Volunteer stories: Gerry (Jan 20)

It’s 5.30am and the the sound of the morning call to prayer from the mosque on the Turkish side breaks the early morning silence. It is my last day at the Dignity Centre and I try to gather my thoughts on the events of the past month.

What strikes me most are the day to day challenges Refugees face just trying to keep body and soul together. They have to contend with with a bureaucratic system that regularly lets them down. The failures seem to have been compounded over the past few weeks as the state changed its distribution system for food vouchers from the welfare office to the post office. Under the new system you can only collect your vouchers if you have received an sms message. No sms…no vouchers. The trouble is the post office list of phone numbers of Refugees is hopelessly incomplete.

The resultant fallout is a greater than ever demand for the morning meal laid on at the Dignity Centre by Refugee Support through its amazing and dedicated Co Ordinator, Supervisors and Volunteers. The situation has deteriorated so much this past week that Caritas has engaged with the state authorities on behalf of all the affected refugees.

Many refugees bring with them the trauma from the most horrific atrocities carried out by the various factions In their homeland. Boko Haram in particular have murdered whole families and those that do escape are left with unimaginable emotional scars.

Others have had to flee leaving their families behind and now cannot make contact to let them know they are safe for fear of reprisals against the family members at home aimed at forcing those who fled to return home to certain imprisonment or worse.

For many including some as young as 18 their only lifeline is the Dignity Centre where they have a safe place to meet with others, take a shower, wash their clothes, get a free haircut, a morning meal and use the WiFi system. But the centre does so much more than this. It provides a range of courses all aimed at improving the skills of Refugees including, English and Greek language classes, basic computer courses, CV writing and bicycle repair.

Then there is the sewing Co op with its own resident Tailor BA who works with the centre Co ordinator Paula and supervisor Laura to develop the range of goods made and ensure the highest quality standards for all items sold online at Refumade. The ladies who make the garments are guaranteed 80% of the sale price giving them vital income but also a skill they can use to build a future on.

Everything we do at the centre is intended to a), meet immediate needs and b), provide skills that will help Refugees move on and build a new life when their asylum status is determined.

When you see firsthand the range of programmes carried out by Refugee Support at the centre and the transparency with which it operates it is clearly evident that every euro raised goes towards meeting the needs of the Refugees.

In all my discussions with refugees who themselves come from a diverse list of countries, they are always interested in what country you come from and will tell you of their appreciation for all of the wonderful volunteers who come from all parts of the world to help people, who through no fault of their own find themselves in very difficult circumstances and need the assistance of kind hearted people.

So as I prepare to travel back home let me say, on behalf of all Refugees, Co Founders Paul and John at Refugee Support, and myself, a huge Thankyou to each and everyone of you who has supported my fundraising efforts. Without your generous support none of these programmes could operate and it is only when you are here with it day to day that you can see and understand the absolutely crucial role Refugee Support plays here in Cyprus.

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