BEING HUMAN…. HANDS TOGETHER~~~
Many of you have reached out asking me to share my experience of traveling and volunteering in Europe. While it was always my intention and I wanted to write every single day, I willingly allowed myself to actually live the experiences and be fully present in them … and then write.
I remember so clearly what it felt like to be a pre-teen and teenager. I think most of us do. I worked with them, and children of all ages, on a daily basis this summer. Huge difference is they live in a refugee camp. Can you imagine going through all of that angst, frustration, change and uncertainty as a displaced youth in the midst of a camp — for up to over a year in many cases?
Well, I am proud, humbled and honored to say that my fellow Lighthouse Relief volunteers and I jumped in a few hours a day to, hopefully, provide a momentary respite.
My group was Disco Ritsona! …. the summer program offered to 10-14 year old youths at Ritsona Refugee Camp, which is located just outside Chalkida, Greece, and an hour south of Athens.
This is the ISO box our group met in (above.) It was also one of our arts and crafts projects with the kids! It took about a week because the metal would get so hot from the sun that you could only really stand by it for so long. This particular week it reached over 100F most days.
(Please note that out of respect for the children/youth’s privacy faces are intentionally not shown.)
A Day in the Life of a Volunteer
We gather into our carpools in the city of Chalkida (which is an hour south of Athens) at 10am and arrive at camp in Ritsona at 10.30am.
We prep our daily activities (think arts and crafts, a themed activity, sports, dance, etc), review how the youth we are working with are doing (are there any individuals having trouble expressing emotion, has there been improvement on a specific emotional issue, etc), set-up the ISO box (put small chairs and tables out, set up puzzles, cards, etc) and then break for a quick lunch.
We have the children/youths from 1pm-4pm.
A typical day might include:
…. making rubber band bracelets
… doing arts and crafts — FIMO clay day
… playing games — the boys especially love chess!
… and playing a sport —
Volleyball became an all-time favorite this summer,
and yes, those are three jump ropes tied together, and then to two trees to serve as a net!
We clean up, review the day and carpool back to town from camp usually arriving back around 5pm. All this in outstanding heat, dust, flies, wearing pants, t-shirts that cover as much skin as possible and our Lighthouse Relief vests — think fishing vests. Yet somehow it melts away in light of the setting and situation the people we are serving are living through.
THE FACTS AT A GLANCE
• Location: Ristona Refugee Camp
• Opened: April 2016
• Non-Profits, NGOs and other organizations serving/that have served Ristona, including but not limited to: Lighthouse Relief, The Red Cross, Doctor’s Without Borders, I Am You, IOM, ECHO 100PLUS and more.
• Number of Refugees on camp: Constantly changing and evolving, however approximately 900.
• Number of them children: Constantly changing and evolving, however approximately 300.
• Where the families/residents come from (mostly):
Syria, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Somalia and Palestine.
• Where they go/get relocated to (mostly):
Germany, Switzerland, France, Italy, Sweden, and elsewhere in Europe.
The Camp Facilities and Living Quarters
Up until November 2016 residents lived in tents, however due to some generous donations through UNHCR — The UN Refugee Agency, they now live in ISO boxes. Think converted shipping containers—each outfitted with a WC, a small shower and a hot plate, and mattresses/beds take up the living space. Each ISO box houses a family ranging anywhere from two to eight men, women, children and babies. Many extend their ISO box living space by fashioning small covered outdoor areas.
They either receive money vouchers for food or food is distributed, depending on current UN regulations. Without transportation, they spend most of their days on camp. NGO’s organize day trips into towns, etc, for some relief. Children aged 6-14 are currently eligible to attend Greek schools during the regular school year. Anyone above or below this age range is not eligible to attend school.
How Their Journey Works:
Each journey is unique, but many land on the shores of Greece in boats and are registered at registration centers at their first reception points. They are then placed in camps and start the process of applying for asylum in different European countries. This can take a few months up to two years… mostly on the longer side.
IN THE END, VOLUNTEERING IS ABOUT PAINTING YOUR FACE FOR A SMILE,
MAKING A HUMAN PYRAMID,
PUTTING YOUR HANDS TOGETHER —
A HUGE THANK YOU TO
LIGHTHOUSE RELIEF, THE RITSONA KIDS, THE VOLUNTEERS AND SO MANY OTHERS
THAT MADE MY SELFISH SELFLESS JOURNEY NOT ONLY POSSIBLE
BUT AN UNMATCHED EXPERIENCE OF A LIFETIME.
Why Do These Camps Exist?
For a great article that brings you into the camps (including Ritsona) and explores the political reasons behind them visit: