I’m off to the Greek Islands - what's not to like?!

I consider myself fairly well travelled and the Greek Islands are one of my favourite holiday destinations.

But this time there’s a difference.

I’m travelling in winter, and I’m volunteering for a week with the UK based humanitarian aid charity - Hope and Aid Direct (H&AD).

 

This charity collects aid & drives it in truck convoys directly to where the need is, often those enduring horrific conditions in refugee camps, for example Kosovo, Serbia & Greece. Vulnerable individuals & families are identified by partner NGO's in country who assist in delivering the aid to the neediest.

H&AD has the strap line – TAKING AID NOT SIDES. https://www.hopeandaiddirect.org.uk/

Hope & Aid Direct

H&AD is 100% volunteer led and funded. Thank you to my friends & family who made donations to H&AD for my noughty birthday recently. Also, Steve Walsh, friend & Trustee who got me in this mess.

A week or so ago, I received a call from Charles Storer (MBE & Trustee, for whom I believe this work has been largely a 20 year full time (unpaid) job), to check on my preparedness. When I asked him about what I could share with folk at home , he encouraged me to tell everyone about the work of H&AD and the other organisations, and about the conditions in the camps. Hence my little blog.  I'm not much of a techie so I hope it works!

Another time .... another war

This charity is close to my heart since my Mum experienced the trauma of being a refugee,escaping conflict in Eastern Finland (Karelia). She (along with nearly half a million evacuees), had to flee under distressing conditions in the1941 Winter War when she was 12 years old, and then again in 1944 (having returned briefly to their homeland), when the Finns finally ceded the land to the Russians. The evacuees were eventually settled elsewhere in Finland (and financially compensated to a degree), so although there was a certain amount of resentment, it was not like the utter despair faced by many of today’s people fleeing their homeland ,and facing rejection, hatred and humiliation wherever they go.

Fleeing Karelia 1941

I’m what’s known as a ‘flyer’. I’m not sure what I’m letting myself in for but I believe I’ll spend a lot of time helping unload and reload the trucks and help distribute the aid – along with other volunteers, locally based charities and the refugees themselves. More later …….

Mum quietly carried this trauma all her life. As she was dying in late 2015, she was most distressed by the Syrian refugee crisis, commenting that their exodus reminded her very much of her own experience.

Give me Sisu

II feel honoured and humbled to have this opportunity to maybe help a little bit.

I also feel apprehensive  about what this week will bring. Me – a (late!) middle aged, rather unfit, mother of 4 – working alongside a bunch of strangers in, I know not what conditions – will I cope?

 

But my mother was one of the strongest, most indomitable people I have ever known – true Finnish ‘Sisu’.

So Mum watch over me, and help me cope with this week 😊


Day 1 - And I’m off!

It’s 5am & I’m all checked in, waiting for my flight to Athens (thank you Andrew for the lift at this ungodly hour and for your love & support).

 

In Athens I’ll connect with 3 other flyers (flying from Luton) – Janice (my room buddy) & Lance & Diane. We will be  9 HA&D volunteers on this convoy (all self-funded), 4 flyers and 5 drivers – Chas & Bev, Anthony, Shaun and Roddy left UK a week ago with 3 fully laden trucks (two 7.5-ton trucks and one articulated lorry affectionately named Robin Hood, Frantic & Solent Challenger). They have made the long journey down to Greece across many snowy mountainous miles.

 

A week before that Roddy collected  aid from across the UK (much generously donated from commercial companies), and then teams of volunteers loaded the trucks. So I feel quite guilty just turning up when so much work has already been done

Ready for the off

The only constant is change

The whole operation has to be flexible as many factors can affect the progress of the convoy. Initially we flyers were due to meet the trucks in Athens and all travel together to our first camp on the island of Lesvos. However, a Greek ferry company offered a significant discount for the trucks from the port of Kavala in Thessaloniki, and then the trucks made better than expected progress so they actually crossed to Lesvos last night and we will meet them tomorrow. This is H&AD 3rd aid convoy to Greece this year.

On to the ferry with the trucks

It’s going to be a long day!

So tonight, we flyers take the overnight ferry from Athens to Lesvos. Some of us are hoping to secure a cabin but if not, a reclining chair will have to do. Just hope we can get some reasonable sleep as it’s a 6am start tomorrow for a full day of work!

Just one of the trucks that needs unloading

Some facts and figures. This is why Hope & Aid Direct do what they do, day in and day out

Over 68.5 million people around the globe have had to flee their homes since end of World War II

· Most people remain displaced within their home countries, but about 25.4 million people worldwide have fled to other countries as refugees. More than half of refugees are children

. 158 countries or territories worldwide are hosting refugees.

· 85% of the world’s refugees are sheltered by developing countries.

· 11.3 million refugees are hosted by these 10 countries (Turkey, Pakistan, Uganda, Lebanon, Iran, Germany, Ethiopia, Jordan, Sudan, DR Congo).

· Currently refugees make up 0.18% of the UK population .

. In 2017 Britain received less than 4% of all asylum claims made in the EU.

· Of the 14,166 people granted asylum, protection and resettlement in 2017, 5,953 were under 18 years old.

· Over 13 million people had been forcibly displaced from their homes in Syria by the end of 2017, of whom 5.6 million are refugees.

. 12,851 people from Syria have been resettled in Britain since the conflict began.

· As of June 2018, 67,122 people arrived in Europe via sea. Just under half were women and children. In the same period 1,549 men, women and children lost their lives during their attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea.

 

Sources UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) & British Red Cross - 2018

Land ahoy!

A good flight with amazing views across snowy Alps, a quick dinner in a port cafe in Athens and a long ferry journey to Lesvos and land is now in sight. Excited and nervous.

We were met at Athens airport for a ‘quick coffee’ by Negia who coordinates various agencies across Greece and the islands.. Coffee turned into a 2 hour fascinating conversation.  Negia helps not just refugees but many vulnerable people with minimal resources.  An amazing lady who makes sure things happen

Day 2 - First day of work

After meeting up with the 5 drivers we set off for work passing the main camp on the island. Our first sight of Moria camp left those of us who’d not seen it before a little subdued. It’s quite shocking to see people living in such conditions, raising their children behind barbed wire - even though they are technically free to come & go .... but where to? They’re stuck out in the hills in the middle of nowhere.

 

So the day was spent mostly unloading the lorries & stacking boxes in the warehouse of an incredible organisation called Attica Human  Support, a few miles from Moria camp. Their Greek, international and refugee workers and volunteers have been distributing aid to ‘order’. for 3 years. 

 

https://www.attikahumansupport.org/copy-of-home

 

https://www.facebook.com/1025571667507571/posts/2186296541435072/

A lot of boxes to unload 🙄

Tony said load them 8 boxes high?! 😫

A forklift truck comes in very useful sometimes

I ❤️ Banana boxes!

Bev & the pumpy trolley

Distributing the aid

There’s a well organised system where refugee families, NGOs & those in need WhatsApp what they are needing to Attica.  Currently there’s up to a month before their requirements may be met. 

 

I was ‘lucky’ enough to be invited down to Moria to watch a distribution. Those whose turn it is to receive aid, are given a number & told what time to meet at the gate. As their number is called, they show their WhattsApp message & then receive their box. Others come in the hope that they may get something but the strict process has to be followed in order to be fair to everyone. They turn away in disappointment but not once did  we see any anger.

 

One of the many challenges for the refugees is how little there is for them to do for the months & years that they may wait for their asylum application to be heard.  I saw a big group of young men gathered,  then watched in surprise as the Red Cross produced tables & chairs & they all sat down to play chess 😄

A WhattsApp Aid order

Packing the aid orders for families

Moria

Waiting for the distribution

Red Cross

Some Moria camp facts:

Moria camp, in Lesbos, was built as a prison and has a maximum capacity of 2,700 people. It currently holds around 7,000 people (& during 2018 has at times held over 10,000 people).

 

A third of these are children, many alone, living in appalling conditions. · Moria fails to meet just about every standard set by UNHCR.

 

New arrivals are crammed into shipping containers and flimsy tents.

 

· Washroom facilities at Moria are appallingly inadequate. More than 84 people share one shower and one toilet. Sanitary conditions do not uphold humanitarian standards. There is no privacy. Water is not available 24/7.

 

.Last year, the mayor of Lesbos, Spyros Galinos, warned that the facility was starting to resemble “concentration camps, where all human dignity is denied”.

 

. Moria camp was meant to be a "reception and identification centre", rather than a refugee camp housing people for extended periods of time. It does not meet the standards required to be an official camp. In the worst cases, some people have been there for two years.

 

· More than 70% are families from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

· Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontiers, recently named Moria Refugee Camp as the worst camp in the world and said that children as young as 10 were trying to take their lives inside Moria camp.

 

Yes Dr Alessandro Barberio, clinical psychiatrist, MSF, Lesbos project: “In all of my years of medical practice, I have never witnessed such overwhelming numbers of people suffering from serious mental health conditions, as I am witnessing now amongst refugees on the island of Lesbos.” https://www.msf.org/moria-state-emergency

Day 3 - An emotional day

Today I cried a bit. I’m told most do in this situation at some time. It wasn’t so much the miserable and squalid conditions that the refugees are living in ..... although they are miserable and squalid, it’s the utter devotedness, compassion, selflessness & humanity demonstrated by so many of the people here from different small organisations.

 

There’s Aris who heads up Attika Human Support, the main hub through which almost all aid comes onto Lesvos and is distributed. He gave up a professional career and life in Singapore, initially just for a few weeks ‘by which time the crisis would be over’. 3 years later he still works all hours entirely unpaid while needing £6000/month to run the warehouse, 2 vehicles and house the refugees & volunteer helpers. https://www.attikahumansupport.org/

 

Chas & Aris with rice donated to our lunch hosts

Grassroots charities

As we unload and sort out the aid (leaving enough for our onward journey to camps in Chios & mainland Greece), many volunteers from small NGOs come by Attikas warehouse to pick it up for the many small projects here that truly make such a difference.

 

Louise who was so delighted with the sewing machine & school stationery from Together for Better Days, a place where families can have a few hours respite and women can receive psycho social support and the many unaccompanied children some schooling. https://www.betterdays.ngo/about-us/

 

Shaun, an absolute hero who volunteers tirelessly with Watershed, literally fixing & building toilets and wash facilities and trying to provide access to clean water across the camps. https://watershed-foundation.de/

School items for Louise at Better Days

Shaun from Watershed

Home for a Day

For lunch we went to a restaurant that has been set up to let 60 refugees feel at ‘Home for a Day’.

 

Families get picked up for either the morning or the afternoon and receive either a home cooked lunch or evening meal. There is friendship, toys and games for the children, a beach, music and space to ‘be’.

 

Nikos & his wife who run this project along with many other volunteers, also prepare a carefully selected individually named gift for each guest - toiletries, toys, items of clothing, tied up in a bundle. The package includes a hot water bottle. Many refugees sleep in summer weight tents & earlier this year when H&AD were here, 3  refugees died of hypothermia. Nikos & Katarinas utter passion and devotion to this is incredibly humbling.

 

We had an emotional conversation with Vincent,  a refugee who was just so grateful to have just a few hours respite away from the craziness of the camp and seemed overwhelmed when we asked him about his journey to get here. https://www.homeforaday.gr/about-us

Preparing gifts for the refugee guests

Including a hot water bottle (it’s cold at night)

A record of just some of the gifts donated

A dolly to play with ❤️

A few hours of ‘normality’

Refugee for Refugees

Late afternoon we loaded up a truck and took it to the warehouse of a charity called Refugee for Refugees.

 

Omar set up this project after gaining refugee status in Germany but decidied to come back to help others.

 

To cross from Turkey by ferry for us it is a 10 euro ferry ride. For the people smuggled refugees, it is a minimum of 1500 euros each.

 

Despite severe leg injuries, Omar SWAM to Lesvos from Turkey with 2 others including a non swimmer. The journey took him 14 hours.

 

This charity runs a ‘free shop’ for refugees to give them a little bit of the ‘normality” of a ‘shopping experience ‘.  Refugees  are given tickets & at their allotted time taken to the shop and allowed the dignity of being able to select their own clothing items.

 

A tiny bit of near normality for them. https://refugee4refugees.org/ .

Refugee for Refugees - the shop

The few words devoted to each of the above utterly diminishes what these amazing volunteers do and have done selflessly for months and years. And working alongside them are always refugees trying to give back ........ and many thousands more desperate for their help.


Day 4 - Pallets & Trucks

So I now know all there is to know about pallets, I can fix the hooky things around the truck & I can even manoeuvre the pumpy thing. A whole new world has opened up to me!

 

What looks a bit like chaos is actually super organised  - unloading the trucks, moving boxes, reloading for distribution to other projects & camps ...... There’s constant comings and going’s with various agencies coming to stock up on what they need - sleeping bags, pasta, nappies and so on.

We will get this in!

No Borders Kitchen - packs for refugees in temporary homes

Medicines Sans Frontieres

Chas chatting to Christine Lamb - Sunday Times journalist

An industrial washing machine delivered to the organisation Better Days

Hand knitted baby blankets ❤️

Handbags filled with nice items for ladies

Neal's Yard soap

The essentials- sanitary items & football boots

So that’s what happens to our stuff

3 of us jumped ship for a few hours today to work with Attika volunteers  making up orders. There is a real when selecting items to fulfil an order for each person in a family, personalised to gender & age - a coat, pair of shoes, 3 jumpers, 2 long sleeved tops, 2 short sleeved tops, underwear, a towel, toiletries etc per person. It felt really important to choose just the right t-shirt, boots etc for example for a 15 year old boy. For each child, of course a few toys are added to complete the pack By the time we’d sealed & labelled the boxes ready for distribution later today, we really felt we knew the family ❤️

 

It is fascinating unpacking boxes of aid collected by regular folk across the UK and Europe. Last year I was overwhelmed when I put out a call for aid and spent quite a while sorting this into the ubiquitous banana boxes. It’s so rewarding to see what happens to these generous donations.

Family order

Preparing orders

Allocations

Choosing toys

Which welly boots?

One Happy Family

On the way to the port this afternoon we called at ‘One Happy Family’, a social centre where refugees can come for activities, gym, sports, watch films etc. It’s not David Lloyd or CineWorld but when you have nothing.....

 

A tiny kitchen run by refugees serves 600 meals each day and there’s a women’s centre, kids play area and classrooms in the School of Peace. They say at the staff meals in the evenings (all volunteers, many refugees), there may be 30 people of 20 nationalities.

 

One Happy Family is a truly happy place and clearly a sanctuary for the many families that go there, despite the 45 minute walk each way from Moria camp.

Womens centre

600 meals daily served from this tiny kitchen by these refugee vols

Activity timetable

One Happy Playground

The gym

Our next destination .......

So now we’re on the ferry for the 3 hour journey to our next island Chios. Christmas preparations & Brexit (we got the latest from a Sunday Times journalist we spoke with today!), seem a world away. 


Loading the trucks on the ferry for Chios

Day 5 - Stormy Seas

We arrived in a cold & windy Chios late evening & it seemed somewhat furtive rendezvousing in the dark with the aid organisation CESRT (Chios Eastern Shore Response Team) in a lay-by, by the shore where we left the 3 trucks for the night.

 

Picking up the trucks in the morning we gazed sombrely at the rough sea,  with Turkey just a few miles across the water . You can’t help but wonder at the desperation that drives people to pay an extortionate fee to take their families (or sometimes send their unaccompanied children) to what they hope is safety and a better life.

 

The last landing was just after midnight the day we arrived. One lady was unconscious with hypothermia. A young girl spent an hour submerged in water up to her chest before she could be rescued.. The day before a boat with 54 people,  of which 26 were children,  landed. Those that make the crossing, wade through the water to the boat , so are wet before they set off (sometimes by gunpoint from the smugglers after they realise the inadequacy & overcrowding of the boat that they have paid a small fortune for). It is extremely lucrative for the smugglers. With a journey that may take from 20 minutes to 10 hours (engines frequently fail), by the time they reach land they are freezing & frequently traumatised.

 

There are strict rules about pick up of those that do make it across the sea. Most vessels get intercepted and turned back. CESRT maintain a good relationship with the port police and Frontex (EU border agency) and are therefore permitted to attend landings and offer dry clothes and support but are not allowed to enter the water to assist, partly to prevent panic and capsize of the vessel. They are on 24 hour call to do this. Last week 7 boats carrying 382 people reached the Greek Islands including Samos, where a fast developing crisis is developing.

 

The perilous sea journey is never far from anyone’s mind. A poignant reminder is a dinghy displayed at Attika alongside a typical ‘life jacket’ - 3 empty 5 litre water bottles. This flimsy and totally unsafe rubber dinghy crossed to Lesvos Jan 18 carrying 72 men, women and children. Unbelievably this time  they survived.

 

 

 

This vessel carried 72 people

Substitute for a life jacket

Open Arms

Our day was spent delivering aid to the incredibly organised warehouse of CESRT, which have recently changed their name to Open Arms (Offene Arme In German). This is headed  by the with the indefatigable local lady Toula and her international team of volunteers. It was a case of briefings and chain gangs. The organisation of pallets and boxes in the trucks and especially on the ‘big rig’ is mind boggling. Aid is divvied out according to the needs of each organisation an as fairly as possible.

 

It was good to add to Open Arms stock. They were down to 70 blankets and no men’s jackets.

http://cesrt.org/

 

In the afternoon I had a stint as fashion coordinator, putting together outfit ensembles to display in their (free) community shop that is open to locals. I don’t think they’ll ask me to do that again! blink

 

 

Toula - leader, fighter, humanist, heroine

Some of the international volunteers

Children’s plates, cups, cutlery

Right - so how do I get down from here? - Anyone?

Up in the ‘big rig’ for the first time - Roddys empire

Day 6 - Landings

All hands needed this morning to helpi sort out some of the aid we had brought to the Open Arms warehouse.

 

‘Landing packs’ are made up to give refugees arriving by sea. Volunteers are given about 5 minutes to provide dry warm clothes & basic toiletries before the new entrants are taken to Vial camp. A sleeping bag, mat and possibly a tent are given by camp staff (maybe not until next day), & that is it. We were told about parents who curl in foetal position around their children to protect them from the elements and big men who sob inconsolably. Last week 2 young men arrived on the beach in just their underpants, they’d had to strip as their wet clothes were dragging them down in the water, their humiliation mixed with relief, silent children, dazed in shock - a donated teddy helps bring them ‘back’.

 

 

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TECHNICALLY CHALLENGED 😫

Vial camp

Many of the projects we have visited don’t have adequate transport for moving large quantity of supplies so time & again we empty the trucks, only to fill them again to transport aid from their warehouses to other facilities.

 

First stop this morning with lovely British volunteer Emma as our guide, was Vial camp. We took a truck full of (as requested) sleeping bags, shoes, toiletries etc Escorted by the army, we entered a heavily guarded army camp and divided supplies between their warehouse or into their jeep to go direct to the camp. As with Moria camp, nobody is able to enter without authority although most refugees can come and go.

 

Driving past Vial camp was depressing with basic facilities, some prefabs and a kindergarten behind a high barbed wire fence 😪

 

Although there are Chios locals who treat the refugees warmly and some amazing locals who run voluntary projects to help the refugees, many are tired of the situation and some are openly hostile. There is a permanent protest outside the camp. As one young man said “I don’t know what I’ve done wrong “?

Some Vial camp facts

 

 

Chios, a Greek island situated 16 km from Cesme, Turkey, is one of the islands where a Reception and Identification Center was built when the European Union developed the so-called “hotspot approach”.

 

As denounced by many NGOs, the living conditions in the Reception and Identification Center of Chios, Vial, are particularly challenging: lack of accommodation, lack of medical care, lack of legal information, inadequate provision of food, delay of asylum procedures, etc.

 

In May 2018 a police inspection found that 470 of the 1,468 individuals sheltered at the camp are either entitled to refugee status or have been classified as belonging to “vulnerable” groups but remain on Chios due to lack of space at mainland facilities.

Why are so many refugees on the Greek Islands?

The people smugglers continue to ‘evade’ the authorities, enticing desperate people to make the crossing from Turkey. Turkey itself hosts currently 4.3million refugees. European borders are closed Asylum applications are incredibly slow - the wait for their first interview is currently 11 months. The refugees cannot go forward, they cannot go back. They are trapped, and unwanted by many. Many remain in the camps for up to  2 years. 

 

Weekly statistical reports are produced. Last week 7 vessels reached Lesvos, Chios & Samos (20 others were intercepted). Each vessel carried an average of 40 people.

For refugees lucky enough to get asylum In Greece they receive 90 euros/month and no accommodation. They are entitled to work in Greece but paid jobs for refugees are hard to come by.

MSF

Our next stop was to the Medecins San Frontier (MSF) warehouse, where we loaded blankets and hygiene packs into the truck to take back to Open Arms for onward distribution.

 

MSF withdrew from some of the camps in order to not be seen to be condoning the conditions. They do however have a doctor, nurse, psychologist and midwife on Chios and conduct some clinics in a location that outside of the camp.

 

Chios Refugee Language Centre

Next up we called at the ‘Language Centre’, another community space run by a dedicated American/Irish couple and many volunteers.

 

This is a place where refugees can come (30 minute walk) for respite, language lessons, gardening and to spend quiet time with the centres many cats.

 

Like so many of these charities, refugees & volunteers of many nations, enjoy time together in peace and friendship. We are all so much more alike each other than different.

Chios Womens Centre

In the afternoon we ladies delivered aid from ‘The Ripple Effect’, Liverpool to the Womens Centre.

 

Another amazing British girl, Alice, fluent in Arabic, had such a lovely manner with the many refugee ladies who attend the centre on a weekly basis to participate in the busy programme of activities.

 

It was lovely to see the ladies, some with babies, laughing together and they delighted in showing us their dancing.

 

If refugees are classified as ‘vulnerable’, and if accommodation can be found, they can be housed in apartments where they can be warmer and safer.

 

Unaccompanied children and some refugees may be classified as ‘vulnerable’.  For them, if accommodation can be found, they may be housed in apartments where they can be warmer and safer.  Otherwise they may be contained within the camp where they can be protected to a degree, although then have no freedom or access to outside charity facilities.  Unaccompanied children especially are at risk and can be and are exploited

 

I chatted to a clearly traumatised Iraqi lady who arrived 10 days ago. She has had a very recent mastectomy for breast cancer. Doctors told her to leave to try and get treatment, as post war this country that once had superb hospitals has minimal resources. As she has not yet been classified vulnerable. She is sleeping in a tent in Vial. She told us conditions are terrible & she felt ill 😪

Kostas’ Kitchen

During dinner whilst waiting for the overnight ferry to Athens we were joined by Kostas, a local restauranteur, who for several years has run a kitchen that provides hundreds of meals a day for refugees.

 

He provides a healthy home cooked vegan meal for less than 1 euro per portion. Regulation camp food, a frozen microwaved meal often needing hours of queuing is costed at 7 euros per portion - make of that what you will.

 

Kostas most recent ambition is to get into the camp to provide food for those who cannot leave - the many unaccompanied children and those waiting deportation (often for months).

Clowns without Borders

 

Many International NGO's & charities are working out here. One of the more unusual one is ‘Clowns without Borders’ who work with traumatised children and were here at Moria putting on carefully planned performances, just a couple of weeks ago. https://www.thejournal.ie/clowns-without-borders-greece-4337475-Nov2018/

 

From their web site ...... “At a performance in the Moria Camp, Greece’s largest refugee camp, one young boy who was about six years old sat in the front row with a gun he had made out of paper. “The wee boy started ‘bang, bang’ at me and I made a sad face. He kept doing it throughout the show and I  was unsure if he was enjoying the performance. At the end of the show, he came up to me and handed me the gun, saying, ‘I’ve a present for you.’ “He said he was happy and didn’t want the gun anymore.”

Day 7 - Athens

After a rude early awakening & a scramble into our clothes (for those of us fortunate enough to have bagged a cabin), we arrived back into Athens on the overnight ferry from Chios. Here we met up again with Negia who treated us to breakfast on the ‘Riviera’.

 

Driving a convoy of large trucks through busy Athens is pretty challenging. Janice & I travelled in front in Negias’ car, Janice on the radio to the lead truck & me parroting away, back seat driver style until Janice politely asked me to shut up 🙄. I took over quietly (well quiet for me), checking all the trucks were following & thought I was imagining when I saw 3 figures jump off the articulated truck.

 

 

Sure enough when we got to the warehouse, there was a large slash in the curtain and evidence of overnight ‘guests’. All were shocked, as in 22 years , stowaways have never been encountered, concerned because the charity would be in huge trouble if found to be implicit, confused as security had thoroughly searched all the vehicles before boarding the ferry, frustrated because this was the first trip out with the new curtains and sad that people find themselves in the situation where they feel the need to do this

Olympic Stadium

The 2004 Olympic Basketball Stadium is the huge & eerie distribution centre for the organisation Pampiraiki who organise most humanitarian aid for the 2000+ people in squats in Athens & the 270+ refugee camps and facilities throughout Greece mainland.

 

Built at a huge cost and used for only 54 days, this facility is destined to close to make way for super luxury housing 😫😫

 

The now familiar routine of unloading, reorganising and reloading the trucks continued throughout most of the day. The logistical planning is mind boggling to ensure the right aid is taken to where it is needed, when it is needed. Wheelchairs, toothpaste, small men’s trousers, children’s plastic dishes ..... where possible the requests are met, if not available, they do without.

Jumpers! 👘

While the huge pallets were being loaded, we ladies set to on sorting winter jumpers! Ladies jumpers, men’s jumpers, tiny jumpers, XL jumpers.

 

After a few hours we proudly admired our 31 sorted, packed, sealed and labelled boxes of jumpers that will hopefully get some folk through this cold winter.

The last supper

Our last evening together was spent as usual amidst fun, hearing each other’s stories, putting the world to rights (if only 🙄🙄), reflections on work done & planning work still to do. My flight home is tomorrow & the other flyers the day after. In the meantime the drivers are dropping off aid at  EIGHT further warehouses/ refugee camps through mainland Greece (there are 270 such facilities in Greece).  And then they have the long journey back to the UK, approximately another 6 days if all goes well.

 

 

A lorra lorry laughs (see what I did there?!) 😂

It has been a pleasure to have spent the week with such a fab, interesting, inspirational bunch of people. We’ve achieved a lot, helped bring a little comfort to some of the worlds most UNWANTED people, but weve enjoyed a lot of laughter and comradeship too.

Day 8 - Leaving on a jet plane

My journey home alone gives me a chance to process some of what I have experienced during this short but extremely full week.

 

You know it’s getting to you when you see barbed wire wrapped around a post & realise it’s actually Christmas lights! 😮

Positive, passionate and pragmatic

It has at times been harrowing but overwhelmingly this has been a super positive experience. After the negativity & divisiveness currently in the UK & around the world, it is so refreshing to have met so many big hearted, positive, passionate, compassionate pragmatic folk who channel their despair and frustration though action that really makes a difference.

“You can’t change the world but maybe you can change it for one person”.

 

As Shaun from Watershed said - instead of believing the media headlines, come & see it for yourself.

 

So I’m leaving now but as someone told me this week, you never leave this behind ...... ❤️❤️