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22nd February 2016 – 5th March 2016
After a few weeks of giving talks and doing interviews with radio stations and newspapers, Magdalena and I, Sarah, started our next assignment on 22nd February 2016. For this deployment, the car dealership Mazda Bachleitner was kind enough to sponsor a small van, which enabled us to bring all donations of clothing. Our first stop was Idomeni, located at the Greece-Macdeon border, where distributed about half our clothing. At that time, there were almost 4000 refugees in Idomeni. We were thinking about staying and helping out further, but made the choice to continue to our journey to Lesvos.
As we arrived in Lesvos, it was at first difficult to gain an overview over the whole situation on the island. In contrast to Chios, Lesbos was much larger geographically, and there was a broader range of camps, NGOs and other facilities. Consequently, there were lots of different ways to volunteer and assist.
At first, we stopped at the “Better Days for Moria Camp” and distributed the rest of our clothing there. Nearby, there was the registration camp. With the exception of NGOs such as I AM YOU, volunteers were not permitted to enter the registration camp. We kept investigating the other camps, but they were not relevant to our work. Our next stop was the provincial capital of Lesbos, Mytilini. We made contact with other volunteers there, and Magdalena and I agreed to patrol the southern coast from 4am to 8am to provide care for the newly arriving refugees. We also took the dayshift from 9am to 5pm at the Better Days for Moria camp.
After our first morning shift went without any incidents, we started assisting in the camp itself. The camp was made up of different tents, an aid station, a clothing distribution center separated by gender, a tea kitchen, a field kitchen, a playground for children, a small kiosk, a drinking station and a small area where volunteers could do their own projects, such as a basketball hoop. There were several different ways to assist in the camp. One of them was working at the so called “shoe-recycling” area. There, newly arrived refugees could exchange their old and often worn out shoes against new ones. The old pairs would be fixed and again given to people who needed them. In general, shoes were a scarce commodity, as other items of clothing were donated in greater numbers. This highlighted the importance of the shoe recycling process.
Working on the coast was completely different. We decided on the morning shift , since the most boats arrived in the early morning hours . Some nights went by relatively uneventful , while others were very hectic . Magdalena had already gathered experience on Chios, so it was possible to get to work immediately. In comparison to Chios, there much more injured people and children. I mainly focused on distributing diapers and small sleeping bags. Fortunately, the nights were much warmer than back in December, so the risks of hypothermia among the refugees was lower. As always, we called in a bus to bring the newly arrived people to the registration camp.
After our a few days, a third volunteer, our photographer Anna, joined our team. As we working the dayshift at the shoe-recycling area, refugees approached us asking where and how they could clean
their shoes. I never thought that this would be anybody’s priority, probably because I don’t clean mine that often. This spawned the idea of a “clean your own shoes” area. I liked this idea, since it kept people occupied and they could retain some normality and dignity in the harsh conditions of the camp. We began setting up shop and soon, more and more people joined us. It was fun getting to know people in this setting. The refugees were very thankful, even though this was such a small thing. Due to the positive reception, the activity was provided daily from that point on.
In terms of time management, everything went well, as we were flexible enough to assist where we were needed and we were able to get to know many different people. But it also became clear how much weather played a role in our day-to-day activities. On some days, intense thunderstorms made it impossible for new boats to arrive and we also couldn’t dry our clothes and shoes due to rain. Thankfully, these were rare occasions.
Before we left Lesbos on March 5th, we made a large bulk purchase of food for the people on Idomeni, since we received word that over 15 000 people were stuck there and supplying proved to be difficult. In addition, we bought 30 packs of milk powder plus bottles, equipment for our “clean your own shoes” project. Further, we donated 300€ to a Syrian family with 5 children, one of them in a wheelchair. During our last two days, we supplied the warehouse in Idomeni with rice, lentils, sunflower seeds, spices and tea. Pleased with our progress, we made our back home after two weeks of hard work.