December 8, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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