This blog explores our final 2 days on Lesvos and concludes the series on my trip. How can you help through the continuing refugee crisis.
After spending a day away from H4H on Thursday, we decided to double down, roll our sleeves up and get stuck into the task for the day. Receiving the container from Care UK. We were very excited to be able to help in person, the container was expected to arrive at some point during the day. Our first job was to stock the fridge/freezer with cold drinks in anticipation of everyone working up a sweat unloading. Our friends had also stocked the fridge with supplies for Khatab to start working his magic in the kitchen.
Sadly the news we’d been dreading came, the container was still in Athens. The sadness was short lived because amongst volunteers (short term and from Moria) there is always a sense of optimism. Or to quote Lucy:
When life sends you lemons you make lemonade. The container of aid is now coming another day . Our big open space that was tirelessly created yesterday had to be utilised for relaxation instead. Thank you Lina Palestina your session was amazing. Just perfect for the fantastic refugee volunteers at the House of Humanity. We also sharpened a few pencils…
Lucy had sourced some sharpeners so we all took turns sharpening the BIG box of pencils. Pen and paper are a commodity for families especially with children. We saw for ourselves the impact handing out paper and pencils has on young people. Immediately they sat down and started to draw, write and concentrate on their creation.
Books, toys and anything that resembles normality are extremely important for families and visitors to the center. It isn’t just about coming to the H4H to get stuff, it is about the experience. The containers that are delivered to Humans4Humanity are filled with clothing, food, nappies and help keep the shelves staked but they are also filled with things that are step by step making the House of Humanity a home away from home. (Would you like to donate more information below on how you can.)
Across Lesvos there are a number of wonderful programmes that are helping to provide an escape from the camps. In previous posts i’ve talked about the impact the situation has on peoples mental health. Providing yoga, community space, schooling, language lessons, football, therapy etc. is incredibly important. Many volunteers who arrive on the island are helping to set up programmes, classes and activities for refugees.
Our lovely friend Lina had been running some Tibetan bowl meditation at other centers on the island and with that freshly cleared space and a little time on our hands she took all the volunteers through a meditation. It was superb. THANK YOU Lina.
Lucy and I used the rest of the down time to talk to Bethany (the coordinator at Humans4Humanity whilst we were there) about what it takes to keep the center open, where the strain is in keeping it open and ways in which Lucy and I could continue to support the center when we returned to the UK.
There are three key areas that need to be covered to keep the center open:
Donations are critical to keeping the center open. If the rent isn’t paid there is no center, if the minibus hire bill isn’t paid, they can’t pick up refugees from Moria, if there is no money for gas the bus can’t get out of the drive. If the supermarket isn’t stocked there is no food for the visitors. If there is no surplus cash the volunteers go hungry. And then there are the admin costs: paper for the printer, cups for water etc. etc. If you run an office or a business you get it – the place has running costs.
Humans4Humanity runs on donations, these come in all shapes and sizes. Volunteers like Lucy and I do some crowdfunding we were able to keep the minibus paid for until the end of the month, pay a weeks grocery bill for the shop (1700 euros gone in the blink of an eye) Neda tells us she has regular donators who throw a few dollars here or there, old and new friends, what people can afford. From time to time they get super lucky with a corporate donor or an injection from cash from the likes of Donate4Refugees and the #LOVE4LESVOS campaign has provided some much needed funding. But the struggle is real, Neda and Rafat know that each and every day/week/month they have to figure out how they keep the place open and the money coming in.
And we must remember that since the refugee crisis is not making the news, it is making it harder to raise the awareness that is very much needed. The news crews and journalists aren’t interested in the story of people living in a prison on an island in the Mediterranean. They only show a flicker of interest when someone dies or there is a riot.
The center needs people to help keep it open. The volunteers come in all shapes and sizes. Neda and Rafat manage the center with a team of awesome people. Some of the volunteers they work with have travelled from different parts of the world, some come for a week (like us) some come for longer. Some dedicate their entire time to working with Humans4Humanity and others dip in and out. For example Lina and her brothers helped provide funding and much needed items for the shop. They also set up an art project for the children visiting. But they also volunteered on the boat watch and Lina ran her meditation sessions at other projects on Lesvos for example.
The center also needs volunteers to keep the center open each day. Their are a variety of roles within the center.
Sorting clothes – all the aid needs to be sorted and put out on the rails, into the sections and shelves. This is actually a huge job, for a number of reasons. Aid that arrives from overseas isn’t always sorted very well. Sometimes boxes don’t have useful items. Or perhaps box after box is opened full of baby clothes but families visiting all have children over the age of 4 years. Perhaps there is wave after wave of young girls or teenagers, looking for modest clothing. The volunteers hunt through the boxes to see what they can find.
Clothing distribution reception – everything that happens in the Humans4Humanity is logged and there is a paper trail. The clothing distribution doesn’t cost refugees anything (no points, no money) but it is important that the team are able to keep track of how many people they help and how.
Shop checkout – this person has to communicate directly with refugees in their language. To explain the points system and to work out how they will spend their funds. Everything is logged, checked and documented.
Registration – this role is administrative but is also perfect for someone with an observant eye. The key part of the role is to note the details of the visitors, where they are from, their registration number and work out their point allocation. But since this role overseas the reception area, this person can quickly spot vulnerable families or individuals and most importantly offer a friendly welcoming face.
Anyone can volunteer and the pace at ways in which you can help is completely up to you.
What do you need to volunteer?
Funds – you need to be able to self fund your trip. Flights, accommodation, car hire and expenses.
Car Hire – having a car is really important it means you’re self sufficient and you can not only get yourself about you can pick up supplies and other volunteers.
A positive attitude – volunteering isn’t always easy but it is incredibly rewarding. If you’d like to volunteer please get in touch i’d love to talk to you more about how you can make it happen.
The center always needs aid. Care UK and the #love4lesvos are doing a great job at sending stuff. The containers are PACKED full of useful aid. And smaller packages are sent inbetween using banana boxes.
I can not stress enough how important it is to THINK about what you are sending. The first rule of thumb is would you wear it? would you put your child in it? if the condition is bad PLEASE don’t send it. If you’re going to get second hand clothing for yourself and your children and you’re going to wear it a lot, with limited washing facilities it needs to be hard wearing. Please send CLEAN good quality items.
How you package and label content is really important too. If you’re going to send boxes label it well, what is in it? When you have a family in front of you with a mixed age group of kids, trying to lay your hands on that magic box with the right stuff is so hard. When boxes are labeled well and bagged up in the box with stickers. IT IS LIKE A GIFT FROM GOD! Aid distribution is a rewarding and disappointing task.
Groups and items that are particularly under represented are as follows:
Men (small to medium)
Woman (small to medium or 6-14) modest clothing. In particular long sleeved tops, tops that cover the bottom, leggings, trousers and scarves.
Children 3+ – there were boxes and boxes of baby clothes but the older the children are the less items they are for them. There was a lot of young girls clothing but it wasn’t particular modest.
For girls – Leggings, tops, dresses, long sleeved tops and tunics
For boys – anything with superheros are a massive win, t-shirts, tops, trousers and shorts
What next? How can you make a difference?
Sharing is Caring
How can you help? The simplest and easiest way you can help is to share content. Whether it is a news article about the crisis, this blog post, posts from the Humans4Humanity team. Liking is great but a share means someone else might eyeball it who wasn’t aware of the crisis either and that can turn into a few quid in the bank account for the charity.
This article from the guardian is a great resource: Five Myths About The Refugee Crisis
Some of the groups/pages I follow:
I would be so grateful for a share or a comment on the content I share just to push that bit further in the social media world.
Donate or Sponsorship
Of course money is most welcome. My donation page is still open: DONATE HERE
If I have one ask when it comes to donations it is that you consider supporting the grassroots groups. They are really plugging the gaps and they are not getting nearly enough funding.
I will be sending regular collections to Lesvos over the next couple of months. I will either send a delivery personally or I will be sending it as part of the different volunteer efforts.
Right now i’m running a #hats4refugees campaign and will following it up with a collection for women and children in the coming weeks.
Goodbye Lesvos Until Next Time…
I would like to close out the series by using my comments from facebook on the Friday.
Not much to say tonight, I’m feeling very emotional and sad we leave tomorrow and a little bit of my heart will stay here for friends and for strangers who’s faces I’ve only seen on the dirt road around Moria, for all the forgotten people in the camp who I never met. This place is special and it gets me every time – I’ve seen so much hope, so much love and whilst there is sadness, I will hold onto the dream we all have for a better and more peaceful future!!
Leave a comment or contact me directly if you’d like to know more about how you can help.
NOTE: Whilst this blog has been in draft mode a situation has arisen on the island. On the 25th May riots in Moria displaced refugees and left them with no where to go. Humans4Humanity temporarily opened their doors whilst a longer term solution could be worked through. Another example of how the team there are responsive and able to pivot as situations develop, change or happen. The challenge is the cost of putting up these souls is mounting daily and the team could really do with an injection of cash ASAP!