The word wonderful isn’t one that you’d associate with refugee camps. And yet, in Alexandreia, there were times when that would be exactly the right word to use. This would be down to the tireless work done by Refugee Support Greece, UNHCR, the IRC, the Greek army and other NGO’s on site.
With the sun setting behind mountains, the sound of children playing and the warmth of Greece in Spring, it was quite easy to forget the horrors that had resulted in people ending up here. However, i feel i have seen the camp at it’s best. Only last year all the residents were living in tents, having to deal with rivers of water running through the camp, rats getting into their belongings and no electricity. Now everyone has small containers to live in, which are by no means luxurious but at least they are protected from the elements. We heard that the electricity had only been switched on 11 days prior to us arriving. This in itself is a monumental acheivement and i must commend the work of the army and NGO’s that made this happen.
Something incredible has happened at Alexandreia. An oasis of calm has been created where people who have suffered more than any person should, are able to rest, eat and organise themselves for the next part of their difficult journey. Do not be mistaken into thinking that this is where people wish to live. Last year there were over 700 refugees here. That number is now closer to 450 and the people here are trying everyday to begin new lives elsewhere.
One of the residents tells me he wants to move to Ireland and continue working as a Geography teacher. Another, who already speaks 5 languages says he wishes to work as a translator. The residents here are some of the most resilient, humorous and warm people i have ever met. I don’t know if i would still be able to laugh and joke after going through what the refugees have. They are a testament to our species and the enduring spirit of humanity.
One of the main tenants of RSG is to provide aid with dignity. Instead of handing donations out, they are arranged in a shop where people can come and choose various supplies based on a points system allocated according to family size etc. The boutique is where all clothes are arranged where again, residents can come and choose. Although the choice is minimal due to the donations, having a “shop” and “boutique” gives some sense of normalcy for people who haven’t experienced “normal” in a very long time.
And what of the volunteers? Over the two weeks i was there i made friends and formed bonds with people who are selfless, funny, intelligent and deeply compassionate. In my day to day life i’m quite a reserved, private person and yet, within 48 hours we were discussing life, the universe and everything with people i have known for less than two weeks but feels like i’ve known for years. The volunteers all work very long hours for nothing except the satisfaction of doing what they can. The work was often very tough (heavy lifting of supplies across site, dismantling and reassembling the shop/boutique, cleaning out the cabins of old residents ready for new arrivals, cooking food for everyone on site) but there was rarely any complaints. It is rare to meet such selfless people and i must thank all the volunteers for their compassion, energy, humour and work ethic. I’ve left feeling inspired, which isn’t what i expected and although there is a chance i may never meet some of them again (i sincerely hope this isn’t the case) i will remember these 2 weeks for many many years.
At the start of this i wrote that at times, on site it was quite easy to forget the horrors that the refugees has been through. However: we must always remember. What these people have been through/are going through is one of the major tests of our time. In a world that can, at times, seem devoid of empathy and compassion it is essential to exercise these traits as often as possible.
Be excellent to each other.