Tag Archives: volunteering in Samos

10.13.2016

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

10.8.2016

October 8, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9.29.2016

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

9.26.2016

September 26, 2016

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

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

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

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

9.9.2016

September 9, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9.5.2016

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

 

 

8.28.2016

August 28, 2016

It has been an extremely long week. The pressure of the long-term volunteers and coordinating group leaving has increased the work load for both Bogdan and for myself. While I still am focused on the warehouse, I find myself absent from it ever so much. My day is busy with phone calls, Facebook chat groups, and meeting with people in a hectic coordination schedule. This past week is the final week of the majority of short-term volunteers which will make coordination of human-resources much easier. We can focus less on explaining why or why not we do things, showing volunteers where to be, introducing volunteers to key people from other groups. The next week we will be slashed to half of our group. While we may have to increase some work individually, we will also be able to be a more sustainable, impactful group.

This week everything has been in place for the winter stock to begin its organization. Bogdan and I have begun to plan a way to implement our winter clothing distribution while still continuing the normal clothing distribution. Since we have reached the point of less volunteers and less donations to sort we can focus from daily warehouse activities to perhaps once or twice a week in the warehouse. I’ll of course be there somewhat daily to meet the needs of other organizations and our daily restock. I have a rough estimation of what we have for the winter, and I do not think we will have the same issue of low stock like we did this past winter. Last winter we ran low on scarves, gloves, and hats. I have a surplus from shipments that arrived late in the spring, as well as several thousand sets from an organization that is leaving. The one thing we may be wanting will be winter jackets, hopefully I will have a more concise picture within the weeks’ end.

The camp is almost at half the residents that were there the beginning of the summer. This is a huge aid due to our shortage of volunteers. It is a strange feeling walking into the camp not seeing tents crammed everywhere, people congregated in the few open spots, and masses of children thronging to me as I drive up on my moped. Most of the group now has been here for several months, some up to 6 months now. There are so many familiar faces, and a handful of new faces. Each week we still see new arrivals, and the numbers are slowly picking up. All of these faces carry a sad look, with a slight air of hopelessness. It’s the faces that they see on a regular basis that help them through each day as well. We both need each other to carry on with each day's task.

These past couple of months I have struggled as to what to post on this blog. I am not an active presence in the camp, but more of a logistics and administrative actor. My day-to-day is more focused on how to keep the operation going long-term and sustainably. I am going to add weekly a short story of how two people came to meet each other in Samo, Greece. Each time one person will be represented by a displaced person, and the other person will be a volunteer. Depending on indiviual and family's permission, there may be some stories with no picture or just a picture without volunteering a face for protection reasons. I hope this will help show the human in each of us know matter what nation or region of the world we call home.

If any of you are interested in volunteering, we could use help in the upcoming months. As summer draws to an end, many of the volunteers must end their holiday and return to university or work. By next week our team will be slashed in half from the usual number of volunteers we had all summer. While any amount of time is appreciated and well needed, we are looking for volunteers to come especially for 3 weeks minimum. It takes almost a week to understand the processes we have in place. It is a life changing experience and the opportunity's to use whatever talents you have are endless. We need people with initiative, ideas, and creativity. If you would like to help but cannot, please consider contributing either to my GoFund me or PayPal to help make purchases for refugee needs and to support the volunteer infrastructure. The world needs each and everyone of you in whatever way you can help: someone to stand up and help, a voice to be there for those who can not be heard, or supporting by helping in donations and contributions.


Thank you from Samos, Greece.

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.