – Samos Volunteers. Thank you once again for taking your time to follow my posts and for your funding.

7.31.2016

July 31, 2016
 
This past weekend has been a whirlwind of events and a myriad of tasks were finished. It was a most appreciated change from the past week and a half. The short-term volunteers all have found their niche and where they are most needed. All of the long-term volunteers have assumed their new responsibilities; between the two groups there is now much less instruction, but rather delegation.
 
Warehouse {AndrewFrania.com)
 
Thursday night a mini-bus arrived from Switzerland with donations of items we dearly needed. The donations were driven by Sigrid and Uri both of Switzerland. Sigrid has a donation warehouse back at her home, and Uri has been volunteering in the humanitarian field for quite some time. Some donations came from Sigrid, and the rest from Naline, another Swiss. She had volunteered in Samos several times, as well as her son, Alex, who worked closely with me this past winter. Almost every box was already sorted and properly labeled, so all we had to do was quick-check the contents and throw our label on it.
 
Warehouse {AndrewFrania.com)
 
I think that if every group that sent donations could have a representative come for a few days it would help us dramatically. Since Naline had been here, she knew how we sorted our boxes, but also knew exactly what both needed and did not need. For once, we had a shipment without children’s clothing or women’s clothing we already had a surplus of.
 
Warehouse {AndrewFrania.com)
 
Friday we emptied the mini-bus from Switzerland and had two cargo-van loads of clothing we shared with Medecines Sans Frontiers/Doctors Without Borders. The bus was used all day Friday and Saturday to move things around the island that we’ve unsuccessfully been able to move with our compact cars due to time and space logistics. We had a 40-foot shipping container in the port where the camp used to be still full of boxes and shelving. It had taken two of us a day to empty half of the boxes out of the container, with no idea how to take the shelving up to the warehouse. In one and a half trips, everything had been finished. It was a relief to know that one more of my tasks now has a check-mark next to it.
 
After lunch on Friday almost all of the team came up to the warehouse. The last load from Medecines Sans Frontiers had just been unloaded. This was not boxes, but rather individual bags of full clothing for all ages and genders.
 
With approximately 25 volunteers every bag was separated by age and gender; these were then packaged together so that they could be used as part of the emergency/contingency plan when the Turkey/EU deal falls apart.
 
warehouse4
 
Since this did not need every volunteer, some focused on sorting the boxes that were brought in from our shipping container, others worked on sorting shoes, working on the electric-free A/C units, and others just on their projects.
 
The warehouse was an ant-hill of activity and by the end of the day, everything that had arrived was already in its designated place. It was great for the team to work in such close cohesion, but also to see several tasks and accomplish them. Everyone found where they were more specialized at or comfortable with.
 
After we finished the warehouse we had a group meeting. This was not focused on what projects or impacts the volunteers are having on the island, but more on what the volunteers can be doing. I had stressed in the last coordinator meeting that I cannot spend the entirety of my days keeping the short-term volunteers occupied. Since donations are coming in at a much slower rate, I have been using the volunteers to re-organize the warehouse to make it easier for winter and once again, the Turkey/EU deal fall-out. The meeting stressed initiative and consistency. We explained to the volunteers that even if they are here for a shorter period of time they can see what is needed to make life better for those living in the camp. Though they may only do the ground-breaking and preparing for activities, they can pass their project/activity on to the next volunteer.
 
Saturday was once again another busy day. We have a large amount of short-term volunteers that come with so much energy and desire to work. We usually work for 3-4 hours on Saturday on small projects and warehouse work that requires a larger team. Sometimes the short-term volunteers do not understand why the long-term volunteers work short-days on the weekend, but we are worn out phyisichally, emotionally, and psychologically. We were able to accomplish a lot though, so it did not bother me to be working a little longer than planned. There were some tasks that I had envisioned this past winter, but neither had the man-power or time to take on.
 
Warehouse {AndrewFrania.com)
Because of everyone’s work, we now have proper space to sort all the winter clothing as well as an area to store the boxes. We also have a large area to unload any shipments, I was so happy to see what everyone had accomplished at the end of the day.
 
My friend Petros, a Greek/Syrian volunteer and I dropped our friend Susie off to the port yesterday morning. She is from the UK but has lived in Switzerland for many years teaching English. She was here before I returned teaching English in the camps to the adults. For many of us, she was the mom-figure that we all leaned on. Many of us were the age of her own children, and though all of us are grown adults, we still every now and then just need a mum. 5 nights a week Susie and I had dinner together and just talked about what different things we were working on, or just sat and enjoyed each other’s company. I will dearly miss her, for she was often my voice of reason and wisdom, and always looked forward to seeing her.
 
Saturday night was White Night here in Samos. Every shop stays open until 6 am on Sunday. I spend most of my evenings at Pizza di Piazza with all of the volunteers and the staff that are close-friends. Since they needed help I offered my evening to them. It was great to be part of the team that has taken care of the volunteers, refugees, and me. They have taken so good care of me, often refusing to give me a bill because they know that I am on a limited budget. They cannot do much to help with the camp, so they help us volunteers.