July 28, 2016
The last couple of weeks have been intensely busy, last week was 8am-10pm five of the seven days. Several volunteers from different groups teamed together to create shade at the child friendly space. While this is area is now The Hellenic Red Cross area, it has been used by volunteers until now to teach and create activities for the children. There were several days of grinding metal and sanding it to remove any sharp areas children could possibly injure themselves. We spent one night erecting the shade by drilling through metal poles and cement. The area we had deemed proper for a children’s play area will actually be used by the Red Cross. It was not until we painted the walls, created shade, and put up the tents that they decided to finally start doing their job there.
This week I have accomplished none of my intended goals. We have had a massive influx of short-term volunteers, some who simply appeared on the island and showed up to volunteer. While this seems like a blessing, it can be quite the hassle simultaneously. Those only here for two weeks or less cannot gain access into the camp from the police, so they are primarily at my disposal for helping in the warehouse. Last week we had just finished sorting all of the donations, and have nothing else for people to sort. I’ve spent most of the week inventing tasks for them to do, but most tasks only require 3-4 people for a couple of hours. When you have 4 groups the entirety of my day becomes finding different ways to utilize them so that they know/feel that they invested both their time and money wisely by volunteering.
This past Monday several of us transported about 700kg/1400 lbs of clothing to the local Samos Community. There are about 700 Greek children here that are not having their basic needs of life met due to both the Greek economic crisis and the drop in tourism due to the refugee crisis. While we cannot provide food, water, electricity, or housing, we can provide clothing, shoes, some hygiene products, and a few toys. Our warehouse belongs to the local municipality/government and we have an agreement that 10% of our clothing donations will go to the needy here. Our donors who ship gently used clothing know that as well. This is a great opportunity for the volunteers to create positive relationships with our host community. By doing this small action, the volunteers and refugees can have a positive effect on 700 children, and perhaps 200+ adults who live here. We have more children and women’s clothing than we will ever need.
This past week, one of the groups that we collaborate with wrote an article about the Samos Volunteers that was both attacking us and misinformation. This group had worked with the refugees during the crisis this past winter, but no longer perform with the refugees in the camp. We have talked with them several times a week prior, and at least every other week receive items from them that we direly need. Some parts of the article said that we were disconnected from the refugees, that we are only here for our self-image to take selfies, that we do not use refugees to help us or build relationships with them, etc. This coming from people who know us well, that we considered friends was a low blow to our morale. Those volunteers who were made privy to this were the long-term volunteers (2 months or more) were devastated to read it. I myself had to leave the warehouse because I was so frustrated I did not want to take it out on a volunteer. There were several of us who had to quit work for the day because it was psychologically staggering; I think we would rather take the death threats from random strangers, rather than this. Here is the link, feel free to read http://samoschronicles.wordpress.com/2016/07/26/volunteers-and-refugees-on-samos/. After reading it I for the first time wanted to just go home, somehow I let words really get to me this time, and I should not have.
Managing the warehouse also means that I am the one to know exactly what we do and do not have. Most people want to send only things for children, or the surplus that they have. Since infants, toddlers, children, and teens outgrow their clothes and shoes quickly we have more than we will ever use. Women’s clothing and shoes are also in abundance, but men’s clothing we are running scarce on. As in any migration in world history, the educated and rich are the first in the migration. Secondly the families send the one most likely to succeed and will be able to earn enough for the family to make the migration. Per example, we have a large amount of unaccompanied minors who have come to the islands to be reunified with their family in X European country.
Right now we are at roughly 500 men, and we have less than 50 long-sleeve t-shirts, 150 short-sleeve t-shirts, 15 trousers, and less than 75 winter and summer shoes. Most of the men’s summer needs like shorts, underwear, and sandals we purchase here as needed, but it is not a sustainable plan. Part of my job here is to plan the contingency plan for when the Turkey/EU deal falls apart. There are 5-6 million registered refugees in Turkey with 1 million+ unregistered refugees. When the deal falls apart, I for-see everyone trying to cross before a new deal is struck. We do not have enough for those that are here, and as time continues to pass I worry more, for winter is coming.
There is another consideration that is on my mind as well. Turkey was deemed a “safe-third” country by the EU as a way for the EU to say that they had a handle on the crisis, by refusing the refugees to come to Europe. While this was highly debatable, the past couple of weeks following the questionable Turkey coup, has shown the world the massive human rights violations incurred by Turkey. President Erdogan put Turkey into a state of emergency, which allows him to veto the constitution. One act was to make the death-penalty legal which has never occurred in Turkey. He has arrested 50,000+ civil servants, teachers, and academics in a movement he calls “the purge.” There are countless stories of torture, refusing medical aid, and murders by the Turkish government since the coup. The Turks are not allowed to leave the country; many are terrified because they know someone who has been arrested. There is one Turk here in police custody because he fled Turkey fearing for his life, and I have heard rumors of several other Turks here on the island seeking asylum from the human rights violations in Turkey. This is one unforeseen turn of events that we must put into consideration. There is a possibility that we could soon have Turks crossing over as refugees in the near future.
I had originally planned on returning in late August to return to my academics. I no longer will be returning at that time, but sometime after. Within the next month we will lose 3 of the 5 coordinators, and if I leave there will only be one remaining. I cannot abandon my responsibility, especially as we are standing-by for a flood of refugees. When the deal falls apart, the 1.1 million refugees from last year may look small in comparison to those potentially coming.
Yesterday I was talking with a friend back home, and I explained to him how I was able to volunteer in Greece. The question came up if I was paid, to which I replied “no.” I then explained that the three months I was at home last I worked, sold a couple of my 401k’s, but depended mostly on funding. I actually phrased it more that I was out here on the faith that there were good people who saw what I/we are doing here. I went on to tell him that I have no idea how I will be funded after mid-August, nor know how I will purchase a flight-home; but I also told him that faith in humanity is all I need. For the past 8 months of my life I/we never know how it will work, but it always does. I must thank all of my donors once again, for you have inspired me and helped me regain my faith that there is hope in humanity.
Callisto and Calinieta from Samos, Greece (Thank You and Good Nights).