Day 1 at Camp…or Not! Volunteering in a Refugee Camp

This post is originally from September 25, 2019

What can I say about the last few days? Yesterday was Monday and it was supposed to be my first day working in Ritsona Camp. We all got up, had breakfast and were ready to go when we got a call that there was ‘a situation’ at camp. It turns out the situation had escalated and due to protocol we weren’t allowed to come to volunteer that day. Basically if there is any sort of threat within the camp all precautions are taken and volunteers are evacuated. Seeing that we weren’t even there yet, we just had the day off.

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All I know right now is that the door to the Female Friendly Space was broken down. The Female Friendly Space is a bone of contention with a lot of the men in the camp. Basically it’s a safe space where women can go. The majority of the residents in the camp are Syrians, Kurdish, Iraqi and Afghani. (There are also some from different countries in Africa too.) Obviously with the Islamic culture you have to deal with the difference in gender equality and for a lot of these families, women have very little say. Maria and Xenia (the other two volunteers) have said that they will often see a women who is 7 months pregnant doing all the work and carrying all the bags while the husband is nowhere to be seen. Having the Female Friendly Space is a  place where they can get away and have a break from all the work. Here they have people come in and teach them English, lawyers who help them navigate seeking asylum and midwives coming to explain birth and child development. Then they also have fun things like arts and crafts, yoga, facials etc. Because it’s so controversial the centre is situated just at the edge of camp with a fence around it so nobody can see who is seeking this service. It seems so simple for a women to take time for herself but for these men it is extremely threatening to have women go and learn these skills. Maria has worked at the Female Friendly Space for 6 weeks now and has seen the transformation of some of the women. Slowly she is gaining their trust and she has been able to see small breakthroughs with the women. One story that stands out is that she saw one of the lady’s daughters playing with a few boys. The boys told her she couldn’t do something because she was a girl and the little girl stood up to him and said ‘no, girls can do anything that boys can do!’ It certainly shows how educating and empowering a women truly is educating a new generation.

Anyway, because we had a free day off I was able to catch up on some much needed sleep and then in the afternoon Lucy and I walked into the town. The streets are not in square blocks so the two of us got terribly lost.  It seemed like we had been walking for ages and at one point walked next to an abandoned building that smelled so rank you’d think there could be dead bodies inside.

Eventually we found the ocean and spent a few hours gazing at the sea while having a delicious lemonade at a cute cafe. On the way back to the apartment we came across the ultimate crazy cat lady. There could have easily been 20-30 cats surrounding her while she fed them all. I do remember from my last trip to Greece that there are no shortage of cats here, so seeing this woman bring food for them truly made my heart pitter patter.

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Getting lost on the way to the ocean…

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Lovely Chalkida

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Lucy found her hotel!

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I love how this lady makes her own cat food and feeds all the neighborhood cats. The world needs more like her!!!

 

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