2.23.2017

February 23, 2017

     This will be my second to last post about volunteering in Greece; I had called end of mission last week in Samos, Greece. The gaps that the volunteers had responded to are covered now by the NGO’s and GO’s or a very miniscule. As I scroll through my social-media feeds I see many volunteers with whom I worked next to have started doing the same. The Greek Refugee Crisis had seen an immense number of volunteers answering the pleas for help, and we came in force. Now the emergency is over; yet there are more emergencies throughout the rest of the world. Those who volunteered here can never forget what happened here, and with newly opened eyes, have begun to seek other regions where help is needed.

     This past winter I was sent to different islands, and returned to the states, without ever seeing mission accomplishment. As I embark on the next chapter, the mission in Greece and my mission with Samos Volunteers is over. Across Greece the GO’s and NGO’s are taking control and fulfilling their mandates. Samos Volunteers will no longer distribute clothing or hygiene as of 24 February. We began as a solidarity group in 2015 when there were 4000 arrivals a day, now we have had less than 4000 arrivals since the Turkey/EU deal on 20 March 2016. 

     Samos Volunteers will continue in psycho-social activities to enhance, empower, and to educate. As the group steps back from providing clothing and hygiene items, this will allow more concentration on schooling and activities. Currently the education positively affects 150+ people, as well as our recreation activities. The need here for Samos Volunteers is educators, those with the gift to teach and work with children, idealists, and dreamers. I am not a teacher, but rather logistically-minded and my skills are best utilized in emergency response. I look forward to seeing what Samos Volunteers will do; please continue to support and follow them either on the web page SamosVolunteers.org or on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/samosvolunteers/

 

     This morning I was working in distribution in the camp, and I was able to observe the dynamics of needs. Last week we had finished our individual assessments of clothing needs of everyone in the camp and were able to provide what items were needed. Everyone in the camp has 2-4 sets of clothing, besides what they came to Samos with. This week we focused on camp-wide mass distributions of hygiene kits, solar and wind-up flashlights/torches, sandals, socks, and shampoo. As I supervised the distribution cabin and door, I noticed that very few people came for items. Less than 10 people came, which gave me one more realization that the needs here are filled. 

     We have done everything possible to set up the mandated government organization to take over distribution with success. We can easily transfer our distribution data, trained many of their staff in the distribution as to ensure people are treated with dignity, conducted mass distributions to soften the transition, and will ensure that they will have ample hygiene inventory to assist in their provisions of these items. The camp is at the lowest in numbers since this past summer with approximately 800 people, there have been no new arrivals in 2 weeks, and those who have come these past three months are few in number. Winter is over, so the emergency need of sufficient winter clothing is no longer an issue. The time is prime for the govrenment organizations to take over. Below is the email we sent to all of the actors on Samos, I will change the font to italics in order to discern between my post and the email.

 

Dear colleagues,

We would like to announce to you all the discontinuation of regular NFI distribution (clothes, shoes and hygiene items) in the RIC by Samos Volunteers.

Samos Volunteers are and have been the main provider of clothing, shoes and adult hygiene items in the RIC since April 2016, via an informal partnership with Medin. The purpose of this partnership was to cover some of the basic needs of the POCs, as at the time, no other organisation was capable or willing to provide these services.

However, over the last few weeks we have not had any new arrivals, and relatively few arrivals in fact since last November. We concur that the clothing needs of those already residing in the RIC have been met. Through our efforts, most people have received between 2-4 sets of clothing, and over the winter months, we carried out several large-scale distributions to ensure that everyone received additional clothing to keep them warm. We have become a permanent and daily distributor of clothing and hygiene items in the camp, while our initial purpose was only to cover the urgent needs of the people.

Right now, we feel there is no longer an emergency situation requiring the daily distribution of NFIs by Samos Volunteers. With the winter coming to an end, a significant decrease in the population of the RIC due to transfers to the mainland, and an increase in those being hosted in alternative accommodation, we see that our role as distributors of NFIs should dissolve and be passed on to those mandated to cover these needs. This will enable Samos Volunteers to focus and expand on our activities which will benefit the refugee community on Samos through psycho-social support: namely informal education and recreational activities. Currently, over 150 people are directly benefitting from our psycho-social activities, which range from language classes, football and creative workshops.

We are willing to pass on the good practices which we have developed over time in relation to the distribution of NFIs, and can continue on an advisory basis where needed. Over the last several months, Samos Volunteers have been assigned several municipality staff who have been supporting our regular distributions. We have ensured that they were thoroughly involved in the entire process in order to understand the complexity of the distribution system so that they could potentially run the distributions themselves. Given the circumstances, we will coordinate with them and advise them to focus on hygiene distribution (in which there are currently no stock shortages) and to only provide clothes in emergency situations or to replace worn or broken items.

We will continue with the daily distribution of Chai tea in the camp (an operation funded by the UNHCR/SP). This has been extremely successful, and it is these kinds of activities which have a hugely positive effect on the daily lives of the inhabitants of the RIC. Additionally, we will continue to be an emergency response team for new arrivals who regularly arrive wet on the island and need dry sets of clothes and shoes.

This week we have 3 mass distributions that we are going to carry out: shampoo, hygiene kits (soap, body cream, deodorant, 2 x face towels), and sandals, hijabs and socks. We feel that following this, the needs of the people residing in the RIC will be largely met which should take some pressure off of the transitional period. We will therefore stop NFI distribution on Friday 24th Feb.

Feel free to get in touch with us if you have any questions.

Kind regards,

Bogdan Andrei, Jasmine Doust, Andrew Frania and Donie Brady

Samos Volunteers Group.

www.samosvolunteers.org

     For everyone who donated, volunteered, and/or raised awareness I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. Together we have made immense changes and had a positive impact. I will miss Greece, especially Samos which has been my home for almost a year. There are more needs elsewhere in the world, but I will return to visit and see what Samos Volunteers will continue to do. Perhaps I should write a book on my Greek volunteering experience, but time to write is a luxury I am deficit of.

     I will continue to post updates, but this time the environment and needs will change. Please continue to follow my blog or Facebook (Andrew Ainarf), the next journey is about to begin and I hope that you will be a part of it.

2.17.2017

February 17, 2017
   
    I’ve made my decision, while difficult and with much thought, I will be ending my mission here in Greece. It was 14 months ago I started volunteering in Greece, and over 8 months ago that I returned to Samos. When I began in Greece at Lesvos it was during the crisis, and the return to Samos was to fill the gaps until the mandated government organizations could stand on their own feet. While there are still gaps and needs here, they are minimal and easily overcome. Refugees have always come to Greece and always will, but I can no longer rationalize my presence here.
    It will be a tearful goodbye, for Samos has been my home. As a coordinator for Samos Volunteers I will miss the dynamics of the group, the amazing volunteers, and being part of one of the most crucial groups on the island. I have created life-long friends, learned about myself and others, cried, laughed, and gave my 110%. I shall leave with my head high, for what was accomplished as a group is monumental.
    I have a few more tasks to finish before I must bid my absence, one of which is the direction of Samos Volunteers. Since Samos Volunteers is not a registered organization, there is not a board of directors. Rather the leadership and decision making must fall on the shoulders of the coordinators, long-term volunteers, former volunteers and coordinators, and on our donors. We are responsible to the donors, refugees, and volunteers. There are some dynamics I will updated in the next post, but until then I must honor discretion until we can go public.
    Samos Volunteers will continue here; while I will be leaving, there are two coordinators who have been here for quite some time, as well as a new education coordinator. The group hopes to focus more in pyscho-social activities like creating an informal learning center (school) and activities that are beneficial to the people here. I look forward to what Samos Volunteers will do, and perhaps in the future I will take some time to see how the group is doing.
    Perhaps the question now is, what am I doing after Samos? I will be heading to Uganda at the beginning of March. 26% of the world’s refugees, or 18 million refugees are located in E. Africa. Since Uganda is considered the “best country to be a refugee” this will be the launch point for myself and several other volunteers to begin our next mission. There are several corporations that want to be a part of the next mission, as well as about 50 volunteers I have worked with from different Greek islands. Before sending everyone to Uganda, it is pertinent that the idea of an infrastructure, permission from the government, etc. is in place. So this is not the end of my blog, but rather a new chapter.

2.13.2017

February 13, 2017

 

    I had to take some time off of updating my blog; I had hit a writer’s block and become destitute of inspiration. It was not that there was a void in occurrences in the camp, but rather I have looked at the same environment with the same eyes. Either I felt I was continuously transcribing repetitive information,and/or because what I was seeing daily through accustomed eyes had calloused my ability to view life from different view-point.

 

    This past week I took a week holiday from Samos. My brother Jonathon had received his papers to leave the island after almost 11 months, and I rationalized with myself that I was far due for a slight reprieve in my volunteering routine. In total the ferry trip would have cost me 24 hours of my 67 hour holiday if I had returned Wednesday morning. It was 4pm/1600hrs on Monday when I arose from my 15 hour slumber. It was at that moment that it dawned on me the past 8 months had exhausted me. I chose to extend my holiday until the Friday afternoon ferry, which I cannot regret.

 

    Jonathon as I had prior stated, has been on the island for almost 11 months. He was one of the boys that I had told I would not leave until I had seen him leave first. He was my younger brother, one of my closest confidents, a true volunteer in spirit and action, and a true friend. At one point this summer he had called his family and told them not to worry about him, for he had a Bapa/Papa here who was taking care of him. I was deeply touched by that, as was the entirety of the African community. Now everyone in the African community refers to me as “Bapa” for while I take care of their own, they have seen that I am there for them as well.

 

    There was a throng of volunteers at the ferry to bid Jonathon adieu. The last couple of months volunteering had transformed Jonathon into a leader both in the distribution cabin and at the warehouse. It was his dedication and enthusiasm in his work that touched the hearts and souls of all the volunteers who came to his send-off. One could not find a dry-eye in the group. Since the ferry departure conflicted with the church service, Jonathon spent an ample portion of his morning in gratitude for the blessing of moving forward, as well as requesting blessing on the next chapter of his life. As we had just finished saying goodbye to everyone and were about to board the ferry, Jonathon took one more look at the group and the island, and broke into tears; I was grateful that my eyes were hidden behind sunglasses, for this was the moment Jonathon needed me most.

 

    This was my first time off of the island in 8 months. I knew I was running a risk since my visa is expired, but I was determined to ensure that Jonathon was established in Athens. Every community volunteer was stuck in Athens, and I dearly missed my “kids.” Boarding the ferry was a challenge, one look at my skin color, and every police officer, coast guard, and Frontex were instantly asking me for my refugee-papers. My passport closely scrutinized to enusre it wasn’t a fake, yet still they struggled to understand how a person of my skin color was on the island without being a refugee.

 

    I have never been deeply impressed with Athens, and this trip failed to give rise to my expectations of the city. Athens is one of the dirtiest cities I have been in, with homeless Greeks and refugees on every street, grafitti destroying every wall, and addicts shooting up in front of the police. The refugees in Athens have nothing to do as they wait for Greece to grant them thier papers, so they must wander the streets or sit in their desolate flats for months on end. The Greek economy still has yet to recover so any jobs available will be afforded to the Greeks before any newcomers.

 

    It was a blessing to reunite with all the community volunteers: Mustafa, Abdullah, Danail, Mahmoud, Mikail, Ziad, Reem, Jana, Raneem, Sam, and Mohammed. I had spent more time with them than the rest of the volunteers who had come from abroad. We all met for dinner downtown Athens and had a wonderful dinner and conversation together. I was fortunate to make it to Athens, For Jana, Raneem, and their two sisters were to leave for Germany 2 days later. Neither of the 4 girls were over 16, and were about to see their father for the first time in 3 years.

    After 6 days of 12-15 hours of sleep a day, the time had come to return to Samos. All of the people I had visited, I will see again inshallah. I hope to see them all before I leave Greece, but look forward to seeing them wherever they end up at. It was sad leaving, they all came to the ferry to send me off. I watched them waving goodbye, until they could no longer see me. I wish you all good luck, and that you find your ways. Love from your Bapa.