I'm so happy to have been able to make a small contribution to so many things during my time here on Chios.
You may have seen from my Facebook posts that I have recently been involved with the setup of a sewing and textiles project. This is part of a larger project started by my team, the "CESRT Creative Centre" located in the main town on Chios. The CCC is a drop in centre, a space for refugees from both camps on the island to come and play music, dance, take part in art projects, crafts etc... even practice massages and hairdressing! We've got such a wealth of talent here that is just going to waste, and this is a wonderful safe space for people to come and both show off and use their various skills, and also to learn from each other.
As part of this I've set up a sewing room. Here people can come and alter their clothes, create something useful or fun or even just learn to sew. We are lucky enough to have the use of two sewing machines, have invested in basic equipment such as needles, thread etc, and as far as possible are making use of recycled materials to resource the project. We're using unwanted cloth from clothes that are unsuitable for distribution in camp, and even unusual materials such as the rubber collected from abandoned boats arriving from Turkey. With the help of our refugee friends we've made items ranging from bags to industrial aprons!
There is a regular flow of people coming to use the facility, from the younger men wanting to alter their trousers to make them more fashionable (!) to ladies taking up their dresses, and many people simply interested in learning a new skill. We have an Iranian tailor who comes in almost every day and alters clothes on behalf of other families. It's by far and away the most satisfying thing I've been involved in since coming to Chios, clearly making a tangible, however small, contribution to enhancing people's lives, and I'm incredibly excited and proud to be involved with it.
Having seen this project started, I'm very sad that I'm now leaving Chios in a couple of weeks for an extended break. Its going to be very hard, but at the same time so good to leave on such a "high".
For me one of the loveliest things about working with the refugee community is how much they look after each other. Shameful really, considering how little help they are given by those organisations supposedly tasked with doing so....
This past four weeks or so many of the camp residents have been observing Ramadan. From dawn until sunset Muslims observe a practice of "nothing between the lips" and refrain from consuming food, drinking liquids and smoking. The hardships of living in the camp exacerbate the difficulties of this self imposed practice. Luckily the team who provides the camp food adjusts mealtimes to accommodate a pre-dawn breakfast (Suhoor), and the post-Sunset meal (Iftar). My team has donated bags of dates to everyone, as this is the traditional food with which to break the fast.
Many choose not to observe Ramadan, finding their living conditions too difficult to uphold the practice of physical cleanliness as well as spiritual reflection and fasting during this time.
This scorching hot Friday afternoon me and a fellow volunteer were sitting outside the camp office, with a lady and her family. She was one of our most vulnerable cases, with a number of chronic physical and medical issues. Not one of the responsible NGO's on the island were prepared to take responsibility for finding appropriate housing for her. She had been there, with her husband and three children, for several hours and was nearing exhaustion.
At 6pm, dinner is served. One by one each family and individual camp resident lined up to be given their portions of supper and breakfast. One by one, each came back past our sorry little group. Each stopped, said a few words of kindness, and all gave them some of their food. One of the traditions of breaking fast in Ramadan is to share with others, but it would not have made any difference - they would have shared anyway.
Shamefully, we were still there two hours later. Surrounded by a mountain of food but no-where to go. Typically, and finally, we were approached by one of the young men in the camp. His room-mate had left a few days ago, and he was happy to move out of his meagre space in a tent cubicle. We were able to offer the lady somewhere to rest for the night. Not good enough, but something. As usual the most vulnerable had stepped in to help where others with the power to do so had failed.
Today, a turn of events. This afternoon I arrived in Souda to find the many sordid and inhuman tents being cleared systematically from the beach. At face value a good thing, but the reality is that the 300 people camped there were simply being moved to within the confines of the camp boundaries, an impossible situation as it is already hopelessly overcrowded, or being told to return to Vial, where there is no space and people are sleeping on the street. Meantime camp residents were returning from daily chores to find their "homes" and, more importantly, belongings had disappeared. Many reasons given but perhaps the residents of the luxury cruise liner moored in the bay beyond were a little disturbed by what they were seeing?
The sun is beating down overhead, and I have been sitting on the hard, dusty tarmac for over three hours. Beside me is a 24 year old single Syrian women. Last night we received a call from her; she is here with her three year old boy, sleeping on the street, and was frightened and alone. We came in the middle of the night to fetch her, taking her to safe accommodation and providing her and her son with a hot shower, food and a place to rest. Now we are in the reception line in Vial Camp trying to find her a place to live in the camp.
Around me are men, women and children, sitting patiently on their UNHCR mats, surrounded by their few meagre belongings. Some of them have been here, sleeping out at night, for three days. They are newly arrived asylum seekers, but there is no room to house them. Once registered they have been told there is nothing to be done. Many have started to walk to the nearest town, over 2 hours on foot, carrying their bags and children. They will likely sleep on the street. We have galvanised a team to find these people to give food and bedding, and do what we can to help them.
Later I visit Souda Camp. A concerned father approaches me. His little girl, aged three, has a high fever, and is having trouble breathing. The official medical team have left for the day. What do I do? Luckily I am parked nearby. I take father and daughter to the hospital. The doctor can treat her. We go later to fetch medication and some dry, warm clothes before returning to camp. I shall visit them in the morning.
Today, as I arrive back at my room, I hear a shout. “Boat, Boat”. An inflatable RIB, totally unfit for purpose and weighed down in the water with its precious cargo of refugees, is being towed across the bay by the coastguard. Just then my team drives past; they have been following it since it was spotted trying to land on rocks in the south of the island; they will meet it as it docks in port, with cars loaded with emergency supplies. The boat has over 60 occupants; 14 are children, the youngest only 2 weeks old. Many of them are soaking wet, and all are in shock. They were challenged by the coastguard while crossing, who tried to sink the boat by making it take in water. We change them into dry clothes, and give them hot food and drinks. We are barely finished when they are given orders to get in line. They will be taken on to Vial for the long wait for registration.
We clear up and return to the warehouse for fresh supplies. It is a calm night so we remain alert for another boat crossing.