Thank you very much for your all your support. We are totally reliant on donations so with your help, we’re making a difference to refugees’ health and wellbeing in Greece. Seven months after setting up, we’re now a critical partner at Alexandreia, getting a lot better at what we do and building a brand new operation in Filippiada. Human dignity is right at the heart of our activities.
A new operation at Filippiada
At the invitation of the local UN Refugee Agency representatives and in co-operation with all the camp actors, we were asked to take over Filippiada’s large warehouse at the beginning of October.
The warehouse had 12 large rooms full of unsorted boxes and disorder so distribution was pretty undignified. Working with CalAid, VIO, Live for Lives and local Greek volunteers, we cleared the corridors and rooms, decorated walls, installed display units and clothes rails, bought a generator to resolve the power cuts, selected quality clothing, bought a lot of supplies and began to present everything in a pleasant shop environment.
In just 3 weeks we have opened a Men’s clothes boutique, Women’s clothes boutique and, best of all, a Mini-supermarket. We have introduced an innovative points-based system for distribution which means that refugees are completely free to choose what they ‘spend’ their points on from a wide range of food and hygiene items. Quite apart from the huge leap in dignity this brings – no more being told what they can and cannot have – it is fairer, less stressful, builds trust and enables us to provide what they need.
Next in our programme for Filippiada is a Shoe shop, Children’s boutique and a Toy Shop. Watch this space!
But no longer supporting Veria and Giannitsa
Through August and September we had been delivering food and hygiene packs twice a week to the 400 refugees at Veria and 400 at Giannitsa from our base at Alexandreia.
Veria is one of the few camps where refugees live in buildings rather than tents. As a result, conditions are better there but refugees are still suffering severe hardships. Fortunately, Bridge2, who supported us in Alexandreia, are now setting up a new operation there to improve things. We’ll look forward to co-operating with them however we can.
In Giannitsa, numbers had been dropping as many decided to leave the terrible conditions there and when there was severe flooding early September the authorities shut down the camp and moved the remainder to other camps. It is still not clear what will become of the site.
We have visited other camps in Greece to assess how we can help but need to make sure we can deliver on our promises before committing ourselves.
Continuing to improve what we do at Alexandreia
Numbers at Alexandreia have been slowly dropping since their peak of about 800 in May as people have been processed or decided to make their own way to other places. We currently have about 450 but have started to receive new refugees being transferred from the over-crowded islands. These can often arrive at very short notice and over the next month or so are expecting many more to arrive to take us back up to about 800. We provide new arrivals with welcome packs to help them settle in.
Everyone at the camp is very concerned about the winter. It is cold at night and temperatures will fall to around freezing in December. We are optimistic that the camp authorities will improve accommodation to cope with this and for our part we have started to get warm, winter clothing out through our boutique. All the kids and women have had full winter gear and by the end of October, so will all men. We are making arrangements for new arrivals, who are unlikely to be well equipped for the weather and everyone on the camp will be able to top up with new clothing once every 3 weeks.
One marvellous development was the delivery of beautifully made and high quality abiyas for the women on camp. They have been pleading for these all year so to give every woman the opportunity to choose one and soon to be able to distribute a second one was a very emotional and rewarding time for them and our volunteers.
Over the next few weeks we will be introducing a points system here as well but in the meantime have been concentrating on: making the environment more welcoming, increasing the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables on offer and moving items to the front of the shop where they are free to choose them if they want them.
We have never failed to open the shop and offer every family a regular, consistent basket of food, hygiene items and other essentials twice a week.
This space is refugee-run and after renovating the space, we now provide the resources they need. It’s generally open from about 1pm-10pm and a great place for people to hang out, play games, listen to (loud) music and drink (very sweet) tea and coffee. We’ve provided a TV, music speaker, 2 sewing machines and 15 desktop computers for entertainment.
Three times a week there are well-attended ‘Women only’ sessions where they can spend some fun time together away from the men and children.
Activities with the kids
The IRC has the responsibility for child protection and they now offer a great programme of structured activities for all age groups. Over the last few months we have developed a very productive and mutually supportive relationship so while they focus on protection, we run activities that are based around fun and play.
Our high quality playground is steadily growing and we now have 2 swings, 2 see-saws, and the first 2 pieces of a trim trail. The kids love it.
The boys will argue over the swings so they can only use them under our supervision but hope that as we continue to grow the amount of equipment there, we will be able to leave the swings up for them to use any time.
At the end of August, we were asked by the Greek Ministry of Education to build 2 classrooms for the 4-7 year olds on the camp while the older children would attend local schools. After much discussion about what was needed and when, we have created two great quality spaces from derelict rooms for the 4-6 year olds.
The Ministry is totally responsible for educations so they will provide teachers and some materials. We will make sure they have whatever else is needed. They will be start teaching in November.
Respite care for Mums and babies
In July we had a tragic incident with a newborn premature baby after it returned to the camp when just 2 days old to unbearable conditions. We vowed then never to alow a newborn and post-partum mother back to the camp without first spending some time somewhere comfortable to recover. Since then three other babies have been born and all have had some respite before returning to the camp and their extended family.
The development of the community kitchen has been a slow process getting the necessary authorisations, dealing with donors and negotiating with other agencies about how food should be delivered in the camp. Finally, the biggest barrier – getting gas installed– has been overcome and the kitchen is almost there. Working with a newly appointed volunteer catering manager we are now buying the utensils we need, setting up our food supply chain and identifying the refugees who will actually be doing the cooking.
We plan to start by offering one hot meal a day, six days a week, to every refugee on the camp.
Following a couple of break-ins at our little on-site warehouse, we shifted everything to a much larger warehouse about 5 miles outside Alexandreia. The kids did us a favour. We can now receive lorryloads of donations, have a lot more space to sort items and can store enough to help us respond more quickly. We’re also receiving deliveries on behalf of other refugee NGOs to support their initiatives and keen to co-operate with others who are trying to make life easier for the refugees in Greece.
All clothing donations need to be sorted and there are always items that are unsuitable. Our policy is never to distribute shoes or clothing that is stained, torn or worn out so much is discarded. We’re minimising the waste by also sorting clothing into piles that can be washed, repaired or distributed to the local Greek community.
Donations from the UK
In co-operation with CalAid we now have a warehouse in Slough where we can collect items we need until we have enough to share a fully loaded container for direct shipping to Greece.
Supporting local business
While we have received many donated items from outside Greece, wherever possible we are buying things locally and have spent around £65,000 with local retailers and market traders.
In addition, volunteers who are all self-supporting, will have spent around another £65,000 in the local hotel and restaurants.
We have to make a special mention of the Hotel Manthos who have obviously benefitted from us but have been an invaluable and supportive partner ever since we first arrived.
Ioanna and her staff regularly go out of their way to help make it a home from home for all our volunteers.
As donors you have been vital but we have been lucky to host some truly amazing volunteers. Every one has made a difference. To date, we have had 150 volunteers from 25 different nations who together have worked around 1,800 volunteer days helping the refugees.
It has been a huge privilege to work with these dedicated, compassionate humans who are willing to give so much of themselves to help others. And we look forward to continuing to work together to help the refugees in Greece.
We are also now a charitable fund under the auspices of Prism the Gift Fund (charity number 1099682) and so eligible for gift aid. You can donate on a platform that charges 0% commission here.
We were lucky to have a film-maker come to visit us in September and he produced a video about your donations and why they matter: