Imagine having to flee your home because you've received death threats. Or because war is shattering your city, and your country, and you can’t protect your kids any more. Imagine spending Christmas in a cold, wet, overcrowded refugee camp, without running water, electricity, or heat.
I spent last Christmas volunteering on the Greek island of Samos, with an independent group called Samos Volunteers (SV), who’ve been supporting refugees on the island since the start of 2016. The refugees stranded on Samos come from many countries including Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Mali. As a volunteer, I saw for myself how they have to survive in a filthy, cramped refugee camp on a steep hillside, where most have no access to electricity, or fresh clean water - including hundreds of unaccompanied children under 18 years.
The camp is overcrowded, and a menacing environment for any woman on her own. I met women and men struggling just to cope day to day, physically and mentally. There is, for example, just one doctor, and a single psychologist, based inside the camp. This photo I took shows how some people have resorted to building their own shelters outside the camp, in an area known as ‘the Jungle” that is infested with rats. In winter, it also floods.
After I returned home to England, the refugees’ situation in Samos stayed with me all year, especially as most of the refugees I had met remained stranded on the island, with little hope of finding work, and cut off from the world outside. Now the number of refugees on Samos has risen to 7,000, the highest since the refugee crisis began. So, I am returning there, to do what I can to help. Samos Volunteers are doing wonderful work – they have established the Alpha Community Centre near the camp, offering free tea and coffee, and classes like English, computer skills, French and Greek – to support refugees with the skills they need when they eventually move on, and to take their minds away from the realities of life inside the camp.
SV has also set up a mobile library, daily children’s activities and a vital laundry station which plays a huge part in refugees’ lives - can you imagine having to put on dirty, wet clothes every day?
Up to 700 refugees people per day arrive at the SV Community Centre, especially during the heavy winter rains. SV depends entirely on private donations to pay for for rent, education materials, and to fund the laundry station and childrens’ activities.
As I set off for Samos again, I’m asking for your donations to support our volunteer work. I am paying all my own expenses to go to Samos, so every penny you can give will go directly towards materials to help SV activities on the island:
€10 buys notebooks and pens for ten students at the Alpha Centre, €12 buys a sturdy rain-jacket for a refugee, €35 will pay for a tent for two new arrivals: €75 pays for tea and coffee at the Alpha Centre for a week. Last time, I was on Samos, one refugee from Afghanistan told me “When I am learning in Alpha, everything is OK, I can stay hopeful.”
Please donate whatever you can to this volunteer project, that is doing so much to support human dignity during this ongoing emergency. A million thanks!
For more information on SV, you can long onto: https://bit.ly/2sV4hNe
- OLIVIA WARD
- Chris & Jane Booth-Lewis
- Pamela Moutoussi
- Laura Plumb
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