"So what are you actually DOING over there? It's amazing you're there, but..."
A valid question. Some days I feel I am not doing anything at all. One of the first days I was here, my glasses broke (actually snapped!) and I haven't been able to replace them here, so I am feeling a little self-conscious.
What am I actually doing here in northern Greece, supposedly volunteering with refugees? First of all, most of the people moving through Greece in the hope of finding a country that will accept them are not official "refugees", but rather "asylum seekers". This term seems even more precarious to me, and pretty much appears to be someone who has very few of the rights we take for granted.
I live in a small apartment with nine other women. Actually, eleven. Or is it ten? The numbers change all the time. Most of us are volunteers, but some of us are coordinating this huge venture we are involved in.
In the evening, we make bags of supplies for the mothers we are seeing the following day. Food, diapers, and newborn packs for the very pregnant mothers.
In the morning, we leave the apartment and go to visit mothers - either pregnant women, breastfeeding, or both, or women with children under two. Our mandate is to be sure that mothers are effectively feeding their babies. That's the simple story.
What's the rest of the story? What am I doing? I am providing prenatal care, sometimes. I'm weighing babies. I'm giving breastfeeding information and support. I'm looking at various people's ailments. I drive a lot.
I drive a lot because the people that were located in the camps have been relocated by the UNHCR to hotels and apartment buildings all over Greece. The motive was great: it has been very cold here and people were freezing.
I spend some of my time in camps. These are housed in abandoned warehouses, with rows and rows of tents inside them. Heating, electricity and wifi are provided. Many dedicated volunteers help to provide health care, activities for the children, food, clothing and support for the people living there.
There are two interesting housing projects I have visited. One of them has been made real by a group of people from the UK, who have bought an apartment complex and created a space for families to live. They have named their project "Filoxenia", which means "generosity of spirit". This is a new project and is constantly changing and growing, which houses mostly young families and their children.
The least depressing place I have visited is called "Elpida". This is an abandoned factory that was bought by two philanthropists from North America (an American and a Canadian). It has been rebuilt to house families, and many volunteers help to create community by providing health care, education, activities, communal spaces and a place to belong.
But let's remember that all of these great initiatives are just band-aid measures, and the real answers lie with the governments that need to decide what to do about this huge crisis. Every single person I have met, from the lovely young woman who bathes babies to the very young mother living in a hotel with her tiny baby, to the important military-looking people at the camps, they are all doing their best. Tomorrow, I'll be going to a camp and then visiting a pregnant mother who has been relocated to a beautiful apartment she shares with ten other people, who told me that she will be moved again within the month.
I hope I can make a little difference to someone.
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