My experience in Greece - Rachel's story
14th December 2018
I have been volunteering with Northern Lights Aid for over six months now, and Kavala has become a second home for me. I came out for just two weeks at first, but the joy, compassion and strength I witnessed, caused me to abandon any plans to return home.
Northern Lights Aid is a Norwegian NGO, founded on the beaches of Lesvos, it now supports the more than 500 people living in a refugee camp in eastern Greece. We run English classes, children’s activities, workshop projects and offer material support to new mothers and babies in the camp. The original project of NLA in Kavala however, is our clothing store. It enables dignified and fair distribution of donated clothing and footwear items, for free, to those in need. With different displays for men, women and children; a large storage area at the back; and a changing room: the calm, comfortable atmosphere it creates is far removed from the traditional experience of a clothing distribution. Finding items one actually likes, which fit properly, enables autonomy and normality in a situation where such things can be scarce.
The provision of high-quality, new items in our store owes a lot to the generosity and efficiency of Goods for Good. Generally, we rely on clothing donations from the local Greek community, which although fantastic, can mean we lack specific items.
For over a year we have been drastically short of men’s shoes in particular, with many men living in the camp not receiving a single pair of shoes during this time. The men work hard, they fish for their families, walk miles to access facilities they need: it was a true shame that we had no shoes to offer them.
The partnership with PUMA, created by Goods for Good, meant we were able to give every man in the camp a brand-new pair of stylish, comfortable trainers. The significance of this to the quality of their daily lives cannot be over-estimated.
A similar thing can be said of the many pairs of NIKE shoes we now have for children. It is a delight to see boys and girls dancing around the store, overjoyed at their brand-new shoes.
These moments are not uncommon.
Another special moment for me was when two 15 year old boys came to the store. They were from the local community and had been referred to us by Greek social services. Hailing from difficult backgrounds, they lacked sufficient clothing and footwear to attend school. Providing clothing and a pair of new PUMA shoes to each boy, became a special moment, in which everyone could to relate to the satisfaction and confidence brought by having something brand-new, which is yours and only yours.
There are many families here who have endured great trauma during their escape from their homeland. In November, we held an emergency appointment for a family who had crossed the Evros River the day before. This river marks the land border between Turkey and Greece and is a very treacherous route to Europe. The little family comprised a very smiley two-year old boy, his mother and father. The mother was nine-months pregnant with their second son at the time of their journey. She gave birth in the camp five days after arriving in Greece, having fled bombing in both their native Syria as well as in Turkey. Not only this, but she had suffered abuse at the hands of the smugglers upon which they had relied on for safety. To me this woman is the epitome of strength and courage. When she arrived she was so thin, but also pregnant to such a degree it was difficult to walk. Despite this, they were so warm and generous as we greeted them in the store. Through their trauma Amina and her husband had sought joy in the company of each other and, in every way they could, protected their son from exposure to it. I will never forget this family, their plight, and their strength during such a critical time.
The incredible, joyful people I have met here will shape the way I live from now on. Their generosity and courage in the face of indescribably awful situations gives a great deal of perspective to my own life. I have been granted well beyond my fair share of luck and privilege. The satisfaction I feel waking up each day and knowing that I am not just standing-by the injustice served to these people cannot be measured. It is an overwhelmingly positive experience and I feel honoured to work with and serve the inspirational, resilient people I do.
This story was provided by Rachel who volunteered with North Lights Aid, a Norwegian NGO founded on the beaches of Lesvos. It now supports the more than 500 people living in a refugee camp in eastern Greece. Thank you for your contribution Rachel, and for sharing your experience with us.