Tag Archives: Samos

3.5.2017 Leaving Greece

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

2.17.2017

February 17, 2017
   
    I’ve made my decision, while difficult and with much thought, I will be ending my mission here in Greece. It was 14 months ago I started volunteering in Greece, and over 8 months ago that I returned to Samos. When I began in Greece at Lesvos it was during the crisis, and the return to Samos was to fill the gaps until the mandated government organizations could stand on their own feet. While there are still gaps and needs here, they are minimal and easily overcome. Refugees have always come to Greece and always will, but I can no longer rationalize my presence here.
    It will be a tearful goodbye, for Samos has been my home. As a coordinator for Samos Volunteers I will miss the dynamics of the group, the amazing volunteers, and being part of one of the most crucial groups on the island. I have created life-long friends, learned about myself and others, cried, laughed, and gave my 110%. I shall leave with my head high, for what was accomplished as a group is monumental.
    I have a few more tasks to finish before I must bid my absence, one of which is the direction of Samos Volunteers. Since Samos Volunteers is not a registered organization, there is not a board of directors. Rather the leadership and decision making must fall on the shoulders of the coordinators, long-term volunteers, former volunteers and coordinators, and on our donors. We are responsible to the donors, refugees, and volunteers. There are some dynamics I will updated in the next post, but until then I must honor discretion until we can go public.
    Samos Volunteers will continue here; while I will be leaving, there are two coordinators who have been here for quite some time, as well as a new education coordinator. The group hopes to focus more in pyscho-social activities like creating an informal learning center (school) and activities that are beneficial to the people here. I look forward to what Samos Volunteers will do, and perhaps in the future I will take some time to see how the group is doing.
    Perhaps the question now is, what am I doing after Samos? I will be heading to Uganda at the beginning of March. 26% of the world’s refugees, or 18 million refugees are located in E. Africa. Since Uganda is considered the “best country to be a refugee” this will be the launch point for myself and several other volunteers to begin our next mission. There are several corporations that want to be a part of the next mission, as well as about 50 volunteers I have worked with from different Greek islands. Before sending everyone to Uganda, it is pertinent that the idea of an infrastructure, permission from the government, etc. is in place. So this is not the end of my blog, but rather a new chapter.

2.13.2017

February 13, 2017

 

    I had to take some time off of updating my blog; I had hit a writer’s block and become destitute of inspiration. It was not that there was a void in occurrences in the camp, but rather I have looked at the same environment with the same eyes. Either I felt I was continuously transcribing repetitive information,and/or because what I was seeing daily through accustomed eyes had calloused my ability to view life from different view-point.

 

    This past week I took a week holiday from Samos. My brother Jonathon had received his papers to leave the island after almost 11 months, and I rationalized with myself that I was far due for a slight reprieve in my volunteering routine. In total the ferry trip would have cost me 24 hours of my 67 hour holiday if I had returned Wednesday morning. It was 4pm/1600hrs on Monday when I arose from my 15 hour slumber. It was at that moment that it dawned on me the past 8 months had exhausted me. I chose to extend my holiday until the Friday afternoon ferry, which I cannot regret.

 

    Jonathon as I had prior stated, has been on the island for almost 11 months. He was one of the boys that I had told I would not leave until I had seen him leave first. He was my younger brother, one of my closest confidents, a true volunteer in spirit and action, and a true friend. At one point this summer he had called his family and told them not to worry about him, for he had a Bapa/Papa here who was taking care of him. I was deeply touched by that, as was the entirety of the African community. Now everyone in the African community refers to me as “Bapa” for while I take care of their own, they have seen that I am there for them as well.

 

    There was a throng of volunteers at the ferry to bid Jonathon adieu. The last couple of months volunteering had transformed Jonathon into a leader both in the distribution cabin and at the warehouse. It was his dedication and enthusiasm in his work that touched the hearts and souls of all the volunteers who came to his send-off. One could not find a dry-eye in the group. Since the ferry departure conflicted with the church service, Jonathon spent an ample portion of his morning in gratitude for the blessing of moving forward, as well as requesting blessing on the next chapter of his life. As we had just finished saying goodbye to everyone and were about to board the ferry, Jonathon took one more look at the group and the island, and broke into tears; I was grateful that my eyes were hidden behind sunglasses, for this was the moment Jonathon needed me most.

 

    This was my first time off of the island in 8 months. I knew I was running a risk since my visa is expired, but I was determined to ensure that Jonathon was established in Athens. Every community volunteer was stuck in Athens, and I dearly missed my “kids.” Boarding the ferry was a challenge, one look at my skin color, and every police officer, coast guard, and Frontex were instantly asking me for my refugee-papers. My passport closely scrutinized to enusre it wasn’t a fake, yet still they struggled to understand how a person of my skin color was on the island without being a refugee.

 

    I have never been deeply impressed with Athens, and this trip failed to give rise to my expectations of the city. Athens is one of the dirtiest cities I have been in, with homeless Greeks and refugees on every street, grafitti destroying every wall, and addicts shooting up in front of the police. The refugees in Athens have nothing to do as they wait for Greece to grant them thier papers, so they must wander the streets or sit in their desolate flats for months on end. The Greek economy still has yet to recover so any jobs available will be afforded to the Greeks before any newcomers.

 

    It was a blessing to reunite with all the community volunteers: Mustafa, Abdullah, Danail, Mahmoud, Mikail, Ziad, Reem, Jana, Raneem, Sam, and Mohammed. I had spent more time with them than the rest of the volunteers who had come from abroad. We all met for dinner downtown Athens and had a wonderful dinner and conversation together. I was fortunate to make it to Athens, For Jana, Raneem, and their two sisters were to leave for Germany 2 days later. Neither of the 4 girls were over 16, and were about to see their father for the first time in 3 years.

    After 6 days of 12-15 hours of sleep a day, the time had come to return to Samos. All of the people I had visited, I will see again inshallah. I hope to see them all before I leave Greece, but look forward to seeing them wherever they end up at. It was sad leaving, they all came to the ferry to send me off. I watched them waving goodbye, until they could no longer see me. I wish you all good luck, and that you find your ways. Love from your Bapa.

1.8.2016

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

12.22.2016

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

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.