One week in Greece, with plans to visit refugee camps and see how we could help best. A tall order, when organization in the country in poor and dozens of NGOs [non-governmental organizations] are trying to work together without much, if any, overarching authority figure in charge. You might expect chaos under these circumstances, but we were surprised to find really good things happening without much unnecessary overlap.
Let's begin with Armando Aid, based at the Oinofyta Refugee Camp, where mostly citizens of Afghanistan live. They primarily speak Farsi and you'll see their group of energetic school-age children in the photo above. On the right is Faiz Mohammad, school principal. He speaks just enough English to collaborate together with Layhing, the founder of Armando Aid. She recruits and organizes short-term teacher volunteers to keep the different classrooms staffed. A very challenging role...and she started with a very rough and broken concrete building...but without Layhing and her team, the kids would go on uneducated for months that turn into years.
Some of our team members volunteered in the Armando Aid nursery at Oinofyta for several hours each morning, giving refugee moms time to do laundry or cooking or other tasks without a baby on their hip. This is a challenging job when mothers leave their toddlers and infants who would rather not stay. There were a few crying babies to comfort and love.
An organization called I Am You works with the Syrian refugees at the Ritsona Camp, about twenty minutes away from Oinofyta. Here there is a larger population of middle class asylum-seekers with several teachers among them. These teachers volunteer to teach the children, some offering adult classes in different languages such as French and German. If no one in the camp can be found to teach, volunteers are brought in so that adult language classes and elementary age classes can continue. Our team member Lana Haddad speaks Arabic and was very useful here at Ritsona, teaching English.
Life in the camps is rough, without enough space or hygienic facilities. But there are flowers planted in pots and volunteers playing basketball with teenagers and music jams in the evening and tea shared with neighbors. These people are tired, but resilient and still full of hope.
Adventist Help is the medical organization working at the Oinofyta Camp. They have strong leadership and fantastic volunteers. Their success stories include fitting a young man with a new prosthetic leg and rushing at least two pregnant women to the local Greek hospital to birth their babies. They have installed showers, air conditioning units and have spear-headed many other practical projects around the camp. They are always in need of donations and volunteers.
Other organizations working together include IOM [International Organization for Migration] working from the legal side of migration management, Carry the Future who sent a fantastic team to do musical playtime activities with the toddlers, and Do Your Part who had a team working on logistical details of running a refugee camp. There were people wearing Red Cross and Save the Children t-shirts and our team met a Greek gentleman asking to volunteer at the Ritsona camp teaching the Greek language.
There are many groups made up of many volunteers doing all they can to make life easier on people who have been through an awful lot. #walkingdayandnight #deaththreats #losingfamilymembers #sellingalltheyhad
The one very big need that isn't being met at all? Dental relief. And this is something NRI has been doing around the world for more than five years. We are currently recruiting a team of dentists -- would you join us? This need is urgent. There are refugees with serious dental needs that demand attention. We're hoping to get back to Greece before the end of 2016.
Our team played with the dear children, held the crying babies, worked legally toward gaining asylum for some very urgent cases, taught English to kids and adults, made contacts for future trips, and said many prayers in their hearts.
May the refugee crisis end soon. May countries open up their hearts to the people who need a chance at a better future. May governments stand firm in support of human rights even in the face of terrorism and suspicion. May we each determine to do our part, even if that seems small.
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