11.24.2016

November 24, 2016
              Today is Thanksgiving Day, and for once I am beginning to feel homesick. On one hand I wish I was home watching football, gorging on holiday foods, and surrounding myself with friends I haven’t seen in months. On the other hand, I am blessed to spend this Thanksgiving with friends from all over the world, both volunteers, refugees, and local Greeks. The past year volunteering has given me insight as to what to be thankful for in ways most people will never comprehend. Each day I am in the camp trying to meet basic needs and improve the quality of life. I watch refugees in queue everywhere, waiting for food, medical, legal advice, and waiting for asylum approval.
 
AndrewFrania.com
AndrewFrania.com
 
     In comparison to being at home in the states, I see people in tents, walking in sandals or barefoot in the cold and rain, food that is sub-standard and lacking of nutrition, and I watch as hope subsides for those who wait or are refused asylum.
 
 
AndrewFrania.comAndrewFrania.com
             
     This year I have so much to be thankful for. I have an American passport which allows me freedom of travel. While I have had no income this year, I am blessed to have friends and family sponsor me to continue volunteering and touching lives. I lost my apartment due to a fire this summer, which showed me that I had no need for the material goods I had believed were crucial to my life in the states. I left my friends and family at home which allowed me to add more people to my circle of friends and family. I was able to see what I took for granted, and for that I am extremely thankful.
 
AndrewFrania.com 
              The camp is still at approximately 2300 persons, or 3-4x the capacity. It has been a tedious couple of weeks meeting the needs as the temperatures continue to drop. Samos Volunteers completed two mass distributions to the men in the camp of boots, rain ponchos, socks, winter coats, hats, gloves, and scarves. The children and women had already been distributed these items a month prior. For 3-4 weeks we had no other option but to tell barefoot men and men in sandals that we had no shoes or coats for them. It was a blessing to see them smile, to see them at least warm.
 
AndrewFrania.com
              Middle of November one of our community volunteers married another Syrian refugee. It is an amazing story. He had lost his child in the war, and his wife had left him. His mental health definitely was at a crucial point of collapse; everyday though he volunteered with us in clothes distribution and helping new arrivals find their way. It was beginning of November when I began to see the change; his mood swings were less abrupt, and he was smiling and at peace. When he broke the news to me that he had remarried the group immediately planned a wedding reception. The night of the reception was amazing. We all danced, I made a quick toast to the new couple, and both the bride and groom were both surprised and ecstatic. For the volunteers and the refugees that were in attendance, it was a memorable night full of positive energy; after monotonous days of volunteering in the camp, surrounding ourselves in an environment that had so much negativity, the evening of the wedding was bliss.
              The local-environment is beginning to change. While on the other islands we had received negative implications from the host-community/Greeks, Samos has remained relatively quiet until recently. There have been two protests this month in Samos, one of which many volunteers participated in a demonstration against the protest. There were many facist and racial speeches and actions, but many of the talking points were valid. The Greeks of Samos do not want the hotspot here. They know that the quality of life is sub-standard. They also can no longer play host to the refugees because they too are suffering from the Greek economic crisis. They no longer want the EU to blackmail their country into holding all the refugees, they want their central government to represent them. As liberal culture of equality is taught to the Greeks, they themselves struggle to feed their families, heat their houses; they see the millions of Euros spent on the camp, yet no help goes to them. Samos is currently at a ration of 1:8 refugees to Samians. As Turkey re-nigs on the 1927 agreement of what belongs to Greece/Turkey, the influx of Muslims helps feed Erdogan’s claim that the islands are Turkish.
              It doesn’t help that there are nationalities in the camp that incur problems. The Greeks on the islands used to leave their keys in their cars, houses unlocked, no fear of robbery, etc. Now the crime rate has increased. Women are afraid to walk alone at night, shop owners worry if their shop will be robbed overnight, and riots in the camp often make their way into the city. The majority of the crimes committed in town are from asylum-seekers from Northern Africa, and also the same group often causes massive negative issues in the camp as well. I understand why the Greeks have their qualms, yet the biggest issue is with the EU and opening the borders.
              Before I finish, I would like to give a few updates as to future plans. Within the week many of the volunteers and a couple community volunteers will all be moving into a house together. I would estimate 8-10 of us can fit into this 5-7 bedroom house. This will house the long-term volunteers which will help us coordinate as well as give us something to call home. Many of us need solace in each others company, but we are spread throughout the city. I look forward to having my friends and volunteer family finally under one roof again.
              My funding will last me until the end of December, after that I must reside on hope and faith again. I am not to worried since faith and hope have taken me this far. My intentions are to head to E. Africa 1 March, 2016. 26% of the world’s refugees, or 18 million, are located in this region of the world. The plan is to take a team of volunteers with the social media platform of donors and volunteers we have built in Greece. There is a possibility of creating education hubs that will partner the local universities in E. Africa with the online refugee university. We also have the possibility of utilizing micro-loans for entrepreneurs and innovators. Many of the camps in E. Africa have populations of 200,000-400,000 people. Help is needed there, and as we transition the volunteer responsibilities in Greece to the NGO’s and GO’s with mandates, it is our responsibility to help others in different locations.
              Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. I wish I could celebrate it with you, and I dearly miss pumpkin pie, green bean casserole, turkey, stuffing, and gravy. Thank you to all my donors, for those who follow my blog, and for those who have contributed to help the refugees. Take nothing of your blessed lives for granted, for one day here in the camps will make you ever so grateful for every aspect of your life.

11.11.2016

November 11, 2016

              It has been much quieter this month in regard to new arrivals in comparison to last month. In October we saw approximately 1350 new arrivals to Samos, yet eleven days into November we have seen 171 new arrivals. There is no clear explanation as to why the influx of numbers; it could have to do with smugglers being arrested, Erdogan trying to press his blackmail of the EU, people sharing to their friends and families on social-media that the camp is past capacity, etc. For now, we breath a sigh of relief, for the camp cannot hold anymore refugees.

              The past week and a half has been a whirlwind of change. We had lost half our space in the distribution cabin, but quickly rebounded and did not let this interrupt our clothing distribution. The past two weeks saw several meetings between volunteer groups and coordinators in regards to our mission on Samos. Most here think that we were purposed to fill a gap for short-term until the international NGO’s and Greek NGO’s could step in and fill the gaps the volunteers had been filling. I could not agree more, for there are 65 million refugees in the world, and the world has only been focusing on the 1.7 million in relation to the Greek refugee crisis.

              Some volunteer groups whose focus is strictly psycho-social support lean towards ultimatums on the UNHCR and First Reception Service (FRS) who have mandates to provide  the basic NFI’s (Non-Food Items) that Samos Volunteers have been providing. These volunteer groups have pressured some donors, with some biased viewpoints, to stop sending clothing and hygiene donations towards Samos. Samos Volunteers agrees with forcing the UNHCR and FRS to fulfill their mandates, but in a diplomatic way. We understand the bureaucracy and funding issues and desire to work with their quarterly-budgets.

              We had agreed with the Greek government organization, Medin, to begin this transition. First we plan to assimilate their staff into our hygiene distribution, as well as into our clothing distribution. Since they are paid to do our job, it only seems right that we require less volunteers, and utilize the human resources already here. Secondly, Medin will receive a shipment of clothing and hygiene, which we will combine. This combined inventory, with weekly distribution inventory sheets, will be presented to the UNHCR. We will inform the UNHCR that Samos Volunteers will no longer purchase hygiene products as well as request hygiene donations from individuals. UNHCR will have to fulfill the basic needs of hygiene according to their mandates and according to the funding they receive from the European Commission/European Refugee Commission.

              If UNHCR can take on the brunt of providing hygiene needs according to their mandates, then we can transition FRS and Medin into providing clothing needs. Medin’s budget was implemented for a camp of 800 persons, not 2300 persons, until the 31 January, 2017. Utilizing the clothing inventory Samos Volunteers has, and with UNHCR covering hygiene, Medin can focus their budget on clothing needs that Samos Volunteers cannot provide, or will not purchase.

              Reading this, one must wonder what the role Samos Volunteers will be playing in Samos, Greece. The short-term goal will be to hand over the provision of NFI’s (non-food items) to the groups with funding and mandates. The long-term goal for Samos Volunteers is to continue our role in providing pyscho-social support. This would include the continuation of our adult and children English classes, German classes, children’s activities in collaboration with Save the Children, activities and education classes in the shelters of Praksis, Arsis, Medecines Sans Frontiers, and MetaAction. In pulling back from distribution, Samos Volunteers will be able to focus more in funding and human resources into activities that support the psychological and emotional needs of the refugees here.

              There was a huge wrench thrown into the planning of this transition. Yesterday, the 10th of November, Medin went on strike, refusing to work until they are paid. I do not blame them for they have not received compensation for 4 months. They also have not received the funding which allows them to pay their suppliers. If their suppliers are not paid, Medin cannot order more clothing and hygiene items. This money that Medin is supposed to have received in money that the European Union allocated to FRS, but this money has either been lost due to corruption, or the money has been allocated poorly. Since Medin is the representative for Samos Volunteers, we cannot distribute anything in the camp until this issue has been resolved.

              While the next few days will be very tough in the camp, this will force FRS to be more transparent as to where the funding from the EC is allocated, pay the Medin staff, and also allow Medin to order things that the refugees need. Until Monday, most medical services, all hygiene and clothing distribution, baby food, and tents will not be provided. I am sure that this at the least will cause protests, but I am quite sure that this will cause a riot. If this riot or protest happens, it will spread rapidly across all social media platforms. This will pressure the European Commission and FRS to step in as well as make UNHCR understand that they too need to fill their mandates. While some may suffer for a couple days, this will be the only way that change will happen.

10.31.2016

October 31, 2016
              To say that the past month has been intense cannot be an understatement. The island of Samos has seen more arrivals this month than we have since the Turkey-EU deal this March. The total number of arrivals this month is 1354 far outpacing Lesvos, Chios, Kos, and Leros. Up until this month, Lesvos and Chios always received more arrivals, but the smugglers have changed their operations making Samos the busiest island. Our camp is at triple it’s capacity which is evident the moment one would step into the camp. One could not move without having to move around a tent or a group of people waiting in queue. Everywhere there are children running, women with strollers/prams waiting for baby food, people frustrated in large groups as their asylum claim continues to be neglected.
              With Samos now the busiest island in Greece this comes both as a surprise and logistical issues. For the past year and a half Lesvos and Chios were the busiest islands receiving the most media attention as well as aid. Due to bureaucracy Samos has only 2 volunteer groups, one a medical team, and then my group. When I had left Lesvos there were over 300 grass-root volunteer NGO’s of which all received individual financial aid and clothing donations. These groups were able to collaborate to fill basic needs, while here on Samos we have no one to collaborate with on clothing and hygiene needs besides the international NGO’s.
              While we have struggled to make ends meet this past year, this month has been extremely testing. For the past two months we have had to purchase through donations the majority of our needed items. October has depleted our funds; meeting the needs of 2000 people who no longer make transit here is a challenge. Before the camp was static and the borders were open we only had to meet hygiene needs for a 3-7 day stay on Samos, and supply a set of dry clothing. Now we must meet the every day needs of people in clothing and hygiene, some of which have been here 8 months. Per example we currently must purchase €400/$440 a week in baby wipes, and this number will just rise with new arrivals. Other items we must purchase are shampoo, soap, diapers, laundry detergent, etc. to meet basic hygiene needs.
            While hygiene needs are extremely high, our clothing needs are even higher. While we had been crying out for help for several months, the aid has been slow in coming. We have run out of men’s small/medium coats, trousers, t-shirts, long-sleeves, shoes, socks, underwear; women’s items we’ve run out of are leggings, bras, underwear, and socks. Most of the items we can purchase here at the local Chinese shops in bulk, but purchasing 100 men’s underwear at €130 a day per example is far from sustainable. We had been distributing sandals, which we could purchase at 2 a pair but the weather is to cold now. Sandals did alleviate the amount of shoes we purchased at 7.50, but these knock-off Converse cannot withstand the winter weather here. For the past week we have not given shoes to anyone because we can neither afford nor have donations.
          This past winter Samos Volunteers allocated their tents to the UNHCR. After we ran out of donated tents we had to turn to Medecines Sans Frontiers for their stock of tents. Until a month ago we continued to distribute their tents, while forewarning the other actors in the camp that we would eventually run out. We finally ran out two weeks ago without anyone stepping up. The European Commission is supposed to supply the Greek government with funding to purchase items for housing allocation, and the Greek government is supposed to have people under First Reception Services to supply tents. Of course, none of this happened, which left people sleeping outside in the cold for five days.
            I made a call out for help to one of the Safe Passage groups I worked with on Lesvos and Kos. The response was immediate. It was amazing to see the network created between solidarity groups this past year and a half. By the end of the day several groups on the WhatsApp chat group immediately responded. By the next day a group from Chios came with clothing, diapers, and tents. We were able that night to distribute the tents to the people who were sleeping outside. A few days after one of the groups I had interacted with on Lesvos sent boxes from Lesvos.
            The days are long and grueling. It’s not the actual work in the camp that is exhausting, but rather the immense amount of emails, messages on Facebook chat and WhatsApp, texts, and phone calls that are draining. Even after 10-14 hours of work in the camp, my day usually is not over. Having volunteered on the other islands networked me with several Safe Passage groups whose mission is to ensure boats that are crossing make it safe. Before midnight I usually receive messages notifying me of a boat intending to launch from Turkey. Due to legality we never get a precise time of when launching, and never get the GPS coordinates on Google Maps until the boat has crossed international waters. The only reason coordinates would be given before crossing international waters is if the boat is in distress. We must respond immediately and notify rescue teams or the Hellenic Coast Guard that there is a boat. This process often leaves me awake until 4 or 5 am, leaving me with 2-3 hours of sleep. With the increase of new arrivals this month, sleep has become a idea.
            Though the days grow longer, and the workload increases we will continue our presence here undaunted. There are needs here that the NGO’s should be filling that they continue to fail to fill. Today we had to purchase toilet paper, and will have to do so for the next week till the designated group receives their order. It’s cases like this that remind me of the importance of continuing here as a volunteer. Thank you all for your support, prayers, and donations. I will continue to stay my presence here as long as you continue your support and deem me as an necessary asset to the refugees here.

10.13.2016

October 13, 2016
              Since the last update, we still continue to receive new arrivals. The UNHCR statistic officer here has not sent the daily email on number demographics/statistics in a week. Since the last post, we received 88 arrivals on the 10th of October, 102 on the 11th, 45 on the 12th, and today’s count is already at 45. In total 609 people have landed on Samos, Greece in the past 13 days. Every morning we wake up to immediately check the different WhatsApp groups on our mobiles to check the news. One group tells myself and a couple others about boats once they cross the international boundary, another group notifies the volunteers and organizations responsible for new-arrivals, and the last group is for all actors on the island. It has become a rare thing these past few weeks to not have a message or update informing of new arrivals.
              There are no current concrete numbers of persons residing in the camp. Three different groups have different statistics but all three are harrowing numbers: The Hellenic Police estimate 1735 on the island and in the camp, Refugee Immigration Services/RIS estimates, 1475, and the UNHCR estimates 1375. Since RIS is the government group that “runs” the camp I would go with their estimate. Daily the check each level to ensure who is living there.
              The camp is designed to hold 606 people. We are well past double the capacity, and the numbers are not decreasing substantially. Another section was added to the camp as temporary housing so half of the camp could go through renovations, but this has now become housing for new arrivals. The army leveled the ground in steppe-like levels so as to erect civil-protection tents. These tents house 20 persons, but there is no power, a dirt floor (rainy season has begun), no beds so all sleep on the ground, and the closest bathroom facilities are 25+ meters away. The one positive thing about the tents is the group responsible for housing allocation is beginning to do their job; they are no longer expecting the volunteers to do it for them. While it is not by any means perfect or as dignifying as we would like, we have to accept that basics of life has been met.
              Yesterday was perhaps one of the hardest I have endured in a while. Yesterday’s mission was to distribute clothing to all 102 new arrivals from the day before. The morning was busy with meetings and logistics; the afternoon I was scheduled with the team in the distribution cabin. We had not been fore warned about the 10 families leaving for the mainland and had to meet their last-minute needs. The busiest day since last winter in distribution saw 135 new arrivals come through the doors. Yesterday we saw 100 new arrivals, and 30-40 people leaving for Athens. Our shift started at 2pm/1400hrs, and we did not leave until 8pm/2000hrs. We usually keep to three hour shifts since distribution is stressful, close-quarters, and every has already worked, or will work another shift elsewhere. I spent the afternoon helping coordinate food and water to new arrivals waiting in registration, coordinating with the assistant camp manager on blankets and housing allocation, working the door of distribution to control the flow inside and to find out what needs are, and inside the cabin I was supervising. The team worked above and beyond and I am thankful that they were there yesterday.
              Last night about 10 families left for the mainland. As I was looking at their ferry tickets and their police papers, I noticed that many had been in the camp for almost 7 months. There were many familiar faces leaving. The entrance of the camp was crowded with refugees and volunteers saying goodbye. Almost everyone was in tears: the volunteers because they knew the families and friends had no where to go but the streets of Athens, refugees leaving because they had to say goodbye to friends, and refugees staying because they too had to say goodbye. There were also many crying because they wanted their turn.
One of my closest friends here, a refugee who volunteers every day with me since I returned was so upset. He is Palestinian/Syrian. The asylum process for Palestinians is close to non-existent. We stood together at the gate saying goodbye to our many friends, many of them children who help us by distributing water and hygiene products. He had tears in his eye, after 5 months he still has no idea when he can move on, when he can find a place to call home. He turned to me and said “I stay because I need to help.” He is a true humanitarian, while knowing that his asylum process may not happen, he tells himself that he is here as a volunteer first, refugee second.
Another volunteer from the camp is from Burundei in central Africa. He as well is one of my closest friends, and every day outworks every other volunteer in distribution. Last night we left the camp together to meet the group for dinner. At one point he burst into tears, to which another volunteer was immediately there for him. He has been on the island for 7 months, and there is no hope for him leaving. So many of my volunteer friends who live in the camp have similar stories.
I must end this post, for once again I am in tears. Reliving each moment these past few weeks and trying to transfer it into manuscript form awaken memories that walk hand-in-hand with so many emotions. Babies crying echo throughout the camp, people and children arriving with no shoes, a family sitting on the side of the road eating their dinner while sitting in the dirt, people with frustration as we no longer have the clothing they need, border-patrol and police who will not let us give food and water to people who have had neither in 12 hours+, etc. the list could continue…

10.8.2016

October 8, 2016

October has finally come as well as the increased number of refugees as we had anticipated. This first week of the month has seen days of 25, 89, 160, and 55 new arrivals onto Samos. Rumor has it from several new arrivals that there are thousands waiting in Turkey for passage to the Greek isles; if this is correct what we survived this week was only a test.

The rise in new numbers raises many issues that we have been trying to address all summer. While we had warned that October 2015 had received 844 new arrivals on average, and 2016 would probably see the same many steps in preparation had not happened. We are at an average of 47 arrivals a day to Samos; if this continues at status quo we will have another 1,100 new arrivals by the months end. This will double the numbers inside of the camp here, 330% of the actual capacity.

Since we are currently well past camp capacity by 50%, the cement backdrop of the camp is dotted with blue and green tents. Crammed between cabins and other tents, erected on acute angles on wheelchair ramps and down the hill-side road, and designed for 3 persons to sleep (not live), the influx has become quite visible. My friend Mahmoud lost his bed inside a building to make room for unaccompanied minors. Another friend, Nour, is sleeping in a boiler room similar to Harry Potters ‘cupboard under the stairs.’ The past two months we have been putting pressure on the organizations that have funding or are supposed to cover housing allocation that we do not have enough tents. Last night I gave away the last tent Samos Volunteers had been given by Medecines Sans Frontiers. The past two days I had been giving families of 4-5 persons one tent. Today if there are new arrivals they will be sleeping outside, and I have no idea when more tents will arrive.

This past summer we relatively had 30 volunteers at any given moment, and we averaged 50 refugees a day for clothing distribution. We have 10-12 volunteers yesterday distribute to 134 refugees that landed the day before, as well as meet the needs of the 55 that arrived. The team was brilliant, never stopping, no complaints. You could see the stress of the week on each volunteer’s face, bags and wrinkles under eyes, wrinkles and red eyes, both from lack of sleep or an occasional emotional breakdown.

About 3 weeks ago we were no longer allowed to distribute food and water to new arrivals while they wait for registration and fingerprinting to finish. This procedure usually lasts 4-8 hours; many of the refugees went the day before with no food. It took until this weekend that we were allowed to enter the registration and meet these most basic of needs. Yesterday was heartbreaking; at first we were only allowed to give water. People were begging Jasmine, Jonathon, and I for food, they would show me their baby, and all I could do was shake my head no, and say “I’m sorry, Fronted will not allow us.” After about 6 hours of waiting we were finally allowed to hand out dry food, so biscuits and crackers. Moments like yesterday will never escape my memory, I have seen humans treated like animals. My thoughts and dreams are permeated with memories of these past 10 months, I slowly find my nightmares becoming my reality each day I’m in the camp.

This week in the new arrivals brought to Samos vulnerable cases. There was a family of three that all were blind. Another family had one child who had Polio and another son who was I presume autistic. Some children had scars from the war partially hidden by clothing or apparent on their visage. There was family of three women, all over 70 years old; one woman could not even walk, and the other two needed assistance. One of our volunteers found a woman over 90 sitting in a tent, she had not left her tent in a week because she could not walk. Several other persons with disabilities were encountered, I cannot imagine what this camp will do to them.

While we had been warning of the increase of numbers in October, we still were not prepared enough. All summer we had been purchasing shoes, sandals, t-shirts, shorts, socks, underwear, sweatpants, etc. After this past week we spent everything we had to meet the clothing needs of new-arrivals. We have been asking for months for clothing and shoes, I have no idea how we will continue to sustain the needs. Today the volunteers will be the face of humanity telling families there are no tents, we have no shoes, this is the camp you will live in for months because we did not use our voices to dissuade governments, we have no soap, I know it’s cold but we don’t have a coat for you… I’m sorry that humanity wasn’t here for you, this is all we have to offer.

I must end this update. I am needed at other places now, and the last paragraph has me in tears. There is food to prepare for new arrivals, clothes to be handed out, people who need to know that someone is there for them, and volunteers who need someone to stand by them.

9.29.2016

29 September 2016
              I have recovered enough to not allow what ever ailed me to inhibit my actions here on the ground. Due to new scheduling, I can spend my morning on admin and logistics, filter through the endless emails, Facebook and WhatsApp messages, and sleep a little bit longer in the morning. I still have a bit of a cold, but continuation of fresh lemons, garlic, and herbal teas should expediate the recovery process.
              We continue to do our double-shift of clothing distribution to ensure everyone in the camp has clothing enough to accommodate the autumn weather. The pressure on the distribution cabin is overwhelming as inhabitants of the camp come for warm clothing. In order to ensure that clothing is allocated equally and to prevent an unmanageable mob in front of the doors we have an assessment system. Since the camp is on a hill, there are levels; we access needs level-by-level, door-to-door. While we accept children and the elderly for jackets and jumpers (cardigans, fleeces, sweatshirts, sweaters), we must neglect the general populace until it is their turn to come for new clothing.
              We had 47 new arrivals yesterday, of which 7 were women and 16 were children. While most people know that they will be put into a detention camp upon arrival in Greece, the look of realization on new arrivals faces will continuously haunt me. Most spend the 5-6 hours of registration and fingerprinting talking to the other camp residents, and learn the impending duration of their stay in the camp. By the time I have contact with them, they’ve heard rumors from older camp residents, been poked and prodded by medical, fingerprinted and questioned by immigration, and sat without food. The feeling of hopelessness and confusion must be beyond comprehension. Yesterday there were two women with 6 children; every child was under the age of 5. We did our best to take care of them, since none of the children could carry the tents, blankets, and sleeping bags. Extra help if one could call it that, putting their new belongings in garbage bags and boxes to make it easier to carry.
              The situation here in Greece is getting worse with the host community. A little over two weeks ago there was a fire in the camp at Lesvos, leaving 4500+ people without accommodations. Initial rumor had it that the Afghani’s started the fire, but from many sources the fire started outside of the camp, near a group of 30-40 Greeks. Last night, there was a meeting here on Samos by a group of old elected officials to decided how to rid the island of refugees. In the past two years, Golden Dawn the extreme right-wing, went from 5,000 to 200,000 voters. Golden Dawn is a political party that was created by the government to combat the extreme left-wing, but soon lost control. On both Lesvos and Kos we have had issues with them, and as of late they have been flying members to the islands to stir-up discontention.
              While Golden Dawn is not comprised of all fascists, the economic instability and lack of government representation has allowed the group to grow. The Greeks suffer economically, last year the schools could not afford to heat the school The schools had to try to feed their students breakfast because they were fainting due to lack of nutrition. They have been accepting of the refugees, yet over the past few years have seen millions in dollars/euros sent to help the refugees, but none for them. They are being told we must have equality for the refugees by every organization, volunteer, and aid worker, yet there is no equality for them. Their government is blackmailed by the EU to stop the flow of immigration into the rest of Europe, but the government does not ask the citizens for their choice. I feel that there are dark days ahead of us.
              I must make my leave. This new schedule has allowed me to update my blog twice in one week, which is a blessing. There are some meetings I must go to now, some clothes to be handed out, and preparations for the next days to come.
Thank you all.
 

9.26.2016

September 26, 2016

Once again I am tardy on updating this blog. We have been slammed with an influx of new arrivals landing on Samos. Since my last update we have received new arrivals almost daily. Every morning I wake up to new messages on the different WhatsApp groups notifying all the actors/organizations on the island of new arrivals. By the time I collapse into my bed there are still messages going back and forth, the end of the day is not the finish of work by any means.

The month of September still has some days left in it, yet the numbers of new arrivals to Samos and into the camp/RIC has doubled the combined number of new arrivals in July and August. The camp approximately 50% above capacity with 300+ people living in tents. While nobody is happy living in a tent for an extended period of time the change of weather here raises more discontent. The tents that are distributed to new arrivals are very thin and are not water-proof. For many that have been here 5-6 months their tents have rips and tears. The most recent rain fall has shown the flaws in the tents with the occupants finding everything inside drenched with water. There are no long-term solutions for other forms of accommodation due to lack of space in the camp. We are currently struggling to find organizations who have the funding to take over distribution of tents. We ran out of tents late last winter, but were fortunate enough to collaborate with MSF and distribute their tents. Now that MSF is leaving the island we no longer will have access to their stock of tents, and have a 2 week supply. Sadly no other actor has stepped up to be responsible and I fear that soon we will have people sleeping in the open air, vulnerable to the weather.

Autumn and winter on the Greek islands can see a little snow and some ice, but mostly on the islands north of Samos. Winter here is rainy season, which usually begins in October and extends into February. This past winter it rained almost daily on Lesvos when I was there, and there were few days on Samos that it did not rain as well. With the weather change to cold and wet we have to focus on combating sicknesses to alleviate the work load on the medical teams. It has become a race to give additional blankets and warm clothing to all the residents in the camp.

The volunteer team has been slashed in human resources in half of the summer staff, and even then it took 5-6 weeks to cover the entire camp. There are only 6-9 of the volunteers with access to the camp. New arrivals take precedence and receive clothing before we continue our systematic distribution to camp residents. The influx of new arrivals has shifted our attention to their needs and causes us to neglect the needs of warm clothes. This past week we decided that we have to address all the warm clothing needs; we are now doubling our distribution times as well as extending distribution into the weekends. The past few days have been straining. Most of the volunteers with access to the camp are long-term (4 weeks or more) and the work load is very tell-tale. Almost every volunteer is sick, and the tiredness mixed with sadness is much more evident in their faces.
 
Even with our decreased staff we continue every activity we had begun this spring and summer. Inside the camp we teach English and German and assist the Arabic and Farsi teachers. We daily have activities for the children in the camp. For the volunteers unable to gain access into the camp we have the MSF shelter for vulnerable cases, Praksis shelter for unaccompanied minors, and Arsis shelters for vulnerable cases that we conduct activities and education. On Saturdays we have our football/soccer matches for the men and swimming classes for the women. The warehouse has been neglected for some time, due to lack of human resources and lack of donations to sort.
 
For myself the past few weeks have been draining. I spend most of my time either in the camp, responding to emails, or meetings. I’m pretty sure that I have bronchitis, and for a few days last week I had the fever. Though I do my best to take care of myself there are those in the camp with worse living conditions and are more sick than I. Emotionally and psychologically my role in the camp have been tortuous. I usually stand at the distribution door handling all of the requests as well as the people who come for clothing off of the assessment levels. Thereby I am the one that sits there and says “no, we don’t have any,” or “I’m sorry, but you have to wait until the assessment team gets to your cabin/tent.” Every day of people yelling at me because they have needs that we struggle to fill or accommodate breaks the soul. It is a difficult position, for having an option of clothes is the only aspect those have in the camp that they have control of. For both those working in distribution and those who are choosing clothes it is very psychological. I cannot fault anyone for being picky of clothing, yet we are frustrated when we cannot find an item that they deem suitable.
 
There are three boys here with whom I have made very close friendships: Mahmoud, Nour, and Jonathon. All three are between 22-and 26 years old. Every day we volunteer together, though they are asylum-seekers. We share meals, and if they have dinner with me they often sleep in my studio. Every morning we share breakfast and coffee in the camp. They refer to me as “Poppa” which is humorous because of the age difference; the name also though is significant in the fact that I am the one looking after the well being. I am one of two volunteers that have been here almost as long as they have, who haven’t abandoned them here on the island. These boys have seen countless volunteers with whom they have forged friendships leave, and I have seen the emotional and psychological toll with each passing volunteer. I fear the day I must leave, and hope that they have found asylum before that day.
 
Mahmoud and Nour both named me “Abdl Salam,” which means servant of peace. I take this as a huge honor, coming from my background. Every kid in the camp, and almost every adult refer to me as Abdl-Salam, to which I have found that I have been accepted. They all know that as volunteers we are not paid, and know that we can return whenever we choose, yet we stay.
 

9.9.2016

September 9, 2016

The past week and a half to two weeks have been non-stop; the daily summer routine I had grown accustomed to has come to an end. We no longer have the strength in numbers of the volunteers this summer had seen. While we still continue every activity (school classes, activities for kids and adults, warehouse work, hygiene distribution, clothing distribution, etc.) we are performing with less than half the volunteers. By then end of next week we will be below 10 volunteers in comparison to the 30+ during the summer months.

Along with the end of summer is the end our tourism both here in Greece, but also in Turkey. The end of tourist season in Greece means more Greeks will head to the mainland for winter jobs; this also means there will be less work available for the refugees who have paperwork to allowing them to work. Winter for the NGO’s and volunteers means additional distribution of warmer-clothing, health concerns from a cold and wet environment, and of course an influx in new arrivals seeking asylum. Turkey’s end of tourist season marks the time when tourist revenue comes to an end. Refugees will no longer be “driving off” tourism. The refugees seeking passage “lengthen” the tourist season of Turkish coastal cities, thereby helping the Turkish economy when normally there would be little to no profits made off of tourists.

Last week we spent the majority of the week either helping the new-arrivals who had a arrived on the 3rd of September, or continuing our activities. It was just a preparation for this week; to make sure that we were on our toes, ready. Saturday, I woke up to a message on the Samos Humanitarian WhatsApp Group: “Good morning to all!! 38 New arrivals will be at the camp in about an hour from now!” I had intended to sleep in that day, since the weekend we do not do regular distribution, just distribution to new arrivals and emergencies. We arrived at the camp at 8:30 am, but it was not until after 3 pm that myself and a volunteer were able to hand out food, blankets, tents, hygiene kits, sleeping bags, and mats. 

Sunday was another hopeful day of some rest, but I was woken up to a message saying that there were 12 new arrivals. Myself and the volunteer from Saturday immediately went to the camp. The community-helpers from the camp where there as well to translate and help. Upon our arrival to the camp, we were advised by the police that another 33 new arrivals would be sent to the camp within an hour. The volunteers and community helpers waited again from 8:30 am till 4 pm to do our distribution. The other organizations both days left within the hour, handing over the responsibility of ensuring distribution of their items to Samos Volunteers. While their staff only works on emergency basis on the weekends, it is a job they get paid for. Nonetheless, volunteers are here and will be to fill the gaps.

Monday was distribution at it’s best. All 83 arrivals from the weekend had been accounted for and given the new-arrival clothing distribution package. A couple full sets of clothing, towel, shoes, sandals, etc. Since we have only received new-arrivals on the weekends, we were not expecting the news on Tuesday: 47 new arrivals. Right away the volunteer team went into action. Those who had classes and activities carried on, but those who could shifted their day to helping with basic -needs distribution, finding spots for them in the camps, and preparing the re-stock for clothing distribution while keeping in mind to add extra for the 47.

We were able to distribute to all 47 new arrivals their clothing the next day. The day after Samos Volunteers distributed shampoo and body-wash to everybody in the camp. It was great to see how well the team responded to the surge of new arrivals and that with a smaller team we were still able to accomplish each task with little difficulty. 

Last Friday the volunteers were made aware of Eid al-Adha, the second biggest holiday in Muslim culture. Last Eid we distributed bags with toys, coloring books and crayons, and bubbles contributed from the UNHCR. We also had about 4 weeks to plan and coordinate expenses and activities with the other volunteer groups and NGO’s. We had three days notice, not enough to get permission for music in the camp, not enough time to coordinate with an NGO to purchase some toys, and not much time to even coordinate an event. We did not have enough toys to give to every child in the camp, so I was disappointed, and worried the children would be as well.

Usually on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays the volunteer Group ‘Friendly Humans of Samos’ coordinates a tea and coffee event at the camp in the evening. Luckily they were flexible and switched to Monday. They purchased tea, coffee, sugar, and juice. We had about 25 kilos of raisins and dates that we distributed along with fresh watermelon. There was candy for the kids, but I dared not be the volunteer holding or handing out the candy. Several of the community-helpers and refugees mentioned how good it was to see the children happy and that they themselves had an enjoyable night despite the camp. So even though we were unable to distribute toys, Eid al-Adha 2016 was a success and every child had enough sugar to keep them up all night.

I am hoping that I can find some time this weekend to update everyone on the actual situation here. If I find time I would like to update you on what is going on with the different organizations, the Greek government and local issues, etc. If I am not working directly in the camp or warehouse, I am usually in a meeting and have much to fill the readers in on what the larger picture is.

9.5.2016

September 5, 2016
It has been three months now since I returned back to Greece to volunteer. This past winter volunteering the borders will relatively still open, now the borders are closed. Those who came to the islands came for a couple days to a couple weeks, now they are here for several months; some have resided on the island for over 6 months now. The refugees who came this winter came knowing that they were only making transit on the Greek islands, while those coming now know they will be here indefinitely. There are many who came to the Greek islands right as the hotspot camps began, thinking that they still would be able to move on to the mainland; 6 months later they are still stuck in the camp, on an island, an unescapable prison.
 
My dear friend who I shall keep anonymous traveled from Central Africa by himself at 22 years old. He was one of those who came right when the hotspot camp was created, when all the borders closed. He has been waiting for his asylum paperwork to process but so far only Syrians, Pakistani’s, and Palestinians have been processed. Many refugees have left the island to the mainland without proper paperwork, for they know that they will either be stuck here indefinitely or risk getting arrested. If they get arrested they know the risk is imprisonment for 6 months and deportation. He had found a possible way to escape the island, but his family would not allow him to take the risk. He was told to wait for the legal way, I watched him as his hope fell apart this weekend. I want him to leave this island, I’ve seen the psychological effect this has had on him; I also was worried about him leaving as well if he was not going the legal means.
 
I have two other friends, both Palestinian Syrians. While they both come from Syria, neither have paperwork or documentation from Syria because as Palestinians they have no rights. Two more friends of mine have no desire to stay here in an internment camp, have no home to return here, and no nation that wants them. For them everything is a closed door and an explicit “No!” These are not isolated cases, every refugee here has a story such as these.
 
This past week has been extremely stressful. The other coordinator and myself have had to balance several other people’s responsibility due to voids in volunteerism. Every day is another day of hurdles, bureaucracy, and issues that cannot be remedied with ease. Some issues come up over and over again, we sit at meetings imploring the UNHCR to do something, yet each week nothing is done. The volunteers themselves while both being helpful can be a handful simultaneously. Either with good intentions they want to do something, but fail to understand the larger concept, or they are here for only a week or two and have to be instructed the whole time. This past week the UNHCR for the island came out with their report. There were several parts that they said they had done something or were doing something that they failed to do, or had no part of. While it is important for them to report so they can continue to receive funding, it is also depressing to have them say they have been doing things that they failed to keep their promises.
 
For those that are involved in the refugee crisis international politics and news are very important. I have beforehand mentioned President Erdogan’s threat to blackmail the EU. Either the EU grant Turkish citizens the same visa rights as EU citizens or he will allow all the refugees in Turkey to migrate into Greece. This past week, Angela Merkel of Germany lost to the right-wing who are anti-immigration. Next year will be France’s presidential elections. One candidate, Marine Le Pen, is offering French citizens the option of leaving the EU. Her slogan is “Frexit,” modeled after the disastrous win in the UK “Brexit.” The EU is slowly starting to crumble and NATO is falling apart as well.
 
While the world seems desolate and hopeless, the Samos Volunteers have been active. A few weeks ago we began swimming classes for the women in the camp. Of course only female volunteers instruct the women. Each Saturday the women in the camp and the volunteers go to a nearby beach. This beach allows the conservative women to both have time to enjoy themselves in the company of each other, without the eyes of men or without children running around. It at first started out with 8-9 women; now this weekend there were 19 women who came to the swimming class.
 
We have over half of the winter clothing sorted now. It is a massive relief to know that with a low amount of volunteers, the majority of warehouse work is finished. We hope to have a couple different groups bring some trucks of donations we need dearly in the next few weeks. We have one truck coming this week from Switzerland. This for me is amazing how networking made this happen. The lady that has been collecting clothing donations was here this past winter, her son and I worked together closely. The man bringing the truck was here for a month this late-summer and has never met her. They both volunteered here in Samos at different times, and now they are both collaborating together.
 
On Saturday we had 46 arrivals come from Turkey. We spent today distributing clothing and hygiene products to all them. Right as we finished a group of 30 refugees came into the camp. They had landed at some point this morning. We distributed sleeping bags, blankets, tents, and some dry-food. Tomorrow we will distribute clothing and hygiene products. This month has just started and we are already at 75% of last month’s arrivals, and we are working on 50% of the volunteer group we had. If you had ever entertained the possibility of volunteering, now is the time we need you most.

 

 

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.

Changing the World One Community at a Time