Working with Samos Volunteers: Moving to Greece to Volunteer in a Refugee Camp

You heard right, on Wednesday, January 10th I leave my cozy home in Munich, Germany and I am moving to Samos, Greece for a little over a month to work with refugees. It’s only just a few days before I leave and I am wrought with anxious feelings. I’ve come to realize that I have a deep-seated fear that I will not be strong enough in the face of adversity. The refugees have seen and dealt with things unimaginable, while I live a life of privilege, and yet here I am, scared when I have no right. It’s been an ongoing process of ups and downs as I battle with this fear. I worry that the residents will look to me as a pillar of strength, strength that might very well crumble the day I arrive and experience the living conditions first hand. But enough about my feelings, I am sure you have as many questions as I do emotions.

Samos Refugee Camp My time working as a volunteer.

Where the Heck is Samos, Greece?

Good question! I didn’t even know until a few months ago. Samos is a little island in Greece, however, it is just a few miles off the coast of Turkey. See that little red pin on the map below? That’s Samos, right smack between mainland Greece and Turkey.

Samos, Greece

Samos, Greece

To get all the way over to Samos, I will fly from Munich to Athens, spend the night in Athens and then board a small propeller plane to Samos airport. There was a cheaper option to take the ferry from Athens to Samos, but with limited connections in the winter and a 15-hour ferry ride, saving a couple of Euros wasn’t quite worth it.

Before the refugee crisis-hit Europe, Samos was just another Greek island. It was popular for island vacations with an emphasis on hiking and adventures. It’s a small local community of friendly Greeks. People can certainly still come to holiday in Samos and they still do, but the presence of the Samos camp has changed the dynamic of the island in more ways than one.

Why Samos? Why I Chose to Volunteer with Refugees on Samos

This has been a long time coming, nearly two years, in fact. I am a bit ashamed it’s taken me that long to bite the bullet and take action. When I moved to Germany I quit my typical 50 hour a week job and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I finally decided that I would take the time and pursue my passions. I’ve been working on a book, my travel blog and several other entrepreneur endeavors like Female Travel Bloggers and believe me I’ve never been happier, but something was missing. Every day that I got to make coffee in my beautiful German apartment and sit down to work from home something has been eating away at my moral compass. I live an incredibly privileged life and I am in the situation where I have spare money and lot of time on my hands. I can easily work on the road or make my schedule. I knew I wanted to work with refugees since Europe is under a lot of pressure with the influx of refugees, it was something that I am passionate about and was near and dear to home.

I began looking at programs, locally in Munich. I hit several dead ends, most of the refugees were trying to learn German and interrogate into German lifestyle. As a fresh immigrant myself, a lot of places needed someone fluent in German to speak and work with their members. I felt frustrated and defeated and gave up the search for some time, but that feeling of living a privileged life while so many people around me needed help never left.

About a month ago, I logged on to Chrome and simply typed – European refugee volunteer programs and I found Samos Volunteers. It was the perfect fit! I applied the next week and they accepted me the following week.

Samos Refugee Camp My time working as a volunteer.

About Samos Refugee Camp

I’m going to save some of the details until I actually arrive in Samos and experience the camp. This information is what I have collected from news articles from the likes of The Guardian and Euronews. Samos refugee camp was initially set up as a temporary camp, designed to filter the refugees coming to Europe through Turkey. Each individual was only supposed to temporarily be on the island for a few weeks, a month – at most, while they received processing paperwork and identification before moving on to another European location. The camp’s capacity is 700 people.

Now bursting with over 2,500 permanent residents the camp is now Greece’s second largest and is now described as a place “where only the sick and pregnant can leave.” Due to the EU Turkey deal, the migrant flow to the EU has essentially stopped or slowed down, stranding thousands on this island. Not only are refugees stranded without movement, it is now illegal for them to leave Turkey. If they make it across they must prove Turkey is unsafe for them. Many of them did not know they needed to bring proof of rape or torture, so they most likely will lose their court case and eventually be sent back to Turkey.

As you can imagine, a camp designed for 700 temporary people, but housing more than 2,500 permanent residents is not anyone’s utopia. Most people only have limited of clothing – they receive when they arrive. They’re living in cheap camping tents. The camp is a sanitation nightmare, with sewage issues, trash nightmares and flooding a common occurrence. In the middle of winter – they’re drowning in rain, cold and lack volunteers and supplies. There is no privacy. Illegal camps are spotted around the island, outside the government approved camp, that have ABSOLUTELY NO trash or sanitation facilities. Women are now actively trying to become pregnant as it just might be their only ticket off the island. I could go on and on, but until I see it I’m not even sure I can believe it.

Samos Refugee Camp. My time working as a volunteer.

About Samos Volunteers

Samos Volunteers is an NGO working with a few other NGOs and the refugee camp. I just fell in love with them and their mission from the moment I found them. Samos Volunteers focuses on many things, but first and foremost they focus on adult education and giving as many people the joy of play and activities. They strive to give children a sense of a childhood through games, sports, art, and play. Since most residents are not leaving anytime soon, they bring teachers and educate adults in various languages and life skills that may help them land a job. On any given day Samos Volunteers is providing hot tea on winter mornings, running athletic and dance activities from yoga to soccer games, teaching biology or running knitting and skillshare workshops so the residents for just a moment have a sense of a normal life.

Samos Volunteers started in 2015 and was initially a response program to provide necessary life-saving items to the refugees from food, shelter, and clothing. With the looming permanence of the camp, they transitioned from non-essential support to informal educational activities and psycho-social support.

What Will My Day Look Like?

I was told I should be prepared for any and everything. Since I do not have my TEFL I will be doing a lot of hands-on work. Some nights, I may receive a phone call at 2 am to head down and process a new group of refugees arriving by boat. This entails distributing clothing and personal care pack to each person. Some days, I will be working the morning tea, handing out and brewing tea all morning. Other days, I might be in the warehouse, processing donations. When the weather is pleasant I will organize a women’s hike around the island. They have a garden in the camp, I might be working with plants and food. Most of the time, I will be playing with kids, running and helping with art workshops, fitness programs, playing board and card games. I plan on bringing my two hula hoops and teaching some kids to hoop. I was told some days I might be picking up literal shit and human waste, as the sanitation on the island is not made to deal with so many people. Good thing I am packing my Xtratufs.

Overall, I am mentally preparing for just about everything under the sun. I anticipate since I am only there for a month and without a teaching cert I will be doing odd jobs and placed as needed.

Samos Refugee Camp My time working as a volunteer.

How am I Feeling?

I went over this a bit in my intro, but I’m a bit scared and it’s not for the reasons one might think. I’m not scared of refugees or crime or theft, but I’m scared I’m going to fall apart. I’m an emotional person, things involving humanitarian crisis hit me right in the god damn feels. I’m worried I won’t wake up with the energy and strength to be a positive role model for those in the camp. I’ve been working on ensuring I am in a positive place mentally before I arrive. I will be arriving a day before I start work so I can collect my thoughts and prepare for the road ahead.

I’m also going to miss my partner, Ganesh. We’ve done long distance, so I know I can be apart from him, but he is often my rock when I am a hot mess. I have only myself to rely on and that is a bit scary. I do think it is healthy for our relationship to be apart and I am often a solo traveler, even in marriage, but in trying times I know I will miss him. He’s incredibly proud of me for doing this and is nothing but supportive. I think our future contains many trips such as this, hopefully, some we can do together.

How Can You Help?

I am funding this trip on my own, that means I am responsible for my transportation, accommodation, food and everything else. Ganesh and I can comfortably cover those costs and for that, we are very thankful. If you’re interested in learning more about Samos Volunteers or donating to them you can find their donation website here. They are looking for everything from money, to clothing and education materials.

Bookmark for More Updates

Near the comment section, you can check a box to receive email updates in your inbox. You can also, click here, to read about my first few days. I will be posting a diary style of my trip on this blog – just like the good old days of travel blogging! I am not allowed to take any photos of the camp – inside or out. It is a violation of personal space and a rule I completely agree with. I’m signing off for now, and I’ll check in from Greece! Tchüss!

Find out why I decided to with an NGO helping refugees on Samos, Greece. Samos Volunteers provides adult education and kids activities for refugees and those seeking asylum.


5 thoughts on “Working with Samos Volunteers: Moving to Greece to Volunteer in a Refugee Camp

  1. Sarah

    Susanna I am so excited for you, and to follow along on your experience. I know the feeling of being called to something for a long time and only finally being able to sort out the logistics! I think your fears are understandable, but remember you can transform your fears into passion, outrage and action. Pass that fear on to other people in a positive way, like Facebook friends and blog readers, and you can spread the word of this injustice and instigate change.

    Reply
  2. Karin

    Super interesting read. I hope you’ll find time to share more from your day to day over there! Take care <3

    Reply
  3. Leigh

    What an amazing and selfless thing for you to do! I can’t imagine the stress on a tiny island of so many refugees! Will send you positive vibes that your month goes well 🙂

    Reply
  4. Katherine

    Best of luck Susanna. I know you’re in the midst of it all now and I hope that you’re adjusting and feeling good about your decision. You’re a braver person than I am.

    Reply
  5. Nicky

    I think this is a wonderful thing to do; it’s very easy to stay put in a comfortable situation, and turn a blind eye to the plight of others when it doesn’t directly affect us, but you’re putting all that aside to directly take action in helping the people who need it most. And that makes you a very wonderful human being in my book! I hope it all goes well, and I’m sure it will (though apprehensive fears are completely understandable!); keep us updated!

    Reply

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