It has been a busy week for me in Molyvos on the island of Lesvos, Greece. My first volunteer shift was on Wednesday afternoon at the IRC (International Rescue Committee) camp and I worked there again today. The camp sits in a valley on the mountains overlooking the Aegean Sea with Turkey visible in the distance. The site is fairly new and ruggedly beautiful. During the day there is constant background noise of bleating sheep and clanging neck bells as the sheep roam the hills surrounding the camp. Sometimes a small group will wander right through the middle of the camp.
Above: The big main tent with the Aegean Sea and Turkey in the background.
Below: Sheep wandering through camp.
The sleeping tents nestled in the mountains at sunrise.
Starfish, the organization I am working with, distributes clothes at this camp. We have a men's tent and a women & children's tent. Donated new and used clothes are sorted by type and size into large boxes and then organized in sections within the tent. When the refugees come to the camp they are most always in wet and sometimes dirty clothes. Our job is to provide them with
clean, dry clothes and to make sure they have warm sweaters and coats for the next leg of their journey as they usually only stay at the IRC Camp one night. When I got to work this morning around 7, the group of about 60 had just gone to sleep having arrived at the camp around 4:30. At that time, any medical needs had been attended to and if they wanted, they could trade in their sopping wet shoes for a pair to wear around the camp as they got ready for bed. Frequently these are shoes that don't fit and are simply to get them to the restroom facilities and their sleep tent. We place the wet shoes by the side of the tent to dry out. We then clean them up and put then in the appropriate box inside.
Wet shoes set out to dry
Since everyone was asleep when we arrived, we busied ourselves organizing our tent as we knew the afternoon would bring an influx of people needed fresh clothing. Today my co-worker was Magda, a Palestinian woman my age. We discovered so many similarities and became fast friends. In looks and mannerisms she reminded me so much of my friend Grace!
Magda speaks Arabic, so she was a huge asset in this situation! I rely on sign language and a few words I've picked up, but everything was so much more efficient with Magda telling me exactly what the women needed. By mid afternoon we had a small line snaking away from our tent. Shoes are the hardest to provide though most everyone needs them. Not only does it seem like our supply is usually low, but sizing is so difficult. They frequently try on 3-5 pairs before they find a pair that fits. More than once I put an additional pair of heavy socks on a child so shoes one size too large will work. There will be other opportunities to gather clothing - I am just trying to get them clean, dry and warm for the long bus ride to their next stop. I find that looking into these woman's eyes, I see my daughters, my sisters, my friends. Some can speak a bit of English and thank us profusely. Some walk away quickly, eager to go to the changing rooms to see what fits. A few place their hands over their hearts and bow their heads at us in gratitude before leaving. These refugees don't know what lies ahead although I have an idea what their immediate future will bring. The buses that they board at the IRC Camp will most likely head to Moria about 90 minutes away. Moria is an old prison that has been turned into a refugee camp housing thousands of refugees for a day or two if they have the funds for the long ferry trip to the mainland or a week (or much more) if they don't. I worked there earlier in the week and it was barely organized chaos if only because of the numbers of people. The organizations do a great job, but there are many more people than beds available, so mats and blankets are spread out everywhere - on cement slabs, on the dirt alongside a building or a fenceline - it was difficult to see, I can't imagine living it. The different organizations working there each have specific tasks and Starfish (up until today when another organization took over our area in a group rotation) handled clothing distribution just as at the IRC Camp. These organizations are big on acronyms - UNHCR, DRC, IRC - and I heard IMU mentioned. When I got to Moria I spent most of the day working with them and discovered they were not IMU, but I AM YOU!
A great group of volunteers and I thoroughly enjoyed working with them. In reality, I have yet to meet anyone who isn't happy to be here doing this work. A very dedicated group of folks committed to making a difference.