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.