Volunteering in a Refugee Camp in Samos, Greece: Part 5, Week 3

I’m not sure I can make it through this post without …. and I’m crying. This is probably my most emotionally charged post about volunteering in a refugee camp on the Greek Island of Samos. After three weeks of making friends with asylum seekers and those stuck in Europe during the migrant crisis, I’ve really started to get to know people. I can now walk into a room and look past the smiles and see the cracks that worry, stress, fear, and angst that are lurking inside ready to break the smile into a million pieces. I can see past person standing tall and notice the way their shoulders slope inward ever so slightly as they fight a feeling of defeat. People are amazingly resilient. If I were to ever find myself in the situation many of the people on Samos are in, I don’t know if I could keep it together. I don’t know what would keep me from crying every single day. This week was the first week I broke down and cried. It seems silly really, me crying… what on earth do I have to cry about? Nothing. Though, I guess when I think about it I have a lot to cry about, being an empathetic person the world is slowly breaking my heart. I am realizing more and more every day that the small percent of the world that lives safely and comfortably is so incredibly small. Think about that. The majority of the people – and animals- on our planet are not safe, well fed, together with their families or entitled to basic human rights. Most of the people on this planet are losing their home to war, climate change, hunger, and slavery. When you really start to think about that, it starts to get depressing as f*ck. Well, without further ado let the real cry fest begin- well at least for me, it is a good thing I am not writing on ink and paper… oh wait.. I have a keyboard that might fry.

Make sure you catch up on all my previous posts, part 1, part 2, part 3,and part 4.

I cried for the first time this week. I guess after volunteering on Samos for three weeks I've started to really get to know people. I start to see past smiles as they pass me in the camp or on the streets. I notice the worry and stress that is hiding in every crease on their face. I see how crushed the are as they fail their first interview and worry about finding legal help for the long battle ahead. I pick up on their heavy shoulders as they realize they're here for several more month. This week is just got to me and I broke down. . Thankfully, other volunteers understand and they just seemed to know I needed a hug. I rarely hug people but a giant group hug in our volunteer office is what got me through the day. . Read more about volunteering in a refugee camp at my link in bio. Post 3 will be out tomorrow. . #GooglePixel #teampixel #sunsetsunday #beach #greece #volunteer #refugeeswelcome #storytellingphotography #lovegreece #philanthropy #ig_greece #femaletravelbloggers #igers_greece

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Personal Moments with an Asylum Seeker

He was about three times as tall as me it seemed, he was about twice as tall as just about anyone in the room, yet he was so graceful. He always had a pair of headphones in his ears as if he was trying to block out the entire world. From one introvert to another, I could relate. For us, a pair of headphones is often the last line of defense between the chaotic world and calm inner peace.

Momodou was the most consistent student in my computer class coming every single day, rain or shine and there was a lot of rain.

One day I asked him, “What are you listening to?”

“Senegalese music.”

He handed me his headphones and my ears were filled with joyous drumming beats and happy music. I began to understand that half smile he had on his face almost at all time. I had never listened to Senegalese music before and now as I write this my house is filled with the happy sounds from Senegal.

Vathy, Samos, Greek Island. Volunteering in a Refugee Camp Europe.

Momodou himself is not from Senegal, he is from The Gambia, which makes him most unusual in the camp and his story is quite different and goes to show the “refugee crisis” is not isolated or kept to a certain area. A series of crises engulfs the world. Most people in the camp are from war-torn Syria, in fact 5.5 million people people are displaced from Syria. They are facing one of the worst humanitarian crisis of today and their homes are destroyed and they have no choice, but to leave. Syrians are the most sensitive people in the camp as they have dealt with inconceivable amounts of trauma and loss. However, they are not the only country facing a crisis. Jordan, Myanmar, Yemen and many parts of Africa are engulfed in slavery rings, religious wars, violent militant groups, genocide and corrupt governments, but when you head over to The Gambia things seem relatively calm? However, religious persecution against Christians runs deep there. While this mistreatment has supposedly gotten better over the years the fact remains that Momodou, after converting to Christianity had the need to leave his family behind and begin a journey to find a place he was free to believe what he wanted to believe.

Now I get it, this doesn’t sound as bad as my last post where I talked about Children watching their families being blown apart, and it’s not, I get that, so why am I so emotional? I guess with English being a barrier to connecting with people and hearing their story, Momodou spoke English very well and we were able to connect on a deeper level during our daily computer classes.

Samos Volunteers Computer Class for Refugees. Volunteering in a refugee camp.

Zhinar, Oliver, Me and Momodou during our computer class.

It was once again a Friday night. The pressure of men’s mass distribution loomed over us. Last weekend we made it through a women’s mass distribution, but with almost twice as many men in the camp, we were unsure if we would be able to make it through even half the camp in one weekend. My Friday night was booked with trips to and from the warehouse and camp to fill our supply cabin with men’s emergency winter clothing. As one of the few people who rented a car, I would pull into the warehouse, at the end of a long windy road full of potholes and switchbacks, load my car up to the point I was unable to see out my windows and make the hairpin turns around Samos and back into the camp. The road to the camp was not much better, full of jagged potholes and it was not an easy drive with boxes covering my vision. My car dipped and I bottomed out. I shuddered, thinking, “that didn’t sound good.” But it was common here on Samos. I had been here three weeks and the bottom of my car had seen a lot of action. I made it down to camp and parked my car in the line, waiting to drive into the camp one at a time. I left my car to play keep away with the kids as they chased and climbed on the moving car headed into the camp, when a Greek police officer pointed out the completely flat tire on my car. Well, at least I was surrounded by security guards and police officers who were on watch at the camp. In the U.S., they would often be the first to the scene to help a stray car with a flat tire. I opened my trunk to look for my spare tire when they all walked away talking among themselves. Ok, fine, good thing my dad raised a strong independent woman who doesn’t need any help.

The other volunteers were in the camp unloading boxes when all this went down, so I began the process of changing my tire when my favorite computer student walked up and said, “Susanna what on earth happened?!”

“Flat tire!” I shrugged and bent over to continue my work.

Before I could say anything else, Momodou had my car jacked up, my old tire off and the new one back on. Seriously, he was lightning fast and I could barely process what happened. He dusted his hands off, shook my hand and told me to drive safely from now on and sauntered back into the camp. I was speechless, for the second time on Samos it was someone from the camp that came to my rescue while locals stood idle. My heart was so full and so thankful. I proceeded filling up the cabin for tomorrow’s men’s distribution.

From that night on Momodou holds a special place in my heart. His selfless act of kindness just blew me away. So, when things started going south for him my heart began to break.

Volunteering in a refugee camp.

Changing my flat tire.

One day Momodou walked into class with his broad shoulders slumped. His headphones were shoved in his ears, but he was not smiling. He held out his police papers and there, on the leftmost page was a red ink stamp with two short lines. He had failed his first interview and the stress and anxiety were overwhelming. Someone like Momodou has an uphill battle ahead of him, not coming from Syria and not being a woman or child he is the least likely candidate to receive asylum. So, that red stamp was soul crushing. From here, another interview will be set up for Momodou where he will receive free legal aid. If he fails this he must then pay for his own lawyer. Momodou shook his head after I expressed my sorrow and sat down and asked me for today’s lesson. He plugged away on the computer typing that day’s lesson out, focused and intent on learning computer skills he could hopefully take with him to a country he could call home.

I studied him, his dedication, his selfless act of helping me and his ability to show up for class every single day when so many did not. A few years ago I was a manager of a large successful branch of a company. Momodou is the type of person that I would hire in a heartbeat and I would know that he would work his butt off despite all odds to be the very best employee he could be. I hope nothing more than for him to be able to add his skills and work ethic to a company in Europe. Anyone would be lucky to have him on their team.

Not long after he failed his first interview, Momodou’s mother died unexpectedly. He came into class with red swollen eyes and a broken heart. He is unable to freely travel to go back and pay his respect to his mother, as he is stuck in the camp until his fate is decided. Additionally, his mother was a Muslim and it seemed he may not be welcome by some family members or back in the country for other reasons kept to himself.

This week one of my computer students lost his mother. He came to class every single day with red swollen eyes and a broken heart. This crisis displaces so many families and they have no way to reconnect or reunite. Imagine having to leave your family behind because it is your only option and then being stuck in a camp and unable to travel home when your own mother dies unexpectedly. My heart broke for him. . My third post is live on the blog at my link in bio @wanderingchocobo. . #GooglePixel #teampixel #giveback #ancientgreece #greece #europe #refugeestories #refugeecrisis #volunteer #refugeeswelcome #lovegreece #philanthropy #igers_greece #femaletravelbloggers #harbor #abmtravelbug #exploretheglobe #roamtheplanet #theglobewanderer #guardiantravelsnaps #Flashesofdelight #wheretofindme #openmyworld #worlsdtravelbook #wonderfulglobe #mybestintravel #wanderingfeatures #travelingourplanet #mytinyatlas #theoutbound

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I asked him if his mother had been ill for a while, but he said her death was quite unexpected. With poor health care in The Gambia, one small health issue often means death. While talking to him, so many things hit home for me. I looked around the room at everyone in the Alpha center, all the men playing backgammon, all the women knitting, and at all the kids coloring and I started thinking that each and every one of them had someone back home whom they wished so desperately to see again, but the chances of that were quite low. At any moment in time, this loved one might perish, or they might be placed in a different camp or not receive asylum. In the time it takes for a single bomb to explode or the matter of a simple health issue that goes unresolved with no hospital services available, families are separated. This thought overwhelmed me and tears began to well in my eyes. I walked upstairs to the volunteer office area, shut the door and turned to the three people in the office and just said, “I need a hug.” I’m not much of a hugger, but having three people, who didn’t even need to ask questions because they understood where the tears were coming from, wrap their arms around me and that was that. We parted ways and continued on with our day. Thanks for the hugs!

Momodou wants to go to the U.K. where he has family and religious freedom or Germany where the economy is strong and he can integrate into the EU. Isn’t it crazy… a hardworking and respectable man who wants to start a new life for himself away from religious persecution and away from a place with poor health care and a poor economy can’t just up and move to another country where there is potential and opportunity to contribute his skills to the workforce? Wasn’t that what the American Dream was supposed to be all about? What happened to that?People gave into mass fears of terrorism and in turn, are closing their doors to thousands of wonderful people. Instead, he ends up in a refugee camp, caged like an animal, unable to travel home when his mother dies, unable to search for employment for himself. Stuck in limbo for years.

Men’s Mass Distribution

I survived the popped tire, thanks to my good friend Momodou, but the real work began Saturday morning with the men’s mass distribution. If you’ve been following along on my journey the whole time, you know by now how this goes. This weekend posed a particularly difficult challenge as we didn’t have enough supplies for all the men. Young males make up the largest percentage of people in the camp. Their chances of survival and securing employment are typically higher than women or girls who are more suspectable to rape and assault. They are also the less likely to receive asylum, compared to women and children. That leaves places like Samos with a large male population. Therefore, it is clothing for thin men that is often needed the most. BUT, when people think of donating to a crisis, they think of the babies, little children, and women. However, the number of babies and pregnant women who make the journey is relatively low, and if they do they are most likely able to receive asylum or move off the island. We had a room in our warehouse FULL of infant and baby clothing and just about a handful of infants in the camp. We had a small section for men’s clothing and a camp full of men. Samos and other camps are desperate for donations of small to medium sized men’s clothing. They are so desperate that in a warehouse filled to the brim with clothing we barely had enough to provide emergency clothing to 900 men.

Volunteering in a refugee camp on Samos, Greece, Europe.

Team meeting before the distribution.

Samos was expecting a large donation from the Netherlands that included some critically needed items for the male population. We had hoped it would arrive before the weekend, but with some issues at customs, the container was not released. There was a small chance it would arrive before Sunday, but it was unlikely. We would be taking this weekend one day at a time and distributing clothing to as many people as possible until our supplies ran out.

Bright and early Saturday morning we gathered in the camp cabin to compile our distribution game plan. I was on short sleeve and long sleeve shirts this morning. The main goal of this distribution was to provide winter jackets, socks, hats, gloves and boots to the camp members. One of the few clothing items we did have enough of was shirts, so we added that into the mix. The number of pants we had was dismally low, so, unfortunately, we were unable to distribute any pants.

This distribution flew by compared to the women’s distribution. I found it much easier to hold a shirt up to one of the guys and tell them it looked good on them, or I liked the color and they eagerly took it. I met a few German speakers in the group and was able to speak German with them. Many of the people from the camp don’t come down to the Alpha center, so I told one guy to come down to Alpha and to sign up for our advanced German classes and we could practice speaking German together. I was a little ashamed that one man’s German was much better than mine, and I’ve been living in the country for 2 years. It just goes to show what someone can accomplish when they put their mind to it or when they have no other choice to acclimate. I do not NEED to learn German. I work from home and just about everyone I interact with knows some level of English, for that I am fortunate, but it has made me lazy. Someone like him, whose dream is to move to Germany and find a job with a German company and doing this might be his only ticket out of the camp and to create a future for himself. I was very impressed by his self-discipline and pursuit of his dream to move to Germany.

Volunteering in a refugee camp on Samos, Greece, Europe.

Before we knew it we had outfitted nearly double the number of women we had last weekend by this time and it was time for us to pack up, make room for the lunch truck and for the women to head down to Alpha for women’s only Alpha.

If you are considering donating to Samos Volunteers or any other organization dealing with the middle east refugee crisis. I encourage you to critically think about what you are donating. While getting rid of your baby clothing might make you feel good, remember that about 60% of the populations in camps like this are thin males. They need small to medium sized pants, and shirts more than anything. Samos Volunteers and other organizations are constantly updating their needs lists so you can always know what is in demand.

What’s For Lunch?

If you’ve been reading along, you read that food in the camp can sometimes be moldy or contain worms. Gross, right? I recently received an email from a reader who was shocked that the government wasn’t providing certain items, like decent food and supplies for the camp. Truth be told the Greek military and government are in charge of most things in the camp from food, security, and basic shelter. On top of Greek services, there are several EU and UN groups there providing other basic services, some of which are on their way out. The NGOs must work alongside the camp manager and Greek government to be allowed in the camp to provide extra things, like clothing and activities. Whether or not we were allowed in the camp to distribute clothing can depend on our relationship with the camp manager.

That being said, Greece is suffering from an ongoing depression. Their economy is not fitted or able to healthily provide for a large group of displaced people. The EU throws money at Greece from time to time to solve this problem, but it doesn’t alter the fact that most of the people from the camp that received asylum are transferred to Athens, where their chances of finding a job, receiving health care of going to school are slim with the current economic state of Greece.

I used to think quite highly of the EU, but after spending some time in a refugee camp I quickly saw many cracks and flaws in how they deal with things. First and foremost, the EU puts a lot of pressure and criticism on the U.S. for the types of lunches we serve our children in school and the amount of waste and how unsustainable we are, but the failure to provide decent food and sustainable methods in these camps was not lost on me. I’m working on an entire post about the unsustainability of refugee camps and how the countries that host them can be alternative and green on paper, but don’t include these camps in their figures. The amount of trash and waste produced in the camps daily is ridiculous… oh wait this section was about lunch… right…

Lunch is provided by the Greek military. An entity of a government, that is facing an economic crisis and hardships for their own citizens, is in charge of providing food for a group of people they often feel are taking resources that could be used for the locals. That being said, food arrives three times a day in a military truck.

Volunteering in a refugee camp on Samos, Greece, Europe.

Two brothers walking back from school.

Breakfast is usually a sugary processed pastry wrapped in plastic and orange juice that might not even be considered orange juice. Lunch and dinner were often meals similar to heated TV tray meals, that are void of veggies or fruit. Instead, you might find moldy meat or starchy carbs with little to no nutrition. Everything served has too much single-use plastic, too much sugar, and not enough nutrition. Formula is available for babies and young children, but otherwise, no matter your diet needs or age, food is just about the same. Add poor nutrition to the poor hygiene of the camp and add that to the high-stress levels of people in the camp and imagine the number of times people get sick throughout the year. Take high sugar levels for breakfast and add that to no dental care options and imagine the state of oral health in the camp. Combine ALL that and put one doctor in the camp imagine how in demand they are. I, a healthy young person with a good diet and access to vitamins, got SO sick while I was working on Samos. The island of Samos has poor medical care even for residents, and I was told by someone to go see the camp doctor, but I knew that doctor was so busy treating people in the camp I just toughed it out. I can’t even imagine what it is like being in constantly poor health and lethargic from malnutrition. As this situation gets worse and hundreds more arrive at these camps monthly I think the EU needs to take a long hard look at their home turf and plan for a healthier future and sustainability for these camps.

Women’s Alpha – The Makeover Addition

During the women’s meeting earlier this week, I volunteered to run a makeup session. I know, I rarely wear makeup, but the women in the camp like being able to paint their faces to the max from time to time, it helps with their confidence and dismal conditions of the camp. Part of Samos Volunteer’s budget goes to purchasing things for Women’s Alpha which, Milly oversees. Milly is the best friend to every woman in the camp. She’s a long-term volunteer from the U.K. and ensures that the women have a safe, comfortable space in Alpha at all times and that every Saturday is special for them. She purchased a large amount of makeup from eyeshadows, eyebrow kits, nail polishes, lipsticks, eye liner.. the works, so we had a nice makeup stash ready for makeovers.

Volunteering in a refugee camp on Samos, Greece, Europe.

My good friend Abi – another volunteer from the U.K., and someone I had grown quite close with volunteered to run this makeup session with me. The women signed up for 30 min sessions. We laid out all the supplies in different stations with mirrors and waited for the first session to start. A group of women came in and they started doing their hair and makeup while chatting and having a good time. At one point a woman far more glamorous than I noticed my dismally thin ginger eyebrows and was aghast at my lack of makeup. She asked with motions and hand gestures if she could do my hair. With nothing to lose, I said, “Sure, why not?”

Women refugee activities.Volunteering in a refugee camp on Samos, Greece, Europe.

The next thing I knew I was being mauled by about 5 Arabic women. My hair was taken down from its ponytail and cotton balls were being shoved in my hair, my hair pins were stabbing my head, I was being doused in hairspray and my face was being painted. Unable to see my self for a good 20 minutes, when I finally looked in the mirror I laughed out loud. My eyebrows were 10 times their original size and my hair was up in a glamorous up-do. Women from all over Alpha were coming to take their photo with me and my lead stylist followed me, spraying me with spray, increasing my brow size ever so slightly and stopping for selfies. The women in the camp are very conscious about having their faces in their photos, so here is a bunch of selfies that the volunteers and I took. None of us are makeup wearing duck face girls, but when in Rome.

Naturally, Milly, their best friend, was next. Last up, was Abi and Greet and Belgian volunteer. At the end of Women’s Only Alpha, we looked like we belonged to an 80s girl band. Looking back at my time on Samos this is one of my favorite memories and a great bonding experience with some of the women. Some of the girls in the camp were fashionistas back home, you can tell. Not everyone in the camp is poor, quite a few people came from money and either they were able to buy a safer trip over to Greece with some clothing or buy some clothing once in Greece. There is a group of younger girls that always have lovely hijabs and cute outfits. They often would often giggle at my chunky hiking boots when we would line dance together. I can’t imagine being torn from my life of privilege and reduced to living in a container filled with people.

After Alpha closed, we began our weekly deep clean and the men’s hiking group joined us. Some of the men were so shocked by our transformations they were at a loss for word’s and one of them didn’t even recognize me. Do you recognize me?

Volunteer Bonding and Greek Roads

It had been nearly 14 days since anyone had a day off. We were here to work, so no one was complaining, but a little release is good in hard situations and volunteer bonding is important as well. We were originally planning on working men’s distribution on Sunday, which would have meant 21 days with no break, but the shipment from the Netherlands did not arrive and so we would continue distribution next week- if it arrived. With a precious Sunday off, two of the volunteers, Rio and Elaina who had been renting a lovely house outside of Vathy town, decided to host a going away party. Both Rio and Elaina had been on Samos for the full three-month visa allowed for U.S. citizens, so they were well known and loved by volunteers, locals on Samos, and people in the camp. They both had one week left and many people were heartbroken to see them go.

Volunteering in a refugee camp on Samos, Greece, Europe.

Unfortunately for me, the 14 non-stop days of working and the ridiculous amount of germs my body was being introduced to I was not feeling well. I opted to drive a few people out to the party, hang out for a bit sober and then head home before 1 am. I also wanted to save energy so I could see more of the island if I was feeling up to it.

The party was lovely and well a party – I don’t need to get into that on a post about a migration crisis, but I will talk about the drive there and a lesson learned in Greek maintenance.

It was pitch dark, I had a car full of volunteers and we were headed outside of Vathy town onto the dark single lane highway. We had some terribly vague directions and a lack of knowledge of the area on behalf of Google maps. I was going the speed limit with my brights on chatting away when suddenly before me there was a MASSIVE rock slide – no it wasn’t in motion, but it had happened and boulders filled my lane, just as I was about to hit them a sign cautioning me of a rock slide had an arrow for me to serve to the left, “what into oncoming traffic?” I thought, but with no time to think anything else as I swerved into the other lane. Thankfully no other cars were coming toward us. I continued on the way slightly more cautious and shaken up. Just as I had recovered it happened AGAIN. If this was the U.S. or Germany there would be massive signage and maybe even a stop light to control traffic. Here in Greece, you just swerve to avoid the rocks and hope a car isn’t coming the other way. I was later told these rock slides had been there all winter and it was just a part of Samos life. Whether it was due to lack of funding in their economic depression or lack of caring I’ll never know, but as I drove around the island I found this was quite common.

Goodbye letters to Rio.

I made it home and was in bed by 1 am! I was still fighting off a sickness, but I was determined to see more of Samos’ beauty.

Sunday Funday with Grace

Pythagaorio, Samos, Greece. Pythagorean theorem.

After a much-needed sleep, I woke up and dragged myself to Coffee Lab and checked in with some of the girls I had bonded with Abi, Emma and Grace. I was going on a road trip and wanted to know if any of them wanted to join. Most were battling lack of sleep, hangover or just needed to catch up on laundry and were unable to join. Only Grace, a newer volunteer from the U.S. decided to join me and we set off with the goal to drive around most of the island. Following my friend’s advice for driving around Samos we decided to avoid the narrow roads and stick to the main road, which cut the island in half. I can’t even what the narrow roads were like of the main road was a narrow pothole filled winding road.

We started our day in Pythagaorio, the hometown of Pythagoras the famous mathematician, who discovered the Pythagorean theorem and documented the formula a2+b2=c2. This town was a charming seaside town with colorful boats in the harbor, and cobblestone alleyways lined with orange trees. It was Sunday during the offseason, so a few scattered locals gathered at the seaside restaurants and enjoyed their afternoon. It was one of the first days since I arrived I saw blue sunny skies. It was the perfect day to walk along the harbor and explored old Greek ruins and graveyards. As Grace scrambled up a crumbling ruin and began to explore the cliff side I knew she was a woman after my own heart, a reckless adventurer. Stopping for lunch at a lovely sea-side restaurant I had one of the best meals I had in weeks, every other meal was a quickly shoving a granola bar in my mouth or pasta made illegally on the floor of my hotel. We savored our lunch before jumping back in the car and heading inland through the mountains.

We passed ancient Greek ruins and sites as we moved away from the gorgeous coastline and into the rolling green mountains. Samos is known for it’s outdoor and hiking activities and I hope to return someday to hike all the crisscrossing trails. We eventually pulled into a small town called Pirgos, known for their pottery. The entire town was on a hillside and filled with narrow dirt roads. I sort up just pulled off to the side and hoped no one would hit the car as we wandered into the town. We first stopped in a pottery shop willed with gorgeous pottery, but there wasn’t a single soul in sight. I noticed these pottery chalices called Pythagoras’ cup. This clever pottery cup was designed so that if you tried to fill your cup with too much wine, it would leak out the bottom. I kinda wanted one as a gag gift, but I resisted. Grace saw something she liked and wanted to buy it, but we were unsure if there was even anyone to buy the item from. Looking around, we walked into the back of the shop and found it connected to a kitchen where an older woman was cooking. It seemed she ran a kitchen and a pottery shop. We chatted with her, purchased the items and continued into the town No one was in the streets, but we did hear lively music coming from the kitchen/pottery shop. It seemed the entire town got together after Sunday church and were having a party. That left us free to explore the town and small Orthodox churches. The single town had at least three small churches.

We continued through the mountains dotted with charming honey stands – closed for the winter, and vineyards – dead for winter. With hardly any other cars on the road, we pulled over as we pleased and took photos, or just enjoyed the scenery. Emerging on the other side of the island we watched a dusty pink sunset from a beach scattered with old buildings worn down and left to rot. Another sign of Greece’s failing economy.

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Meeting someone like Grace, so similar to me and also from the U.S. gives me some hope that the U.S. is destined for better days. We were able to talk a lot about the migration crisis and humanity and it was really great to make a lifelong friend with such similar interests and dedication to making a change. Grace was going to be helping in the Dreamers Class. The troubled and tumultuous group of minors that come to Alpa for informal education taught by Nicolo and Rio, soon to be Grace. These kids were a handful, often so stubborn they would proudly break Alpha rules and then run away if you tried to ask them to leave. All that aside they were good kids at heart. They had been through a lot and the Dreamers education and structure helped them socialize and gave them some form of discipline. I admire Grace for her willingness to take this role on, something I myself would run away from. Those kids need role models like Grace and Nicolo.

We arrived back in Vathy town just after dark and I collapsed in bed and binge-watched Netflix and did laundry. I’m normally not a Netflix person, but some nights I was too exhausted and mentally drained to read my book, so I watched Jane the Virgin until I fell asleep.

The Sickest I’ve Been in Years

I woke up sicker than a dog and I pushed through my Monday classes. I decided I needed to take a half a day on Tuesday to sleep in. I could barely think straight my head was so foggy and I had an awful cough. I felt incredibly guilty taking a half day off. People lived like this in the camp daily and were unable to take a day off, but I decided that I wasn’t doing anyone any good miserable and coughing all over the place. I had several of the people not from the U.S. make jokes that the mentality to “push through sickness” was a very American mentality. Our lack of sick days and the shame surrounding taking a sick day has caused us to be those people that in turn get everyone sick and stupidly work when we are of no use.

Hidden Beach Mikro Seitani Karlovasi, Greece. Road Trip Around Samos

However, I was not the only person getting sick. Weeks of cold damp rain and stretches of long work days caught up with just about everyone and midway through the week half the volunteer team were walking dead. Bogdan, the lead coordinator from Romania who was also falling quite ill and realized that it was time for a little break for the team. Our shipment of men’s supplies from The Netherlands was still stuck in customs, so the coming weekend we would not do a distribution and have some time to regain health.

Bogdan’s Story & 2 Year Anniversary

Amid the sickness, Bogdan was coming up on his two year anniversary of working on Samos, and that was cause for celebration. Thursday night Sabine, a German and his girlfriend (they met working with SV- how cute is that?) and Nour, from Syria, were cooking a grand dinner for the volunteers that would be a mix of Syrian, German and Romanian food to celebrate.

This was one of the more pleasant nights with the volunteers as it was a relaxing environment to hang out and get to know people. There was wine and beer aplenty and Nour served up some amazing homemade hummus with traditional mini pita bread puffs for an appetizer. The food was amazing and having a home-cooked meal while being sick was just what I needed.

I had asked Bogdan once, as I was giving him a ride somewhere, what his story was. Hesitant to respond he said it was a story for another time. This was the time. I don’t have a photographic memory, but this is the gist of his story. Bogdan was living in Romania, he was unhappy with his career trying out different jobs in pursuit of a passion, but nothing clicked. Two years ago he up and quit his job and came to Samos to help. At that time, before the EU Turkey deal went through the municipality and government was doing a lot of what SV does now. So, Samos Volunteers was a group of local people from Samos and some people from around Europe who were aiding the government with some things, like cooking, providing new arrival clothing, and various other things that were needed. Bogdan had only planned on staying for a few months at most, but he found himself working in the warehouse at a time when essentially everyone who was part of Samos Volunteers in its primitive form quit or left. The EU Turkey deal happened and the shape of the refugee camps, the government structure, and aid programs transformed quickly. He was left with a warehouse full of goods and one of the few people with working knowledge of the group and he felt that if he left an amazing movement would fall apart during a time when it was needed the most. And so he stayed, working until Samos Volunteers has transformed into a group of volunteers from around the world providing informal education, combating boredom, providing social activities, clothing distribution, a place for women to come together, tea distribution and most of all a place where asylum seekers and people like me can become friends.

Volunteering in a refugee camp Samos, Greece, Europe

To this day if you ask Bogdan how long he plans to stay he will say, “until I am no longer needed.” When I think about this statement I know he will be here for a long time. Despite current belief, the crisis in Syria is getting worse, the situations in Africa are not getting better. Last month 500 people landed on Samos, double what it was last year. I know Bogdan is going to be here for a very long time. I was exhausted after a month on Samos. He is an inspiration.

Volunteering in a refugee camp Samos, Greece, Europe

More importantly, people like Bogdan and all the volunteers, we are not heroes. I have a hard time when people praise me for the measly month I spent on Samos. Instead, it is the people who survive the bombings in Syria and the slave trade in Africa that are the true heroes. They are the ones who day in and day out persevere and are the truly amazing people. Remember that when people such as myself share our stories from working in the field.

Share and Take Action

Share this with your friends and family and remind them that this crisis is far from over. Take action if you can. Donate your time or money to Samos Volunteers, Advocates Abroad or find an organization on this list of people and groups working directly with the migration crisis on the various Greek Islands.

28 thoughts on “Volunteering in a Refugee Camp in Samos, Greece: Part 5, Week 3

  1. Clare Chamberlain

    As I read this, the memories come flooding back. My heart breaks as I read the stories and match them with some of my own stories and memories from Samos. We are privileged, mostly because we have freedom to come and go and do as we please. We can go to Samos and we can leave, when we need to. Refugees do not have this luxury.
    We need Suzanna’s heart wrenching reports, least we might forget the daily tragidies that are a happening around the world.

    1. Wandering ChocoboWandering Chocobo Post author

      Hugs Clare! I hope you are doing well. It is so important to remember the moments we had on Samos and be thankful for the amazing people we have connected with. I hope to go back to Samos again this year, but you’re right I feel a bit guilty that I can come and go as I please.

  2. Lauren Pescarus

    I absolutely was enthralled with every word. I live in Romania now and had no idea volunteering at a camp was an option (and so close!) and am now considering if I can do it. How did you get involved? I loved your stories, especially the makeup day, and hope you are feeling better now. Thank you for writing this!

    1. Wandering ChocoboWandering Chocobo Post author

      Thank you for reading Lauren! The lead coordinator of the NGO I was working with is from Romania, the guy I talked about in this post, Bogdan. He gives out traditional Romanian spring bracelets to all the volunteers. I still wear my proudly and think of my home on Samos. The NGO, Samos Volunteers is a FANTASTIC NGO to work with, it is a cheap option and you spend a month on the island making friends with people in the camp and just hanging out with them, which helping teach and play. If you Google Samos Volunteers or find some of the links on my website you’ll find more about them.

  3. Perri

    This is such a heartfelt insight into what everyday life is like inside the refugee camps. Thank you so much for sharing what is happening there and how it feels to volunteer. You are doing a great thing by giving your time and energy to make that camp a better environment and to asssit the refugees as much as you can. Seeing the poor conditions they live in and the low prospects they have ahead must be heartbreaking. It’s a shame that the government of wealthy countries (like mine) are not doing more in the way of aid but im not really surprised. It’s because of volunteers like you guys that these camps can stay open. Keep doing what you are doing and spreading the word so that people know what refugees are really facing instead of what the biased media show in the tabloids. Im going to look at male clothes donation now.

    1. Wandering ChocoboWandering Chocobo Post author

      Awe, thank you Perri! It is frustrating, which I know countries need to look after their own citizens, often just general care gets tossed to the wayside. The amount of money my country spends on war is just crazy and just a portion of that could go to helping provide decent living conditions in camps. Let me know if you have any questions about donating.

  4. Abhinav Singh

    I have contemplated about volunteering since a long time. You inspire me to think about it again. I can understand why you were emotional while writing this post. My all know about the migration crisis, but how many of us can claim to know the personal stories. Story of Momodou is an eye opener. My heart goes out for Syrians and others who have had to face this trauma.

    1. Wandering ChocoboWandering Chocobo Post author

      I thought about it for 2 years but never took action. I can tell you as soon as I finally decided to take action I felt so happy and knew I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. Thanks for reading.

  5. Lisa

    Another incredible story, I’m lost for words on where to begin. I think you’re doing an amazing job there in Samos, and my heart really does break for Momodou and the other refugees you’re working with. I can’t imagine how he coped after the death of his mother, and I would like to do my part and donate to this organisation. Basic human rights and needs are something we should all have, but sadly it’s not yet the case. By the way, you look much better without make-up, I didn’t recognise you either! Keep up the excellent work, and writing too.

    1. Wandering ChocoboWandering Chocobo Post author

      AHAHAH thank you – about the makeup. I had so many people from the camp tell me I should always look like that and I was like…. nahhh..I’m good. I’m too lazy for that. The needs list is a great place to start your donation. You can give them specifically what they are looking for and all it takes is a few clicks on your computer! Thanks for reading, Lisa!

  6. Blair villanueva

    Your post have tons of emotions (and heavy feelings) and i admire your courage to have this volunteering work. Writing and sharing stories is much powerful when you immersed to it. Thanks for sharing their stories and for these beautiful photos. You are doing a great job that not anyone can.

  7. Denny George

    In a world of listicles, blogs like yours offer a remarkably poignant departure from the norm. As someone who appreciates travel, I cant even begin to understand the lives of these refugees housed in camps, their freedom of movement restricted, and without access to even the basic necessities of life which provide a little bit of dignity to their lives. I respect you and your fellow volunteers for the tremendous sacrifices you make for helping them.

  8. Yukti

    Traveling for a great cause is always admired by me. You are very courageous and kind-hearted as you helped people from war crisis zones. Samos is beautiful with those ancient ruins and rolling hills and would love to visit this place. You wrote a very inspirational post which shows humanity is above all. Kudos to your strength!

  9. Cat

    I can feel your emotions through your words. As a volunteer in a refugee camp, you see firsthand what the situation is truly like – sometimes it is heartbreaking and sad. Thank you for documenting what you encountered and sharing with us the challenges the refugees are facing. I admire your strength. Stay strong!

  10. Heidi

    What an incredible experience and story. Or stories! Being there and getting to know the refuges has to be an honor for sure. I cannot even begin to fathom what it must be like to see the pain and suffering and the happiness and growth. The strength you must need to witness all this is amazing.

  11. Summer

    This was hard to read and yet I couldn’t stop. Your words touched me emotionally and I had no idea that this was happening. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for being brave enough to share your experience, but also for putting in so much time when I know that it is clearly not the easiest thing to do.

  12. Sarah

    I’m a bit teary-eyed reading this myself. It must have been such an eye-opening intense experience. Thank you for sharing so many details about what it was like, including beautiful stories of people’s lives and logistical (important!) details of what to donate.

  13. Hazel Joy

    Very insightful post, Susanna,and great to see a travelblogger covering issues like this. There’s a lot of food for thought here particularly in relation to donations. Well done.

  14. Lynne Nieman

    Wow! You are amazing to do this. My heart goes out to the migrants — all the losses they’ve endured and the uncertain future. And to those who are there helping them you are all wonderful people to be there for them. Thanks for sharing your story.

  15. Nicky

    Wow, reading this was a rollercoaster – my heart broke for Momodou, but at the same time, I loved reading about the makeup session, and the feeling that there is still hope. What a world we live in. It s so depressing to think that this is a daily reality, and that in many places, it’s even worse. But whilst there are people like yourself, there’s always hope.

    Thank you so much for this series; going to share widely!

  16. Valerie Hansen

    Awe Susanna, I loved this! What a huge heart you have to go and give your time to these refugees who are so in need. What an eye opening eperience, and my heart feels for these people who have lost so much!

    I would love to do this someday, but not sure I could handle the sad parts of it!


  17. Sandy

    Wow. Thanks for much for sharing. It’s refreshing to read about first hand experience from a volunteer instead of main stream media on the issues. Keep doing what you’re doing girl. Hugs x

  18. Amanda

    Thank you for writing this and volunteering to help in a Greece. A poignant reminder that most in this world are not as lucky as the few who live in peace and safety. I live on Rhodes and worked with the refugees here initially but in the end the locals didn’t want foreigners involved. They didn’t want any publicity or anyone to know they still have refugees because they are frightened of losing essential tourist money. Though in the last two years we have raised funds for the local school where they didn’t even have toilet paper and some children had no winter coats. Also the local medical centres that had almost no resources, not even paper to print out prescriptions.
    The Greeks are very proud and won’t ask for help but it’s about time the EU stepped in for the sake of the refugees and the local population…

    1. Wandering ChocoboWandering Chocobo Post author

      It’s interesting, having volunteers like myself on Samos is what kept many businesses open during the winter. The hotel I stayed out gave special deals to volunteers and they were full almost the entire time I was there. So, I understand they are worried to lose tourism, but they did get a boost in winter from NGOs at least. It is my goal though to tell the world that this is still happening, I think it is important to not try and hide the issue, though I know the Greek economy is quite fragile right now. I agree the EU needs to help Greece out more, and not just by tossing money at them, but by taking some of the refugees and giving them homes in a place where the economy is stronger. Thanks for reading. I really appreciate your comment!


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