8.20.2016

August 20, 2016

It is the weekend here on Samos, Greece. One could easily get used to the weather that we are having now. In comparison to the heat wave that we had this past June, the weather now is comfortable enough to sit outside on the terrace mid-afternoon. Most mornings I can wake up, make my morning coffee and breakfast and enjoy the view of the island. Coming from the frozen tundra of Wisconsin, being able to view the entire city from my studio, the sea, and the mountains, one is ever mesmerized by the beauty that life holds.

My morning drive to the warehouse or wherever my volunteer duties is one of the most pleasant experiences as well. The drive on my moped from my studio to the warehouse generally takes less than ten minutes, but those ten minutes are often my inspiration to guide me through the day. The city of Vathi, Samos becomes very active at 8 am, everyone driving and walking to work, to the shops, etc. to begin their day before the afternoon hear and siesta. On my drive down from my studio into town, I acknowledge all the Greeks who are in front of their houses watering their gardens, the man working out of his old VW van, the shop owners rolling open their windows or sweeping the sidewalk in front of their shops, and the farmers selling their produce out of the back of their trucks by the church. None of us know each other, nor speak the same language, yet we recognize each other on our daily routines and both understand a smile.

My drive to the warehouse takes me past the Medecines Sans Frontiers office. Almost every humanitarian-aid worker and I have had professional dealings with and often enjoy each other’s company over a coffee. If I drive by at the right time, there are 5+ of their staff sitting outside of their main office which is at an intersection that I have to stop at until the light turns from red to green. They all greet me, and I in return. My drive then takes me past several shop owners who are driving into town, all of us beeping our horns, waving, and yelling “Yashu/Hello” as we pass by. As I start to leave the town and drive up towards the camp and warehouse there are several refugees walking down. Many know me, much better than I know them. Even if I do not individually know them, I do my best to beep my horn and wave. I fell this is important for them psychologically, to feel accepted and recognized and people. I eventually make it to the warehouse, the group going to the camp have the cars filled with clothes. We all shake hands, hug, and greet the new volunteers. Those that are volunteering in the warehouse for the day also share the same experience. Perhaps it is the small community, or else the climate differences coming from the frozen-tundra of Wisconsin, but I have never had mornings like these here.

This past week we finished sorting the rest of the donations that came from Spain and Switzerland. The winter clothing area is almost finished being set up and moving the winter stock from storage. By mid-week we will begin sorting everything, half has been sorted and is beginning to be shelved, the other half of unsorted winter clothing will take a little more of a week to sort into their proper categories. We received donations from two groups leaving the island on Friday, yesterday. Medecines Sans Frontiers dropped off two van loads of food kits, clothes, and hygiene kits. Apostole, a Greek church organization also dropped off a pallet of socks which we were in dire need of. It will be sad to see these organizations leave, but it was a relief to myself on the logistic side to see some of our needs met.

Once again I must implore for help in donations. This past Friday we ran out of men’s trousers, and even shirts we will run out of within the next two weeks unless a large donation arrives. Summer has helped us with distribution by allowing us to give shorts, sleeveless-shirts, and sandals, but winter is coming. From the Chinese shops in town we can purchase these few items, but purchasing shoes and trousers cost triple, and our budget is comprised of donations. I am scared to see what happens this fall, if nothing arrives; I am even more terrified with the possibility of a large-scale flow of refugees like last winter. This is not an isolated issue. Every warehouse on the islands and mainland are suffering from lack of men’s items. With our current women’s and children’s stock of clothing we will be able to sustain their needs for a year, but none of us are going to be able to meet the needs of the men.

8.18.2016

August 18, 2016
As usual, I have been extremely busy since my last update. More volunteers who were here for the duration of the summer have left, leaving vacancies that are oft hard to fill. We make do with some of the short-term volunteers, but the consistency factor is sorely lacking. Within a week roughly 66-75% of the current volunteers that we have will return back to their home countries. On the other hand, within the next few weeks we will start to receive the volunteers that will be here for one-month or more. Right now it is a crazy transitional period, especially with several of the coordinators finally terminating their volunteering stay.
 
The weather is starting to change; the north winds have returned with a cool breeze which is extremely refreshing after this long-hot summer. We all know that these north winds bring winter as well, and within a month-and-a-half, the weather will turn for the worse. Winter is not like the bitter cold of Wisconsin, with snow and ice, and air temperatures that hurt the skin. Rather it is a wet-cold, biting through every layer of clothing. When it rains here, it pours. I have begun to re-organize the warehouse to be better prepared in comparison to last winter. Some of the team has been helping me construct shelving on the outside addition, and others have begun to sort through our winter stock. Within a few weeks we will begin to distribute cold-gear on top of our regular hygiene and clothing distribution.
 
The north winds do not only bring rain and cooler temperatures. They also bring refugees in boats sailing south with the favor of the winds to their backs. Last year, October was the busiest month, and this past week we have begun to see the rise in numbers of displaced-people crossing from Turkey. This morning we had 13 new arrivals, two mornings ago 31. The past two weeks we have seen more refugees come to Samos, Greece than we have all summer. We stand prepared, and I am ever so thankful for the preparations that we have been working on rather than falling into a complacent state of mind.
 
October is the end of tourist season for both Greece and Turkey. Tourism is a huge part of both country’s economies so the refugee-crisis plays a huge part. President of Erdogan of Turkey has threatened/blackmailed the EU that if they do not give Turkish citizens visa rights that EU citizens have, he will release the refugees in Turkey into Europe. The EU refuses to allow Turkey to join the union because of their massive human-rights violations, especially since the coup this past July. If the EU does not comply, Erdogan will allow the 2.7 million Syrian refugees to cross into Europe. According to some statistics, there are 4-6 million refugees in Turkey that are Syrian, Afghani, Iraqi, Pakisani, and many more countries. For the aid-workers and volunteers, we forsee a crisis bigger than last winters crisis.
 
Since purchasing a round trip costs $700, and the one-way $550-600 I had booked my flight home for August 24, which is 6 days from today. Due to the need of both long-term volunteers and because three of the five coordinators will no longer be with us, I decided to stay. I could not on good conscience leave the responsibilities of five solely on one person. As the news and rumors continue, I am not sure that we will have enough volunteers here, least-wise those who are already connected with the Greek-community, human-rights organization community, and the refugee community we help/work with daily.
 
While I will continue to keep my GoFund me account active, I would prefer to use it for needs of the refugees. Donations via this account have slowed down, and now that I am staying here for several more months I am stepping out on faith. I have categorized my monthly bills here, and believe it is possible to find donors to pledge monthly to cover my bills here. I have talked with several people (volunteers, Greeks, friends and family) who wonder how I have continued volunteering. To everyone I tell them “faith.” Faith that there are good people out there who see what we are doing, and who also want to help. Faith that those who want to help, but cannot due to raising a family, spouse, work, education, etc. find that they can help by enabling those who can physically help. I am going out on a limb here, but these past 8 months I have seen humanity at its greatest. By faith I have made it thus far, and by faith I shall continue on.
 
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Here is a list of my monthly expenses:
        
Rent for Studio and Electricity: $225 / €200
     Food and Basics of Life: $270 / €24
Cell Phone Data: $45 / €40
Petrol/Gas: $35 / €30
 
   Total: $575 / €515
 
 
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I have talked with one of my best-friends who lives here, Manolis, and he will let me use his moped for free while I am here. If there is a surplus at the end of the month, I will apply it toward my unpurchased flight ticket, or make purchases for refugee needs. If interested in supporting me monthly, please personal message me at frania46@yahoo.com. I can also be reached on Facebook as ‘Andrew Ainarf’ via Facebook chat where we can coordinate either by messages or verbal talk.
 
My deepest gratitude for all my donors and those that follow me. While I miss home dearly and would love to see many of you, I believe that I must continue on. It is very difficult to take pictures this time. For those that volunteer and work in the camp it is illegal for us to take pictures, and even outside of the camp it is difficult because of protection laws and prevention of exploitation. I would encourage all of you to like and to check out our Facebook page: Samos Volunteers. There you can see what projects we are working on, as well as view some pictures that have been approved to give you better insight. Since my work keeps me more in the warehouse, logistics, administration, and meetings, this will provide a clear picture of what my group Samos Volunteers does to impact the lives of others.
 

8.11.2016

August 11, 2016

This past week has been very tedious and taxing. I’ve stepped back from being ever-present in the warehouse. Each day a volunteer who understands the system oversees/supervises the other volunteers off of a basic talk with me or from the task list that I post in the warehouse. The other actors/organizations on Samos all have my phone number and email, so they contact me via one of those two sources so that we can collaborate and share NFI (Non-food items). Having less of a presence in the warehouse the past week and a half have allowed me to work on projects I have not had time to focus on, but it has also afforded me the time to take on more responsibilities as well.

We are coming to the end of summer, when the majority of our volunteers must return back to university. Each week several volunteers leave, mostly short term (3 weeks or less), but several long-term volunteers have begun returning to school, work, and their lives. The long-term volunteers are relied on and often thrown into responsibilities that they had not anticipated before arriving. As they leave, the two of us that will continue volunteering are beginning to anticipate the work-load we will have to add to our plate. We will persevere, of course, and hopefully those coming in the near future will be ready and willing to step up to the plate.

For those who may have a yearning to join us in solidarity here are some of the projects from the last week the group has been working on. In the warehouse there are some that have been working on basic graphic design to help with the mapping-layout, clothing categories, and general guidelines/SOP’s. The warehouse volunteers have also been working on getting the winter clothing area organized and ready for volunteers to begin sorting. In the camp we still teach English, as well as other educational classes. There are several activities for men, women, and children to keep everyone occupied, granted, the children activities are much easier and easier to raise funding. We try our best to have community-helpers, refugees/displaced people, volunteer with us in all of our activities in the camp.

A couple of weeks ago we opened a library in the camp with books in 4-5 languages. It’s always a blessing to see those that participate in the English classes picking up books in basic and intermediate English. We were given permission to finally paint the camp this past week. The walls are ordained with paintings done by people residing in the camp and the few volunteers who consider themselves artistic. While there are still fences, concertina wire (a cross between barbed-wire and razor-wire), and an ominous police and army presence, the camp is beginning to have color and shows some display of humanity.

Last week began a new activity with the Pakistani men, cricket. I have no idea what cricket is, but those who participate are highly elated. We also have a weekly football/soccer match. This has expanded from Africans vs. Volunteers to a mixed team of people from the camp, a team of volunteers, and a team of Greeks as well. Sports are definitely a great way to lay aside cultural differences, focus on the love of the game, and to build friendships.

We had a deep conversation this week pertaining to the professionalism of volunteers, the protection of the volunteers who are displaced people, and friendships with those who we are here to help. For those that are refugees/stateless/displaced/migrants we have the responsibility of their protection. There are a few that we have accepted as both friends and volunteers, yet at the end of the night they return to their tent in the camp, and we western volunteers return to our flats or hotels. We have allowed some volunteers who have become close friends to lose their social identity to the identity of volunteers. Those in the camp often identify them as volunteers, as do many of us. From 8pm-8am we are not with them. If someone was to hurt them because of their identity to us, then we would be responsible. We decided after much talk that we shall continue the friendships we have, but do our best to separate our individual friendships to becoming associated to the group. While organizations forbid friendships with the refugees, we as volunteers are here to provide the human aspect. We cannot prevent friendships from happening, nor do we wish to prevent them. We just need to be mindful that our relationships can put people in vulnerable positions.

This past Friday there was a fire in the building below my apartment in the US. Luckily nobody was hurt, but many of my possessions and those of my roommates were ruined. This was one of those situations where I could cry and mope, or laugh since there is nothing I can do about it. I of course laughed, but also took it as a sign. I had a few days prior told my friend I share an American cell-phone contract with to cancel my line. The hardest part of the decision was giving up a phone number I have cleaved to for so long. After the fire, I realized that it was just another step of pursuing the path of life I have been involved with these past 8 months. I have come to realize that possessions have held me back for so long; possessions have tied me down and forced me to pursue dreams that were not of my own, but rather the society/environment I chose to identify myself with. I could not ask for a better misfortune, or rather a sign.

I am slowly slipping into a more administrative position while balancing logistics at the same time. This will afford me more time with my dilapidated laptop which also means the ability to update my blog more regularly. If you are interested in volunteering or desire to know more of what we are doing here in Samos, Greece feel free to look at my Facebook page – Andrew Ainarf, or the group Facebook page – Samos Volunteers. Thank you once again for taking your time to follow my posts and for your funding.

7.31.2016

July 31, 2016
 
This past weekend has been a whirlwind of events and a myriad of tasks were finished. It was a most appreciated change from the past week and a half. The short-term volunteers all have found their niche and where they are most needed. All of the long-term volunteers have assumed their new responsibilities; between the two groups there is now much less instruction, but rather delegation.
 
Warehouse {AndrewFrania.com)
 
Thursday night a mini-bus arrived from Switzerland with donations of items we dearly needed. The donations were driven by Sigrid and Uri both of Switzerland. Sigrid has a donation warehouse back at her home, and Uri has been volunteering in the humanitarian field for quite some time. Some donations came from Sigrid, and the rest from Naline, another Swiss. She had volunteered in Samos several times, as well as her son, Alex, who worked closely with me this past winter. Almost every box was already sorted and properly labeled, so all we had to do was quick-check the contents and throw our label on it.
 
Warehouse {AndrewFrania.com)
 
I think that if every group that sent donations could have a representative come for a few days it would help us dramatically. Since Naline had been here, she knew how we sorted our boxes, but also knew exactly what both needed and did not need. For once, we had a shipment without children’s clothing or women’s clothing we already had a surplus of.
 
Warehouse {AndrewFrania.com)
 
Friday we emptied the mini-bus from Switzerland and had two cargo-van loads of clothing we shared with Medecines Sans Frontiers/Doctors Without Borders. The bus was used all day Friday and Saturday to move things around the island that we’ve unsuccessfully been able to move with our compact cars due to time and space logistics. We had a 40-foot shipping container in the port where the camp used to be still full of boxes and shelving. It had taken two of us a day to empty half of the boxes out of the container, with no idea how to take the shelving up to the warehouse. In one and a half trips, everything had been finished. It was a relief to know that one more of my tasks now has a check-mark next to it.
 
After lunch on Friday almost all of the team came up to the warehouse. The last load from Medecines Sans Frontiers had just been unloaded. This was not boxes, but rather individual bags of full clothing for all ages and genders.
 
With approximately 25 volunteers every bag was separated by age and gender; these were then packaged together so that they could be used as part of the emergency/contingency plan when the Turkey/EU deal falls apart.
 
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Since this did not need every volunteer, some focused on sorting the boxes that were brought in from our shipping container, others worked on sorting shoes, working on the electric-free A/C units, and others just on their projects.
 
The warehouse was an ant-hill of activity and by the end of the day, everything that had arrived was already in its designated place. It was great for the team to work in such close cohesion, but also to see several tasks and accomplish them. Everyone found where they were more specialized at or comfortable with.
 
After we finished the warehouse we had a group meeting. This was not focused on what projects or impacts the volunteers are having on the island, but more on what the volunteers can be doing. I had stressed in the last coordinator meeting that I cannot spend the entirety of my days keeping the short-term volunteers occupied. Since donations are coming in at a much slower rate, I have been using the volunteers to re-organize the warehouse to make it easier for winter and once again, the Turkey/EU deal fall-out. The meeting stressed initiative and consistency. We explained to the volunteers that even if they are here for a shorter period of time they can see what is needed to make life better for those living in the camp. Though they may only do the ground-breaking and preparing for activities, they can pass their project/activity on to the next volunteer.
 
Saturday was once again another busy day. We have a large amount of short-term volunteers that come with so much energy and desire to work. We usually work for 3-4 hours on Saturday on small projects and warehouse work that requires a larger team. Sometimes the short-term volunteers do not understand why the long-term volunteers work short-days on the weekend, but we are worn out phyisichally, emotionally, and psychologically. We were able to accomplish a lot though, so it did not bother me to be working a little longer than planned. There were some tasks that I had envisioned this past winter, but neither had the man-power or time to take on.
 
Warehouse {AndrewFrania.com)
Because of everyone’s work, we now have proper space to sort all the winter clothing as well as an area to store the boxes. We also have a large area to unload any shipments, I was so happy to see what everyone had accomplished at the end of the day.
 
My friend Petros, a Greek/Syrian volunteer and I dropped our friend Susie off to the port yesterday morning. She is from the UK but has lived in Switzerland for many years teaching English. She was here before I returned teaching English in the camps to the adults. For many of us, she was the mom-figure that we all leaned on. Many of us were the age of her own children, and though all of us are grown adults, we still every now and then just need a mum. 5 nights a week Susie and I had dinner together and just talked about what different things we were working on, or just sat and enjoyed each other’s company. I will dearly miss her, for she was often my voice of reason and wisdom, and always looked forward to seeing her.
 
Saturday night was White Night here in Samos. Every shop stays open until 6 am on Sunday. I spend most of my evenings at Pizza di Piazza with all of the volunteers and the staff that are close-friends. Since they needed help I offered my evening to them. It was great to be part of the team that has taken care of the volunteers, refugees, and me. They have taken so good care of me, often refusing to give me a bill because they know that I am on a limited budget. They cannot do much to help with the camp, so they help us volunteers.

7.28.2016

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

7.18.2016

July 18, 2016
 
This is the first time since I have arrived that I have had the opportunity to sit down at my favorite café from last January. Today is a day off of work, partially as a birthday gift, partially because the two coordinators took a 4-day holiday and I doubled my work load, but mostly because I’m hitting the exhausted-sick level. That is more my fault since I still have not learned to say "no," or to take a break when I have responsibilities.
 
Yesterday was my 30th birthday. I had thought all last year I was 30 until last month, so I feel no change at all. I had the opportunity to greet the 22 new arrivals and hand them out blankets, tents, and food. It was a blessing to know that I was the first smile that they had possibly seen in months. For most cases, the first volunteer or aid worker that the displaced people will see in Europe will be the most remembered one of all the volunteers and aid-workers they will encounter along their migration.
 
andrewfrania.comI spent the afternoon with several volunteers at the beach near the warehouse. Most of us just relaxed on the beach and took a nap, trying to recharge after another long week. We all met at Pizza di Piazza for my birthday dinner. It’s been since my teenage years since I’ve had a proper birthday celebration. The waiter Manolis, one of my closest friends took extra care of us. I even had a birthday cake! It must have been at least a decade and a half since I have seen one of those.
 
The number of birthday wishes from volunteers, refugees, and locals was more than I have ever received. My phone was non-stop with notifications of friends and family wishing me the best. It was a total inspiration to have that much love outpouring to me. I really needed all the encouragement that came with the birthday wishes. So many people encouraged me to continue on, that they looked up to me, and thanks for doing my best to change the world. Thank you all. I may have only a drawer full of belongings, and a bank account with nothing but donations, but I have more than most ever will. Peace of mind, love, joy, and a purpose of life. Money can never buy what I have, you have all made my birthday the most memorable of my life.
 
Two days in a row we have received new arrivals from Turkey. After a two week lull in new arrivals we are the most prepared as we can ever be. The first day was a Syrian family who had  been helped by churches along the route. After meeting the family to help them access their needs, the first question asked by the father was about my faith. I explained to him my confusion with the church and with religion, how American Christianity largely focuses on building churches of grandeur, pastors with budgets larger than many in their flock, and how Christianity focuses more on works to decide if you are a morally good Christian or not. We talked for some time, how most Christians talk-the-talk, and forget to walk-the-walk.
 
From my experiences this last year I have learned much about Christianity and religion. I am still trying to find my way, but had I not began this chapter in my life I would still be pushing away from religion. I have seen Christianity at its best, reaching out to those of different faiths. They show that by their actions, others can see what is in their heart. I have also seen the worst of Christianity, the part that confused me and almost made me turn away. This is the side that will not help those of different faiths, forgetting the story of the Good Samaritan. They have forgotten what Jesus said in Matthew 25:37-40 “Then the righteous answered him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave the drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothe thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
 
I have learned much spiritually these past several months, but so have many of those that I try to help. For the man I was talking to a few days ago, he was perplexed how the Christians have turned their backs on both the Christians in the Middle-East, as well as those of different faiths. He referenced Matthew 5 to me, to love your enemies, do good to them that hate you. I went back to my flat and read the chapter, it was a powerful read to me. Some verses that stuck out the most were Matthew 5:46 and 47: “For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so?"
 
For many years I thought I had lost my faith, unable to discern from faith and the institution. I have now seen true Christians both at home and here. There have been so many that have let their light shine these past few months on my journey, and helped me discern the differences. Meeting this man the other day, and having him tell me that faith is what is in the heart, not the church you attend, is what matters. I have learned much from this man, and count it a blessing to have spoken to him. I also feel for him, since he will be largely persecuted for his faith in the upcoming months.
 
The past weekend there was a failed military coup in Turkey. President Erdogan has gone against the constitution, and a minority group in the military tried to take control. It was a 12 hour coup, which left Erdogan in more power and popular support. Many of us believe that this was just a power play. He was both able to gain popular support in Turkey and internationally, wipe out his opposition, and gain more power. Coming from a military background, high treason is not a trivial act. For this coup to last 12 hours, it seems either it was poorly acted out, or that there was an organizer behind that had many actors pretend to be in support of the coup until the actual action.
 
We for-see the fallout of the EU/Turkey deal coming. After two weeks of no arrivals, and then 2 days of new arrivals following the coup, we stand ready. With the military confusion in Turkey, this has allowed for more freedom of movement along the coasts for more refugees to cross.
 
The warehouse is looking better and better each day. For those who have worked in the warehouse, there is less than a day’s work left of unsorted donations. It is both a relief to me, but also raises some concern. When the deal falls apart, we will not have enough to help everyone. We have already been purchasing needs, winter is coming, and I personally do not think we have enough.
 
This past week several of my friends left. A few were refugees, going to mostly to Athens, some to Thessanoliki. Those going to Athens I am scared for. There is no room in the camps, so the port and Victoria’s Square are lined with refugees and Greeks alike, sleeping in the streets, begging for money. Families lie under boxes, unsure as to their next meal. Many do not want to leave the camp because they know that their plight will become worse. This is one of the things that causes the volunteers here to think that every step we go forward; we go two steps back.
 
Several volunteers have left and I miss them dearly. There are some that I have worked closely with and will miss them as people, but also the voids in work here. Yes, others will fill their position, but we have worked so closely together. Paul and Melanie of France and Belgium, were the sweetest couple and humans I have met. Their calmness and love of everything living made them a vital aspect in the camp. Ion, my brother from Amsterdam, whom I hope to see soon, helped me find my strength when I was weak. We learned and grew so much from each other’s company.
 
For those at home, I thank you once again for following what is happening. I mourn for my America as it is falling apart. It’s painful to watch one hate create a new hate, and that another hate. Be strong, and do your best to show those at home the goodness in life. Hug those that need it most, embrace those of different creeds, colors, and religions. We must unify as people, instead of separating into different factions. “A stranger is just a friend you have never met.”

7.12.2016

July 12, 2016

              My days are beginning to blend together, it’s becoming hard to remember what I did from day-to-day. Sunday’s are the only day I can differ from the others because every business is shut and it is the volunteer’s day of rest. The past Sunday was a well needed day of rest, the wear and tear is becoming very apparent on the faces and body language of the long-term volunteers. I somehow managed to sleep until 11am on Sunday with a grand total of 12 hours of sleep. I doubt I have slept that long in the past decade. Most of the team took a drive to the south-side of the island to relax and swim in the sea. It took an hour and a half to drive across, but it allowed us to take in the beautiful mountainous landscape, the villages perched on the hillsides, the coastline, and the green forests. 

              There was a forest fire that started up near where we all work and live, and the winds spread the fire all the way down across the island. At one point the fire could not have been over 1 mile from where I stay at. For at least two days the firefighters and military fought the fire, we would watch as helicopters would fly back and forth dumping water from the port on to the blaze. I have yet to know how many houses were destroyed or casualties/loss of life. 

              As always the tensions are increasingly growing. The municipality of Samos sent a call for help for 700 local children who need their basics of life met. Athens refused them. As summer keeps on continuing with no dramatic change in tourism, the people feel their wallets growing thinner and the worries of winter survival weigh more heavily on their minds. A nearby island, Leros, has suffered a dramatic loss of support from the islands. On Saturday a group of 150+ Yazidis (the oldest known ethnic group, religious group, also referred to as “The People of Eden”) were attacked by Greek locals. The police did not intervene, and several volunteers were threatened. While the volunteers have often been threatened, it has never caused them to flee. All the humanitarian aid organizations have left, as well as the majority of the volunteers. There are only a handful of independent volunteers that remain to take care of the 8,400 refugees and to stand between the refugees and hostile Greeks. 

              The Turkey/EU deal is about to officially fall apart, thus we are planning for another surge comparible or more than last year. The EU tried their best to say they had a strong handle on the refugee crisis by not allowing them to leave Turkey. Since Turkey is not EU the EU played the card out-of sight, out-of-mind. The African’s have been protesting for two days now, leading to an evacuation of European Asylum Support Office/EASO in the camps. The precedence for asylum seekers is Syrian’s, so many of the other nationalities have been in the detention camp for up to 4 months. They are beginning to lose hope, and feel that they are nobody’s. When the Turkey/EU deal falls apart, Europe will have to acknowledge that they must find a way to accommodate the wave of humanity, not hide them outside their borders or in prison camps.

              The group of volunteers have been amazing. We have almost finished sorting all of the donations, which means that we need donations to start coming back in. The past week I have had the pleasure of having Ion Wolf working with me on projects. The team sorting has been doing so well that I have been able to focus on projects and slowly catch up. There have been several volunteers that I have worked closely that have left, it’s hard saying goodbye to people who are in sync with each other working on the same goal. The amount of work we accomplish as a group was noticeable enough for Medecines Sans Frontiers/Doctors Without Borders to help fund the group. It was a huge victory for the group to know that our toil had not gone unnoticed or appreciated.

              I would like to thank all of my donors who have helped me out. I had a week of stressing out about my funds since we have to pay for housing and transportation now. Your donations relieved a lot of worrying that was compacting on top of everything that I am doing out here. You gave me the ability to breathe again, and also remind me that I am not alone on this. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

7.6.2016

July 6, 2016
I will try to do better at updating my blog more often than one time a week. I often blame my long-hours and exhaustion on my failure to send more than a weekly update. That cannot do because raising awareness is one of the most vital parts of the refugee crisis, as well as letting donors know what I am doing and that their donations are proprieted properly.
 
Since 4th of July has just occurred I think it is proper to explain why I consider volunteering in the refugee crisis a continuation of my mission in the military. The last few years the US was active in Iraq the focus was on counter-terrorism. I was fortunate enough for my leadership to enforce the Commandant of the Marine Corps suggested reading list. One book in particular “How to Eat Soup with  a Knife” by John A. Nagl stuck out, and still does today. This book described lessons learned from the French in Cambodia during the colonizing time-period as well as Mao Tse-Tung during the Communist movement. The purpose of the book was to teach military leaders to counduct counter-terrorism actions with the participation with the nationals in that country.
 
While the majority of the book was focused more on tactics, there was a fair amount that explained how to work with the people and show them that we are not the enemy. By concentrating efforts into “winning the hearts and minds” it mitigates more nationals collaborating with the enemy. By helping the locals/nationals, re-building infrastructures, accessing needs and filling them, and smiling we can offer the locals more than the one option of working with the enemy.
 
My last mission was LF CARAT, Landing Force Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training, where as a joint-military and joint-national force we went to several countries in South East Asia that were predominantly Muslim. Per example, there are more Muslims in Indonesia than there are in Saudia Arabia. This mission was to show the countries that the US is not at war against Islam, that we want to work with them and their fights against radicalism, and to create allies. This helped further my view on Islam as well as taught me that we can either make friends or create enemies.
 
The mission in Iraq was “Winning Hearts and Minds.” The military had begun to rebuild the infrastructure, build mosques and schools, help feed the villages, etc. in Iraq. The government gave up on our mission and the military was pulled out of Iraq before we could finish cleaning up our mess. This allowed ISIS to take advantage of the void in infrastructure. There are many refugees I have talked with about their migration and plans. Many told me the same plan. “I will go to Sweden and if they will not accept me as a human, I will go to Norway. If they do not accept me as a human than I will go to Germany. If they too do not accept me, then I have no option than to return to my home country. I will have no option but to bow to ISIS law and join them since the rest of the world will give me no other option to feed, house, and take care of my family.”
 
If we continue with the xenophobia than all we do is feed the fire of what we fear the most.
 
Volunteering in Samos {AndrewFrania.com}
 
By changing uniforms from coyote-tan digital to reflective vests I can still continue my mission of winning hearts and minds. The thousands of volunteers out here all work together to show the refugees that we accept them with
 
Today was the end of Ramadan, also known as Eid. For those who celebrate Eid, it is comparable to celebrating Christmas. In general, everyone puts on new clothes and the children are given gifts from their parents. Though we could not afford new clothing, everyone in the camp over the past few weeks all received gently-used donated clothes. We had received some prepared bags with coloring books, knick-knacks, and stuffed animals from the organization “High Wycomb” from the UK. We had roughly 150 donated to the “Samos Volunteers” and “Friendly Humans of Samos,” and then prepared another 200 bags.
 
Volunteering in Samos {AndrewFrania.com}
 
UNHCR donated bubbles to add to each bag, Frontex dropped off several large boxes of stuffed animals, and the German rescue team also donated several boxes of teddy bears. The morning of, every parent came and picked up their bag(s) and were able to personally give their child(ren) a gift. We felt it pertinent that we empower the parents as providers on this special occasion.
 
The past week and a half was a furry of planning and preparing for the Eid celebration. Pru and Saleh, from “Calais Action,” invested so much of their time preparing baklava and sweets. They were vital in the planning the event and involving the organizations and volunteers together.
 
Volunteering in Samos {AndrewFrania.com}
 
We spent the evening in the camp telling everyone “Eid Mubarak,” handing out watermelon and dates, distributing the sweets and coffee, making balloon animals, and participating in the celebration. It was a great success and definitely worth the time and effort put into it.
 
This week I had Ion Wolf helping me with different projects in the warehouse. With his help we were able to get the warehouse into ship-shape. This winter the warehouse was past capacity and was hard to re-organize it. Between the amount that has been distributed since then and the lower amount of donations there is much more space and the capability to move things to be better utilized. All together the team volunteering in the camp and warehouse allows me the time to focus on projects instead of focusing on sorting for immediate distribution. I’m blessed to be surrounded by these volunteers.

7.3.2016

July 3, 2016
Though it has been more than three weeks since I arrived in Samos it seems more like three months already. One more week done, and my body can feel it. Every morning I wake up feeling more exhausted than before I fell asleep, but at each day’s end I can fall asleep without any hesitation. Though it has cooled down to the high 90’s, 100 in the afternoon, the sun still takes a toll on our bodies.


I was able to spend the majority of the week focusing on the warehouse. We have been collaborating with several other groups, one in particular, the Dutch Boat Refugee Foundation. I had previously worked with them in Lesvos, Greece on the shores, but now with the decline in new arrivals they have switched to medical work and educational classes in the camp. We were able to inventory the warehouse finally, which raised some alarms as to what we do not have. This helps as different groups visit the warehouse daily in search of items. Sharing a weekly inventory database will save everyone time, gas/money, and also help keep the limited resources available for emergencies.


I finally found time this week to work on a project I had been thinking about for three weeks yet never could find the time to start it. Between myself, Petros, and Ion we were able to build an electric-free air-condition. Many of the cabins at the camp are metal with no air-condition. We can neither afford to put units in their cabins nor do we have full confidence in the wiring throughout the camp. We drilled holes through a board, and cut water-bottles in half.

AndrewFrania.com

Next we inserted the mouth-part of the bottle into the pre-drilled holes and then removed the caps.

AndrewFrania.com

As air moves through the open end of the bottle it both causes the molecules to slow down, thus cooling, as well as forcing the air moving through to speed up causing more of a “breeze.” This concept was developed in Bangladesh a year or two ago and has dropped temperatures inside by up to 9 degrees Fahrenheit. If the prototype works as anticipated, then we will purchase more boards and pre-drill and cut them to each window’s size.

AndrewFrania.com

 

While we can create better quality of life for those in the camps, we can also make use of the empty bottles everywhere, and teach recycling, sustainability, and ingenuity.

AndrewFrania.com


I had a few meetings this week concerning employment with some of the international organizations. Though I am not quite ready to sell out to “the man,” I must devise a long-term plan if I am to continue in the humanitarian field. If I was to make the transition from volunteer to aid-worker I would be able to obtain a one-year work visa as well as benefits and pay. I am conflicted because this decision is mostly based on money.


I primarily spend my off-time at Pizza Di Piazza making use of their free WiFi and their generosity. Many times I do not have to pay my bill because I bring all the volunteers there and because I frequent there often and am friends with the owner and all the staff. The view on the terrace is right on the sea-road thus allowing me the view of the entire city and everyone walking by. Every time I find myself there I am greeted by all the staff, my dear friend Manolis the waiter, and the owner and his wife. The local Greeks who frequent there know me by name and make sure to tell me hello.

Sitting on the terrace allows me to see all the volunteers and refugees walking about It’s hard to go 5 minutes without seeing someone I know, this place makes me feel home and that I belong.


The owner of Pizza Di Piazza, Theopolis, and Manolis both are trying to work on paperwork that would show that I would have a place of employment with them. This will allow me to apply for a one-year work visa. I’ve contemplated returning to university, but also the three weeks here have brought many things to my attention. I am well networked with the local community, refugee community in the camp, the different organizations on the island, and my network of volunteers and organizations I have previously networked with. This fall will mean less volunteers since many are in university and must return. One of the coordinators will have to return to grad school as well. There is a need for long-term volunteers to keep relations intact as well as to ensure that existing operations continue. I believe that a year of continuing volunteering here is much more vital than finishing my studies. Though I can raise more awareness at home, there is a massive need here that is much more important. If the work-visa works then I will have to find donors to pledge monthly to allow me tuo continue for a year.


We do not distribute in the camp on Saturdays unless there are new arrivals. The past few weeks we either had new-arrivals or else an event to plan and prepare for. This Saturday all we needed to do was focus on the warehouse. There were at 15-20 volunteers at the warehouse. Every project I had been intending on working on were accomplished before lunch. There were several different projects going on, yet everyone found the niche that they felt most comfortable with. It was amazing to watch everyone from different backgrounds all working in cohesion on the same goal. We all shared lunch together which was a first to have this big a group in the warehouse or sitting down together. Many volunteers brought a prepared dish, some cooked food while we were working in the warehouse, and all contributed a euro for purchasing certain foods that we needed to complete the meal.


After lunch we continued working in the warehouse for a couple of hours. Most of us were in a food-coma as well as feeling the energy spent combined with the sun. We all met at the local football/soccer stadium that evening. We had a team of volunteers and refugee volunteers play against the refugee team. The volunteers lost 1-4 but everyone won. It was a huge success and now there’s rumors of this becoming a weekly event. This would allow for solidarity between the volunteers and refugees, allow us to find a common ground, give the refugees in the camp something to watch and enjoy, and for the volunteers it allows them to spend time with their refugee friends outside of work. We finished our night at Pizza Di Piazza, a table of French, Belgians, Brits, Syrians, Palestinians, Iraqis, Burundi’s, Sudanese, Nigerians, Somalians, Romanians, Americans, Spanish, Germans, Dutch, etc. all breaking bread together. I struggle to find more beautiful moments in life than one like last night.


I would like to thank all of you for following my blog and for those who have made donations. I have had several people tell me that they read every post and that is a huge encouragement to me. There are days that the human in me is depressed, exhausted, struggling to find strength. I always get a note of encouragement, someone telling me thank you, a post telling me that I inspire them, a donation, a hug from my mom via a volunteer I work with. Without these I would be hard pressed to continue sometimes. There are times that there are other volunteers here who start to hit a low and I often find myself quoting a message sent to me earlier in the day. Thank you all for being here for me, for your donations, for your notes of encouragement, for your solidarity with humanity.

6.26.2016

June 26, 2016

              I woke up today to another beautiful day here on Samos, Greece. We attempt to take our Sundays off, unless new arrivals show up the day before. Yesterday was one of the few days that we did not have new arrivals so today the majority of the team took the day off. We had 41 arrivals this morning. It takes half the day for the new arrivals registration, by the time that we can have access to them it’s well into the afternoon. We can only assess the critical needs because by high afternoon, the building we distribute out of is several degrees warmer than the outside temperature of 110 degrees. With the sun heating up the metal building, it becomes unbearable, almost impossible to work inside of the cabin.

              I have been absent from the warehouse for the past few days. Three days ago we had 78 new arrivals we needed to distribute to. We had set up a new system in the distribution cabin, to both streamline distribution as well as to keep track of who receives what items since we are running direly low on several items. I find distribution mentally and psychologically exhausting in comparison to any other volunteer work I have had the opportunity to be a part of. In half a day, I interact with more people than I do in a month back home. 

              After 3 days of testing our new system at the warehouse, we decided that there were a few more things that needed to be adjusted. Two volunteers, Paul and Melanie, with the aid of one of  refugee-helpers, spent the day reorganizing the cabin. Paul has a 26 year-old Soviet bike with a sidecar which happened to be the only resource we had for moving shelves from our warehouse to the distribution cabin. The look the Greeks gave us as we were driving holding on to the shelves strapped to the sidecar. I’m not sure if they were more intrigued by the bike and side-car or the contraption of straps and shelves balancing on top.

              This past Thursday the UK voted to leave the EU. The biggest reason was about immigration, both the immigration of the Eastern-European countries, but more directly because of xenophobia. This decision will have little impact on the older generations, but will affect the younger generations the most. They have already seen a drop in the British pound on Friday, the lowest it has dropped in 30 years. The American Dollar has strengthened, which seem good, but it means that exports from the US will decrease. Domestic products will become more expensive for the American consumer, while imports will become cheaper. I had to chuckle at Donald Trumps’ tweet about the Brexit vote as he landed in Scotland. “@realDonaldTrump- Just arrived in Scotland. Place is going wild over the vote. They took their country back, just like we will take America back. No games!” Apparently the man who wishes to run America failed to keep up on current events or failed some geography classes, for Scotland voted to stay in the EU. 

              While I have 3 month’s reprieve from the American politics, Clinton and Trump still lead many of the dinner conversations with refugees, volunteers, and local Greeks. The world is terrified of what will happen if he is elected, as well as concerned how America got to the point that he is one of the two best options America has to represent them. 

The backlashing has already become apparent as fellow American citizen friends have been ostracized for their ethnicity, of which they were neither Muslim or middle-eastern. By skin color they were categorized as not-belonging, though they were born and raised in America. One was a fellow military veteran who received both racial slurs as well as trash thrown at him. Even here I have felt some pressure from the rising xenophobia in the US. To be told, “I was born in this country, you weren’t, this is my country boy,” really shatters the core of a person. While I should not let words get to me, it devastates me to know that this is how many people in the states feel. This coming from someone who know me, that knew of my service to my country in the US Marine Corps, who has done nothing to contribute to our nation, felt like a stab in my back once again from my country I hail as home. 

Though the actions of a few do not represent the actions of the whole, it troubles me to think that any work my fellow volunteers and I do is of any use. If those from our own home countries do not accept those who already live there, how can we expect them to accept and allow those we are helping to integrate into our society? For several hours I spiraled into depression, shaking and confused, trying to hold back tears, and refraining from screaming to the sky about the injustices of the world. I had a moment of weakness and contemplated returning home, because I felt what we were doing was fruitless. I had so many friends, family, and fellow volunteers reach out to me at my time of need and was able to find some peace. Yet, the issue will continue to nag at me, for there are those in the country I fought for, grew up in, that will never accept me as American simply due to race and where I was born. 

I cannot end on such a negative point. Two nights ago my friends Saleh and Pru purchased some watermelons for their café in the camp. With the aid of the “Friendly Humans of Samos” we were able to distribute 500 slices of watermelon with the tea/chai and coffee, a most welcome surprise for those in the camp. It was quite the task cutting 8 watermelons up into 500 slices with nothing but a table-knife and fish filet knife, but well worth seeing the joy and happiness. Thank you all for your donations that made it possible to purchase items that are needed, fund the volunteers to continue our work, and for the opportunity to occasionally make purchases just to spread kindness and make smiles. Keep it up, for if it were not for giving souls like yourselves, none of this could happen.

Changing the World One Community at a Time