Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Volunteer Conspiracy: making a difference?

I arrived in Thessaloniki to a huge mess. The snow was only about a foot high, but the city was completely paralyzed. And people living in tents or warehouses were suffering, of course, not only from extreme cold but because we couldn't get there to do our work, for about two days. On the third day, the one car we had that was functioning (mine, because I had wisely left it at the bottom of the hill).


We schlepped out to the camp, bearing supplementary food packs (for pregnant, breastfeeding mums or children under two), diapers, and smiles. Our smiles probably looked a bit grim by the time we arrived because on the way, our chains fell off the front tire so we had a little crisis.


The second night I was there, my glasses broke but they were effectively fixed with white electrical tape so I have looked like a bag lady during this whole time, which probably increases my approachability.

We arrived to the news/rumour that the UNCHR was closing the camps, and they started by removing the vulnerable people, including families with pregnant women, babies or children under two. This made the volunteers' jobs much more difficult because we did not know where everyone was, and we did not have "official permission" to visit some of the hotels that people had been relocated to. Apparently. 

More volunteers kept arriving. The apartment became full of wonderful people, all willing and able to lend a hand where it was needed. I lived with thirteen volunteers at different times during my stay in Thessaloniki and worked with six coordinators of various types.

I would like to share with you what I have seen about the people who give up their jobs, family responsibilities, lives and lovers, homes - for even as short a time as two weeks - to live in a crowded, cold, disorganized small apartment with many other people - just so that they can provide support, care and whatever is needed to the people who are stuck here in Greece after fleeing incomprehensible violence and terror.

I met three other women from Canada. Yay Canadians! I love us for our toughness, kindness, "can do!" attitude, knowledge of chains and snow, sense of humour, sense of responsibility ... political savvy.... 
I met two women from America. One from Portugal, two from Spain, one from Wales, seven from England, and more from Italy, France, and Bahrain...

They brought skills! Knowledge of breastfeeding, midwifery, the art of being a doula (the most valuable skill!), women's health, massage, yoga, Arabic, ... they were dedicated. They were authentic. They were sensitive. 

One was a young soul who loved everyone and everything. She brought joy to everyone she met. One was a wise woman who brought peace. One was a chemist who never complained. One Canadian got grease up to her elbows trying to fix the chains in freezing winds on a Greek highway. One was a firefighter, her friend was a midwife - their friendship made us all feel hope in the world. One was 17 days older than me. Two are from another world, a world full of love, kindness, and amazing food. One is an unbelievable organizer, and makes everything better.... one does African dancing on the balcony... 

We got along! We didn't fight! We cooked together, and cleaned sometimes (sorry Molly) ... I think I was probably the biggest bitch there because I can be an awful bitch. But generally, we laughed, we knit, we took care of each other, we listened.


In the end, it wasn't enough. I have a dream. My dream is just starting to become a reality, and I am gestating it. Many of you know me as a person who gets things done. I am going to get this done. 


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