Rosalind's trip to the Refugee Camps in Greece
4th February 2019
A visit to Thessaloniki usually conjures up sunshine, blue skies, beaches, sun-tan lotion and all-inclusive summer holidays. My visit to Greece on the 8th January was totally far removed from that.
I travelled with Esther Veenstra, from our charity partner HRIF in Holland, to visit two charities we are working with in Greece. We went on a fact-finding trip to see both the need; and how our forty-foot truck of winter relief supplies, which we had sent over just before Christmas, had been distributed around eight refugee camps.
The EasyJet flight to this lovely destination arrived in minus degrees, snow, ice, treacherous roads. All other flights had been either delayed or postponed. Esther, a seriously experienced driver, and I both navigated mountainous routes, through ice, fog, and snow to get to sites in Lagadikia and Kavala. We met refugees living in meagre, difficult circumstances, traumatised, with sad, hollow, eyes, harrowed by loss, terror and tragic nightmares and longing. They pushed empty baby buggies through the snow to collect their allocation of fresh vegetables, rice, sugar, flour, long-life milk and nappies.
We sent 400 pairs of amazing PUMA sports shoes in response to an email SOS from Rachel Bromell, a British volunteer at Northern Lights Aid in Kavala. She had written to us and told us how the refugees had no shoes to wear and that they were expecting a very difficult winter. They were right! A queue formed outside the “free-shop” the day after the shoes had arrived. NIKE also helped us with hundreds of pairs of children’s shoes, and clothing, and bright-eyed, smiling children suddenly had choices. Freedom to choose between style and colours, and the proper sizes. There were no shoes, not to mention any choice, for them before this.
The English lesson for ladies-only was interrupted by a loud explosion and the classroom was suddenly plunged into darkness. Helen, another British volunteer, lit some candles and the lessons continued in high spirits, with laughter and high spirits. The relentless snow and icy pavements didn’t keep them away. English seemed to be the key to their futures in the next destination.
I met Hamid, a 20-year-old from Afghanistan. He had been living in difficult circumstances in Lesbos for almost a year and now lives in Kavala for the last three months. He told me he was sincerely worried about the children who lived in tents in the snow, who were constantly ill, coughing and crying. With tears in his eyes told me how some of the older children wanted to commit suicide. He told me that the water was freezing cold and little children deserved better than this. He told me that he was very worried that sometimes the aid wasn’t getting into the camps quickly enough. He told me to tell everyone in the UK. He had received a clothes and PUMA shoes from Northern Lights Aid charity, which we had supplied. Hamid was a craftsman in his family’s business back home. The photos on his phone were breath-taking; solid silver stallions; intricate filigree gold and silver ornaments. His uncle and neighbour had both been murdered. He too had been threatened by the Taliban and he had to leave his large family and his livelihood in a hurry.
I heard anther story where two orphaned teen boys were huddled together on a leaking dinghy on their way to Greece. At that stage they didn’t know each other. The smugglers started throwing people without families overboard to save the small boat. The two boys whispered to each other in fear: “We are brothers” and they survived the treacherous sea journey. Many were drowned.
These trips are always very emotional. It is very difficult to see people living in such situations. We try our best to give them the essentials they need, though much of what they have lost is irreplaceable. It is so rewarding and highly motivating to see how much the goods we have collected help and restore dignity. We are as committed as ever to continue with our mission of donating overstocked goods to make life just a little bit better.
Goods are readily available to send, we just need the funds to pay for the consignments.
We hope that you can help.