All posts by Andrew Frania

5.29.2017

TIA-This is Africa: The Challenge of East Africa

Introduction: 

As the west is looking into the East Afrika Countries (EAC) the idea of leap-frogging the west versus replicating is in reality unattainable. There is the possibility to move EAC ahead of the west, but the reality is that it must start from the bottom up. While we can go and develop smart-cities, how can the average citizen make use of the technology if they lack the basics of education. Perhaps the elite and the millenial graduate will benefit, but what about the remaining 70%, the mother who views her android as a mobile-phone and not as a mobile-device?

An aggressive campaign for the cooperation and transparency of governments must be first and foremost. Federal statistics compared to those of World Bank are either inconclusive or mere fractions. How is one to understand their market demographics when the data is not available?

Challenge I

Basic infrastructure and services must be developed before smart-cities can even be introduced. For both Tanzania and Uganda the very first impression one will have is the bad-condition of the roads and traffic. These both relate to each other; there are less vehicles per driver in EAC then the west, yet it’s the pot-holes every 0.5 meters that prevent anyone from reaching speeds over 50kmh/31mph. This becomes a slinky-effect during lunch hours, commencement of school for the day, and the end of the work day. While Dar Es Salaam does have public transportation, it is only available on one street. I have yet to find any public transportation in Uganda.

 This morning I met with a startup near to my hotel. We immediately became stuck in the mud, and had to push the car out. The road to their office is in a neighborhood considered middle-class, yet 80% of the road was underwater. The streets near middle-class taxpayers, and the slums were indistinguishable. The street the office was situated on was made last year, yet if we were to drive over 20kmh/12.4mph, we would break the axles or severely damage the car. 

I inquired as to who was responsible for the roads, if they were publicly built/repaired or if they were contracted out. The government contracts the majority of the road work/repair, yet financial capacity prevents proper construction or deters businesses from bidding for the project. While I have yet to research this, I was told that the World Bank will fund the businesses to fix the roads, but retains 40% of the contract (this is where I need to research). Due to this there is no ability for the business to make a profit, no ability to use modern construction vehicles, nor use the proper materials. 

Before even focusing on the roads, immediate attention must go into drainage. Whilst roads are repaired, tarmac is laid (cement vs. tarmac last longer as well as eco-friendly) the water has nowhere to go, and destroys the roads as it deteriorates the gravel/sand below the tarmac. If it rains for two hours, transportation can come to a halt as complete streets become impassable. Those commuting to work must drive through neighborhood streets creating deeper pot-holes. 

There are two challenges, nay dangers, as well that come with lack of drainage. People are known to have been washed away in rainfalls of 2 hours. On a health aspect, puddles of stagnant water are prevalent everywhere. In a region of the world where HIV, malaria, tuberculosis, yellow-fever run rampant the solution is not more vaccines and pills, but rather mitigate the sources of many of these diseases. Mosquitos make the cooler evenings unbearable, without even the consideration of insect-born diseases.

Challenge II

Time to destinations within urban areas is a challenge in it of itself, yet travel up-country is dangerous and time consuming. While there is a train from Dar es Salaam to South Africa, movement through the rest of EAC relies on either personal vehicles, bus-taxis, or buses. The buses are extremely cheap, but the buses are bullies. Accidents involving buses occur quite regularly with fatal consequences to their passengers as well as to passengers in the other vehicles. Either drive your own vehicle, or take a bus at a fraction of the cost; the risk of collision exists for either mode of transportation.

I took a commercial bus in March 2017 from Kampala, Uganda to Nairobi, Kenya. The distance was approximately 660km/410miles, yet it took well over 16 hours to reach the final destination. Besides flying, passenger vehicles are the only other mode of international travel within the EAC. The $200 flight one-way (versus a $20 bus one-way) is not an option for most people.

If you are to take a bus, a 70km/43.5miles trip will take 3-4 hours. While this has to do with the road conditions, there is also another factor. If there is a seat open, the driver will slow down and/or stop for passengers along the route. Evenings after work-hours are even more frustrating, as the roads are packed with people walking between villages. Commuters in personal vehicles are stuck in traffic as the roads are held up by taxi-buses stopping for each pedestrian.

Though the risk is low, there are small chances the more north you go that radicals will stop the buses and bus-taxis. Militant groups to the north will stop vehicles to rob them, and religious radicals are known to murder passengers for different faiths or beliefs. While this is rare, and more prevalent closer to the South Sudan border, Nigeria, Egypt, and Somalia, I must be honest to investors.

The solution would be trains; trains that only stop at designated stops. Time to destinations would be reasonable. Collisions by buses would drop dramatically, yes, a train-accident can occur, but the probability is extremely minute. Stopping a speeding-train is next to impossible, while stopping a vehicle moving at 30kmh/18.6mph is simple.

Challenge III

As of date, I have 4 sim cards and 4 phone numbers for EAC. While I could use an international sim, the locals cannot afford to contact me due to charges. While we are fortunate that WhatsApp exists, it does not solve everything. If I am to order an uber in Tanzania, the driver cannot call my Kenya phone number. I am involved throughout EAC, so either I must expect people to contact me via email or WhatsApp, or have different phone numbers for each country. This provides an additional challenge if I am in a neighbor country. Am I to provide a business card with 6 phone numbers and expect prospective entrepreneurs to dial each phone number until they find the number coinciding with the country I am physically in ?

Coming from the US, it does not matter if I am in Hawaii or New York, there are no charges. Mobile carriers need to allow roaming-free throughout the EAC. I can have AirTel or VodaCon as a carrier in Uganda, yet cannot receive or make a call in a neighbor country even though the same carrier is present. In the post-modern days, connectivity should not be this much of a challenge.

Challenge IV

In order for a smart-city to exist, electricity is essential. Those who live in urban areas experience black-outs regularly. As one travels up-country access to electricity is not inclusive. In rural villages, shops exist with the sole function of charging mobile-devices. One should be extremely wary of power-surges as well as to questioning the source of power. The solution is simple and exists, so a huge focus on financing solar and renewable energy must be made.

Challenge V

We live in the digital-age, yet this is not equal across the board. Even in the west we find members from the Greatest Generation, Baby Boomers, and the occasional Gen X’s who do not comprehend or utilize computers, mobile-devices, etc. In EAC, computers are mobile-devices are commodities. Often a person’s first mobile-device will be when they move to the city for university studies; they purchase a 8 year old Sony Ericsson. 

Let us consider the mother who wakes up at 6 am to draw water, cook food, take the children to school. Then she must return home to take her sick-child to the hospital. She get’s to the hospital to find that the forms are all on tablets. She has never seen one of these before, only heard her children mention them after school. She has no idea how to use this; so the receptionist points her to a seat to wait until someone can assist her. The mother sits down, and notices the large amount of women around her; she asks if they can help, but they too are in the same dilemma. She finally gets the diagnosis from the doctor and a prescription. Because she had to pay for the doctor and has no idea what digital cash is, she must walk home. Since she has no idea what Google Maps is, nor knows that she can find the closest pharmacy to her location, she walks an extra 30 minutes to the pharmacy. The children come home as does her husband. She must help the children with their studies, but she has no idea what the homework is about. One generation ago, women did not attend school. The children are in bed, the dishes from supper are cleaned, and her husband heads to the bar. The mother waits until 3 am for her husband to come home from the bar to ask for money. This money is for food tomorrow, to pay for medicines, school fees, or when her husband is too drunk to give her money. This is a reality in EAC.

Lack of knowledge is higher than lack of accessibility. She has a mobile-device, yet she only knows that it can receive/send calls. Had she known about mobile-money, location services, etc. she would have more time to focus on learning, empowerment, and independence. Lack of information must be addressed before smart cities.

Conclusion

While there are many more challenges that must be addressed in EAC before innovation can occur, before the introduction of smart-cities, resolving the above challenges will mitigate many others. Smart-cities in EAC by 2020 would be a waste of finances and time. Governments and citizens alike must be educated as to the purpose and the benefits. Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania will be a mega-city by 2030. The window of time to find sustainable solutions and act is closing. 

5.19.2017

May 19, 2017

I've been back in Uganda for a little over a week. It's is harvest and also the cooler time of the year. For those of us from Northern climates, we would consider it the middle of the summer. The equator is only an hour drive south of the capital, so even cold days here are warm and balmy. StartupBoat pays for my housing through AirBnB; I am housed at a bed & breakfast just outside the business part of town. A cafe is attached with high-speed wifi, so I usually start my mornings and end my days there. Kampala is called "The City with Seven Hills," so from the terrace I can see different part of the city, sprawling lazily over the rolling hills. Monkeys are often heard chattering in the trees overhead, but I have yet to see them.

I shall take the time now to explain what I am doing in Uganda, while my mission is still on aid and support, the focus has altered. I am the managerial director for StartupBoat, East Africa. I had initially began with the group as the innovation scout for Uganda, but it did not take long before my title was changed. The title has changed, but my mission-goal is still the same. The only difference is that Kenya, Rawanada, Congo, Tanzania, and Burundi are in my jurisdictions. So what is StartupBoat and how did I come to be working for them? StartupBoat is a foundation that develops sustainable responses to social challenges. We have partners that are willing to finance/partner with entrepreneurs and innovators, as well as mentor them as they develop their business plan. 
Now this sounds like we are strictly a finance company trying to make a return for our partners. That is true to some degree. While we have an obligation to our partners, we also are trying to use their funds to move society forward; profits are not our goal here at Startup, but rather creating jobs in developing regions and progressing society forward as a whole. 
One of our partners, GreenTec, has a project of making electricity available to rural areas in Mali. This project utilizes shipping-containers that have the entire set up for solar-power. This is a sustainable energy source, as well as the proximity to the sun/equator amplifies the amount of sun-rays each unit can intake. This project will also create jobs locally for those installing as well as technicians for maintenence. In the bigger picture, more jobs will become available due to access to a sustainable energy source. 
The first full week in Uganda saw me sitting behind my laptop, sending emails to every university in Uganda and any possible implementing partner. Fortunately, coffee culture is important as well. You will often find me sitting on a cafe, ordering coffee for the use of their wifi. Free wifi and cheap data are commodoties that have yet to fully integrate throughout the region, and often there will be hours in a day where the power-grid or data is non-existent. After 4 in the evening, my fingers and my mind have had enough, and I leave my computer for another day. While professional networking is pertinent to my job, I find social interaction one of my stronger abilities.
There is a theory that the more south one lives, the more open the person is as well. Northerners are often pressed by the elements and have a natural tendancy to shove their hands in their pockets and walk forward as fast as possible. Here, everyone acknowledges salutations and respond to a smile with a smile. 
It is very easy to pick up a conversation with a random stranger; I find it impossible to avoid making friends here, and I am somewhat of an introvert. I happened across a Mexican restaurunt here, which was the one thing I missed during my tenure in Greece. I would dare-say that the Mexican cuisine is more authentic than most venues in Mid-West America.
You will find me here 2-3 evenings a week. Not necessarily for the dining, but rather the ambience and opportunity to meet new people One of the people I met is the director of "Afrika Arts Kollective." They work in the communities empowering and teaching skills by using glass and other items, turning them into art pieces and useful household items. 
Another man I met works in tourism and takes people on safaris. We have a great opportunity to market safaries to people on a budget. Often people think of safaries and consider the $5-7000 cost way out of their pocket, that only the rich can afford it. If we can budget safaries between $1-2000, many more would be apt to consider. For a fraction of the cost we can improve the economy through tourism, by including younger adults; safaris do not have to be for the retired or rich.
Each day puts me into contact with more people; and as I search I find more conventions and conferences for innovators and entepreneurs. On the 26th-27th of June, I have the opportunity to speak at the Sahara Sparks conference in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. This will be my first culture-hackerthon, with over 1000 attendees and 30 partners. I am excited to both begin this partnership with Sahara Sparks, as well as scouting for tomorrow's game changers.

Andrew R. Frania

Managerial Director, East Africa
StartupBoat
Kampala, Uganda
Phone: (+256) 07876 11386

3.9.2017 Uganda, East Africa

March 9, 2017
 
After a ferry ride, several taxis, buses, 3 flights, airplane food, cold-cut sandwiches, and too many hours in airport terminals, the 48 hour trip has come to an end. The longevity of travel could have been reduced to a third, there were some circumstances that forced me to choose the long and tedious route. I had overstayed my visa by 8 months in Greece which is part of Schengen. Fortunately, Greece is one of the few countries in Schengen that does not scan your passport, and customs when I had arrived in Amsterdam had failed to stamp my passport properly. I chose to exit Schengen out of Samos, Greece where I had been volunteering; there is a ferry from Samos to Kusadasi, Turkey. If I were to have any issues exiting Schengen, there are many contacts and official help that I could reach out to. Luckily there were very little complications, I had a ferry stub from the last time I returned from Athens, so they pressumed that was my official entry into Schengen.
 
Budgeting on a volunteer budget also plays a role when it comes to booking airline tickets. There were several direct flights, and some flights with shorter layovers, but the difference was double what the cheaper tickets would have cost. In general most people would scoff at the idea of 4-8 hour layovers, but I had also intended to work through my thoughts as I closed the Greek refugee chapter in my book. The last time I had left Greece I was deeply troubled, for the mission had not been finished and many of my friends were still in the field. I remember vividly the sorrow as I stared out of the airliner's window, yet this time I felt accomplished upon departure. 
 
To be frankly honest, I am compelled to feel slightly terrified when I contemplate this new mission. Greece had taught me much, and further stretched my network; but I am in Uganda, and it is for me to bring this network here. I have several groups to meet here, but almost all are in the south focusing on community outreach and orphanages. The intentions for the "East Africa Initiative Group" is to bring the network of volunteers, solidarity groups, donors, and social media platform from Greece to Uganda and other East Africa nations. A sub-plan is to develop a long-term response to refugees by partnering with businesses with a social-responsibility campaign. All of this though is what needs to happen; every time I came to Greece or was sent to another island the framework had been established. There are some moments that I feel I am going in blind on this, but hope and faith will guide me on this new volunteer mission.
 
As I sit in my host's house updating my blog, messaging to various groups in Uganda, and updating the Facebook group "E. Africa Initiative: Volunteer & Support Platform" the environment here is breathtaking. From the veranda one can hear music in the background, various birds singing, and chattering in the tree above me are some species of monkey I have yet to identify. I had found Greece beautiful, yet Uganda has a different level of beauty. The drive from the airport to the capital displayed an array of color and character that Greece did not afford. Perhaps one day I will take some time to take a safari, there are hippos, giraffes, lions, and gorillas. Greece offered many goats and sheep, cats in abundance, and an occasional jackal. 
 
The more I research the more I have become realistic about what can be accomplished. I had checked in at the American embassy to find that the north is not entirely a safe region. Due to the war in South Sudan there are stories of militias and kidnappings. While I am confident in my personal safety I must be aware that I am responsible for the safety and well-being of any volunteers who are dependent on the structures I am attempting to establish. There are two camps to the south that I will look into; these are more settlements where refugees are given some land to farm, basic hand-tools for farming, and that is it. As in most situations, land given to refugees is generally undesirable and the soil for farming would not be termed as prime for encouraging agricultural growth.
 
Besides the camps which I have much to research and find local volunteer groups, there are several groups in southern Uganda with whom I am meeting this week and next. They all focus on children and community outreach. It is estimated that 60% of the refugees in Uganda are children, many who are fleeing from the fate of becoming child-soldiers. Most of the groups I will be visiting work with street-children and orphans, empowering them and encouraging their studies. Some children will be refugees from war-torn countries, some children are victims of extreme poverty; it is hard to discern one fragile soul from the other. Most seem to focus on putting the children in schools and depend on donations to pay the school-bills. I will find out if it is more beneficial and legal to establish a school or to help pair donors with children. The rest of the focus of the groups I will be looking at have a large focus on psycho-social activities. It seems that the experience and training in Greece were just a peek into the window of what volunteering here will be like.
 
I believe that East Africa will be a long-term experience, the needs are immense not only in Uganda but in many of the neighboring nations. Africa has always been forgotten, yet we have the opportunity to utilize the newly-opened eyes which were awakened by the Greek refugee crisis. There are many volunteers I had the opportunity to work next to who are planning on volunteering in Uganda. Several solidarity groups also have expressed interest in helping and raising awareness as well. For those of you who cannot volunteer, please share what is happening and consider donating either to the groups here or to fund volunteers who are in the field.
 
Thank you for taking time to follow my blog, I hope that you find it enlightening and an eye opener as well.
 
With love and good vibes from Uganda, bless you all. 
 

3.5.2017 Leaving Greece

March 5, 2017
 
    Today was beautiful with clear skies, a bright sun, flat sea, every terrace was bustling with patrons drinking coffee and basking in the beauty of the day. For most a more perfect day could not be had, but I found myself struggling to contain my emotions. Today was my last day in Greece. I had first began my mission of volunteering in Greece during December of 2015. Bidding adieu to the island of Samos was painful, it had been my home for 10 months.
 
    I have been held captive on this island by the amazing people who I have had the blessing to surround myself with. The volunteers I worked with are of the highest calibre of people, willing to sacrifice whatever it takes to improve the lives of others. The refugees who I was here to help are the sweetest people, who taught me much about myself and the world around me. The local Greeks who accepted me and shared food, drink, and laughs with gave me the most exquisite Greek experience. The community volunteers who came to Samos as refugees, gave more than any people I have had the chance of encountering. All of these people inspired me, challenged me, and to all of them I have the utmost respect.
 
 
    I had returned to Greece in June to volunteer with Samos Volunteers. I over-extended my visa to finish the mission of filling the gaps until the government-organizations could take over. A secondary reason I stayed was to remain for the community volunteers who had seen volunteer after volunteer leave them. It still tears my heart apart knowing that I left three in Samos who still had not received positive answers: Mohammad, Nour, and Abdullah. Yet I was able to see the majority receive positive answers and/or leave Samos: Abdullah, Mustafa, Danial, Mikail, Raneem, Jana, Reem, Ziad, Jonathon, Adams, Majida, Mahmoud, and Muneeb. I will dearly miss them all, the one’s who called me Bapa/Papa; I will see them again, inshallah, for we have a book to write.
 
    This last week I was able to step back to observe and advise. The Safe-Passage groups I worked with are now handed over to long-term volunteer coordinators who will carry on the task of helping refugees cross safely. Volunteers have begun putting clothing from the warehouse on pallets to ship to other locations where people need help. Medin is now distributing additional clothes to new arrivals and the transition of the hygiene window went smoothly. New arrivals that arrive wet, have babies, or specific needs will have their immediate needs met by Samos Volunteers. The daily chess and backgammon matches have re-commenced which I am immensely happy to see. A volunteer purchased three guitars, assorted musical instruments, and all the extra accessories to aid in our music classes.
 
    On Friday Samos Volunteers were invited to participate in the Medecines Sans Frontiers annual field discussion. Only one other group was invited, the lawyers from the Greek Council for Refugees. It was an immense honor to be apart of this, this was an internal meeting, and we were asked for our input. The international president of Medecines Sans Frontiers, Joanne Liu, was in attendance, as she was visiting Samos. As we introduced ourselves and what Samos Volunteers did, we were able to paint a picture to the highest “officer” of Medecines Sans Frontiers. I forsee stronger collaboration as well as the networking possibilities.
 
    It was difficult to say goodbye to everyone as I was about to board the ferry to Turkey. Even the sunglasses I had on could not hide the tears streaming down my face. Tears were coursing down the faces of many of my friends. It was a blessing to see the amount of people who came to send me off and wish me the best of luck in Uganda. People from the camp were walking by as I was boarding the ferry and even they stopped to wave and reach a hand to their chest as a token of gratitude. Samos has been one of the biggest blessings and tests of my life.
 
 
    This is the last update I will have centered on the Greek Refugee Crisis. The blog will now transition to the refugee crisis in Uganda. As I end this chapter, I need to express my gratitude for everyone who had a part of this. The volunteers I worked with, thank you for all you have done and will continue to do. The donors who sent deliveries of clothing, toys, and hygiene items thank you for meeting an immense need. To all the funders both to myself and to the group; you are unsung heroes. Had it not been for you, those of us in the field would not have been able to meet needs or to continue volunteering. Thank you all, the world is full of angels that help the world’s angels. With much love and gratitude, goodbye Greece, on to new missions.

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.

1.8.2016

January 8, 2017
 
    Happy New Year, I’m afraid it has been extremely hectic so far this year on Samos, Greece. We woke up the first of the year with messages from our New Arrival WhatsApp group that 66 arrivals had landed during the evening festivities. 22 had landed 3 hours into the new year, and 44 others had followed shortly thereafter. On the 4th of January another 44 landed on Samos, bringing the totals for January to 110 thus far.
 
    Winter has finally set here in Greece with torrential rain, freezing temperatures, and snow. We have been blessed to only have light flurries here at the camp in Samos, but Lesvos has experienced heavy snow as well as many of the camps on the mainland. While the other locations have experienced snow, the precipitation here has been rain in abundance.  Four days of rain tested the resilience of the tents, and many did not survive the howling wind at 40kmh/25mph. If those living in tents were able to escape the wind and rain, they also had to endure the sub-freezing temperatures. I am under the assumption that the medical teams will be overwhelmed this upcoming week with sick refugees who are both cold and wet.
 
    The volunteers this week were scrambling to make ends meet. This week has been holiday season for the Greeks. The 1st of January there were no workers from the government organizations to help the new arrivals. The 2nd of January also is a national holiday so the majority of the organization workers were missing. The 5th of January is also an Orthodox holiday, Three Kings Day (in reference to the three wise men and the Julian calendar) in which no organizations were present. With the decreased presence of those mandated/funded to represent the needs of the refugees, the volunteers have bore the brunt of the duties.
 
    In response to the rain, wind, and freezing temperatures our number one priority has been to identify the families and vulnerable persons living in pop-up tents. We have been fortunate enough to have the support of the UNHCR and RIS who focused on moving these people into large family tents or into cabins. We were able to ensure that there were no families with children living in pop-up tents. Another activity we have taken on is tea distribution in the morning and afternoon in collaboration with UNHCR and Samaritan’s Purse. The hot tea with a little sugar adds some warmth to the soul as well as some sugars/carbs to help the body endure the elements. I have been on the morning distribution and it is a blessing to see how welcoming this simple item can be. People queue up before or after breakfast, some coming two or three times. No one is angry, all smile and say thank you. Despite rising early to boil water, this is one of the most positive distributions I have been a participant in for quite some time.
 
    It has been an uphill struggle attempting to force the mandated government organizations and non-government organizations to assume their responsibilities as prior stated. Late winter of 2016 Samos Volunteers ran out of tents and had to resort to other means to provide shelter. We were fortunate enough to have Medecines Sans Frontiers donate us tents, but housing allocation is under the mandates of RIS/FRS under the funding via the European Commission. All summer of 2016 we warned the groups on the island that we could not provide tents, yet they failed to heed our warnings. With the past week of inclement weather and new arrivals we have totally expunged any tents in stock. As people come asking for new tents they all walk away with empty tents. For the past three months Medin ran out of toilet paper that the volunteers distribute. Once again, MSF provided tissue paper which worked as an alternative but that too ran out. We had been purchasing 250 rolls of toilet paper a day, but can no longer afford it, nor wish to continue since funding is allocated for that basic need. We are on day 7 of no toilet paper, as well as no future promises of that gap being filled.
 
    On a personal note I myself am doing well. The cold does not affect me as much as the other volunteers, but many of the volunteers are sick. This holiday season an extreme amount of funding came in, which allows me to worry about one less thing. Much appreciation to all my donors, you truly inspire me and give me hope in the goodness of humanity. I have been researching my project in E. Africa and working on the collaboration with Cisco and Bayer Pharmaceuticals. I am fortunate to have a solid contact here in Greece who has worked in Uganda, as well as Paula from Startup Boat Foundation who has been making the connections. Via Paula I may have an opportunity to go the UNICEF conference in Jordan, as well as continuing the collaboration with Bayer. I am currently struggling with leaving Greece for the cause in E. Africa. If crossings to Greece increase, should I continue my stay due to my experience and connections, or go to a place where there is less aid and more need?
 
    2016 was a whirlwind of experiences. I met the most amazing people both refugees and volunteers. Awareness was made both by means of social media and presentations. Friendships were made as well as alliances with NGO’s.  Due to volunteers and donors I saw the best humanity has to offer which inspired hope albeit my pessimistic demeanor. While I observe the world tearing itself apart, and fear for the future, I am excited to see what amazing things in 2017 that humanity will accomplish. As I end this post, please consider what you as an individual can do this year; the harvest is great, but the laborers are few. You as an individual can and will make a difference, never forget your responsibility to your neighbor and those who need help most. We are each other towers of support, and we together will change the world. Until the next post, keep up the good fight, I look forward to seeing your impact on the world.

12.22.2016

December 22, 2016
 
    It is hard to imagine that it is the holiday season and Christmas Day is just a few days away. Coming from northern lands of snow and ice, the Greek isles are still warm and for myself it does not convey the right atmosphere. Whilst I am used to driving around observing houses ordained with lights and other festive yard decorations, here in Samos, Greece a handful of houses display any recognition of the holiday. Besides a nativity and large tree in the town-square, and some shops with one or two decorations, one would barely notice the holiday.
 
    As before mentioned, I took a three day holiday to the village of Manolotis to help with the olive harvest. It was a mental, psychological, and emotional relief to clear my mind.
 
AndrewFrania.com
 
I was able to take a step back from the stress, emails, and persistent phone calls. I was in the middle of a mountain village, we were surrounded by mountains on three sides with olive orchards and vineyards; to the north we could see Turkey, which I have never found glamorous.
 
AndrewFrania.com
 
AndrewFrania.com
 
While I was able to get in touch with nature and catch my breath from the realities of life, I was by no means idle. For three days we stretched nets under the trees, hit the branches with sticks so the fruit would drop, rake the branches to also help the fruit drop, and carry 50 kilo/100 lb bags of olives up and down the mountains.
 
AndrewFrania.com
 
AndrewFrania.com
 
It was an interesting group: Manolis from Greece, Jonathon from Burundi, Nour from Palestine, a couple other Greeks, and myself from the United States. Manolis hosted us at his flat, which was amusing since none of us speak Greek, and he does not speak English.
 
AndrewFrania.com
 
 
    Two days after we finished the harvest Nour was given some unfortunate news. His appeal for asylum was rejected. A family of four, of which the mother was 19 years old and 2 babies were also rejected. Nour and the family of four are the first Syrians to have their appeal rejected. This past Friday the asylum office put their names on the public board to notify them as well as to let them know that they were to be deported to Turkey. The lawyers told Nour he can make a second appeal, but either he had to go to jail and file his second appeal (if he could make the appeal before deportation) or he could file a second appeal which could take several months and at anytime he could be arrested and deported. His options in Turkey are not favorable either. There are many cases of deportees who are shot and killed by the Turkish military. A very strong possibility would be that he would be sent to a camp in Southern Turkey which is run by the rebels; the rebels there take the men of military-age and press them into the rebel military.
 
    This past week was a draining week of goodbyes. Nour left upon receiving the news. While I have an idea as to where he may be, I have to be careful since I am a coordinator/face of the volunteer group. I have to ensure that the volunteer group can continue their activities helping the refugees, and if I were to be aiding and abetting a “criminal” it would put our group in a very complicated situation. Mahmoud also left this past Monday night. While he was granted asylum in Greece, he was denied asylum in Sweden where his little sister is at. While he has been a refugee all 22 years of his life, he left his family 5 years ago at the age of 17. He seemed quite happy to be embarking on another step of his journey, but was apprehensive about the situation in the new camp. I talked to him yesterday; there are no volunteer groups at his new camp for him to work with, and it is much colder than he had expected.
 
I am still working on constructing the walls at the shared space with Save the Children.
 
AndrewFrania.com
 
 
What would be a simple task at home, is a daunting project here. There have been two changes to the original plans, and with each change there are administrative approvals and budget approvals from Save the Children and from Samos Volunteers. Each time there is a change to the plan, then I must order more materials which often are in a warehouse in Athens.
 
AndrewFrania.com
 
It is the season for ferry strikes; the last ferry strike lasted over a week and a half so all projects had to come to a standstill. Now I’m struggling with meeting the deadline while the same parties giving the deadline are the one’s asking me not to make noise (i.e. power-tools). Inshallah, this project will be finished by Monday, I’m expecting that I’ll have to work through Christmas to make it happen.
 
    This year has been long and arduous; I look back at this year of volunteering and everything myself and my colleagues have both endured and been fortunate to be a part of. From the beaches and night patrol, to establishing an NGO on other islands, managing warehouses, coordinating a volunteer group, working in the camp, meeting amazing friends both volunteers and refugees… I could not be more blessed to have been given the opportunity to volunteer here in Greece.
 
AndrewFrania.com
 
 
Thank you everyone for making this happen, thank you to all my donors and for those who keep me in their thoughts and prayers. I have but one Christmas request: that I can continue to volunteer. I hope that my actions this year have been exemplary and that people will continue to see that what I do is vital in aiding the refugees. Happy Holidays to everyone and have a Happy New Year.
 

12.8.2016

December 8, 2016

After months of living in a studio, with 3-4 people living in close proximity to one another, we finally have a house. I had been looking for a house since I returned to Greece this summer, but the Greek islands are not privy to online housing websites like Craigslist. We could not have found this house any sooner, for the landlady I had been dealing with all summer was not happy that refugees were living in the apartment, nor was happy with the constant rotation of volunteers. While it is the norm in the United States to rent a house without limits to residents, in Greece one must rent a room by number of occupants residing inside.

The lower three flats we leased at the last place housed 8 people, while we were only paying for 3 people. This also raised tensions with the landlady. The house we now have is a three-level villa, with currently 10 volunteers and refugees living together. Hopefully we can find some more beds so we can accommodate 2-4 more people. This will both help make our rent cheaper, and will allow for the long-term volunteers and coordinators to collaborate much simpler.


New arrivals to Samos have been much less in number,which has allowed us to catch up on clothing distribution. Everyone who comes to our distribution cabin are not asking for winter-coats and other warm clothing, but for additional items. This is a relief, and will allow us to scale back the distribution schedule to just a morning shift. If there are emergencies or a rush of new arrivals we can always assume the afternoon shift again, but for now we can focus on activities and education during the afternoons again. This also will alleviate the stress on inventory; the majority of people here in the camp have received three or more sets of clothes, so we can focus our budget on other needs for the near future.


A couple of months ago Samos Volunteers and Save the Children began talks on renting a shared space. This space or "child-friendly" space is an area where children can spend time away from hostile and threatening environments. While this past summer we had a portion of the camp established as a school with the Hellenic Red Cross, the increase of new arrivals forced what was a school area to become an area for housing. It is understandable that shelter holds higher importance as a basic need of life, but nothing was afforded for a new locale for education and children's activities.


It took several months of searching for a proper location for this shared-space. We came across several road-blocks in the endeavor. Either a location was too expensive, too far away for refugees to walk from the camp, in a public area that may receive negative animosity from locals, landlords who refused to rent their commercial area for refugee use, or landlords who were pressured by neighbors to not allow refugees in their neighborhood. For some while the search seemed futile, but our perseverance paid off. The location we found was less than 200 meters from the bottom of the camp, where every refugee walked by on the way into town. It took some time to get contracts signed both here and with Save the Children Athens, budget approvals from both the volunteers and Save the Children halted forward movement temporarily, fire codes and zoning permits in Greek bureaucracy also were a hinderance, but now we are close to finalizing this idea into realistic fruition.


Approximately three weeks ago we started our adult classes in the building for beginner French, German, and English, as well as intermediate English classes. Save the Children have began their afternoon classes as well. The holiday season is upon us, and Save the Children will go on Christmas holiday; there is one more contract to be signed, and parental-liability forms to be signed for the children. By January 1, 2017 the child-friendly space will be fully functional. While I do not participate in most psycho-social activities nor am an educator, I have some responsibilities to fulfill there as well. The second level is a loft with no railing, so I am currently working on building rails. This task would have been finished much earlier, but the educators want walls built instead or rails, which requires both administrative approval and an adjusted budget approval. Even when all approvals are finalized I must wait for the ferry strike to end so materials can arrive from the mainland.

This week I have the opportunity to immerse myself deeper into Greek culture. Two volunteers/refugees and I are going to pick olives with one of the staff of a Greek organization we collaborate with. The man we are helping is extremely Greek, almost every day he plays live music at the tavernas and is always pleased to see us. He doesn't speak any English, nor us Greek; we all think he secretly knows English. I am looking forward to finally taking a holiday after 6 months, we will be in his home village picking and packing olives to make Greek olive oil. This man, Manolis, is going to house us in his small mountain village with his family.


As most regions of the world, the winter season has been pushed back due to global-warming. We have only had two heavy rainfalls this winter so far, to the point that the island may have to go on water rations if there is no rainfall. So we pray for rain, yet also are extremely happy there is no rain for the refugees sake. We have had a string of beautiful days, calm seas, to the point one would be tempted to sit on a beach and bask in the sun's rays.

It is hard to think that it is the Christmas season coming from northern lands of snow, ice, and sub-freezing temperatures. While there are decorations in the city square, our house lacks Christmas decorations, and we are too busy to even contemplate the holidays. I will miss another Christmas at home, but it will be a blessing to share the holidays with my family from Syria, Palestine, UK, Romania, Netherlands, Serbia, Burundi, France, Switzerland, etc.

For all friends and family at home, enjoy the holiday season, be grateful for who and what you have, and if you find it in your moral compass, please find someone who needs help and holiday cheer.