Back to Reality ~ Working in a Refugee Camp

This post is originally from September 30, 2019

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So a little continuation from yesterday …

As you already know, yesterday the four of us decided to hike up to a monastery. Half way through I wimped out and decided to turn back as my bummed ankle was not working in my favor. The girls continued on and by the looks of their photos they were able to capture amazing views of Hydra. When they reached the top, the Monks gave them wraps to cover their legs but good ‘ol Lucy thought she had to drape it over her head. Do you know what the Monk told her? ‘Don’t do that – you’re not Al Qaida!’ Man I wish I could have been there to see that!

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I’m not sure what is my favorite thing about this photo is – the water bottle in the middle of the picture, or the top of the church cut off!

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So as luck would have it I have Facebook to thank for connecting me with friends I’ve met in the past. This time my reunion took place in Athens after we took the ferry back from Hydra. I was able to meet up with my friend Kim who I met 20 years ago. She was a student nurse in Edmonton who was in Canada for school and we’ve kept in touch ever since. She is originally from Holland and about 4 years after she went back, my parents went to Holland and got to spend a day with her in my dad’s hometown of Nimegen . Since then she has been all over the world but has spent the majority of her time in Australia where she is now a permanent resident. Anyway, she’s spent this year traveling again and just so happened to be in Greece at the same time as me. To pin it down even further, we’d be in Athens on the exact same day. Seeing Kim again was so exciting. Even though our visit was so short I can’t be more grateful. Thank you Facebook!

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Today was back to camp life. This week we are supposed to go to Athens for a few days to help with the crisis that’s happening there. Basically heaps of boats are coming in and the amount of refugees have skyrocketed. Many refugees have been squatting in Athens and last week the government rounded them up and took them all to a prison that was converted into a camp. Apparently they only left with the clothes on their backs and the situation is dire. The problem with going in and helping on the front-line is that we can’t get the green light from the government. There is so much red tape that now we are told it might take weeks before we are allowed in. Obviously because I am going home on Saturday it looks like I will miss this opportunity. I’m really bummed as I wanted to go so badly and see a different side of the crisis. Ritsona Camp is more of a long-term camp, where as in Athens it would probably be more chaotic but helping those who need help immediately.  We have been told that with the influx of boats reaching Lesvos this weekend the government has had to stop what they’re doing in Athens and fight the fires there. And speaking of fires there literally was a massive fire that broke out at one of the camps just the other day. The camp capacity was meant for 3000 and now it has over 13 000!!! It was also recorded that a mother and her child drowned this weekend on their way over. It truly is unfathomable how immense the problem is.

So as we were getting into camp today we were told that the FFS (Female Friendly Space) had been broken into again –  but this time everything was stolen from inside. It is so disheartening because it’s like one step forward and two steps back. Now I’m not sure if the FFS will reopen any time soon. There is so much tension in the camp and today at the distribution ‘shop’ it was like there was a full moon – so much shouting and shockingly we had a kid crawl up on top of the shelving units and shimmy over to the backside to steal what we had in the warehouse. Then a little while later a woman ripped through the ‘wall’ so she could reach her hand through and steal whatever was on the other side. I understand they don’t have much, but there’s so much fighting over material things and it makes it so hard to feel like what we are doing is even useful. There are definitely moments when you get someone who smiles and is grateful but the overall feel is that nobody is grateful for what they are given and at times I feel like we are not even wanted there.  I get it, they have gone through more than I can even imagine and are not given papers to travel for at least two years so it must seem hopeless. But there is such a difference in the reception of volunteers here than when I was working in Tanzania 10 years ago. I have to realize that the two situations are very different. In Tanzania, although the people didn’t have much at least they had their freedom and dignity. I feel like those living here have been stripped away of so much. Yes, they finally might be safe, but life as they knew it is completely upside down.

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Helping unload a truck full of donations.

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This is the lock that was broken to get into the Female Friendly Space. I am not sure how they cut through that metal.

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This is in the ‘shop’ where residents can come get used clothing. As you can see, the shelves are pretty bare.

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And here we are trying on some donated glasses.

Anyway, let’s see what tomorrow holds…

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