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Newsletter August 2016 – Camp Life

Camp Life Thessaloniki Greece August 2016

This is a picture of one of the most in hospitable camps in the Thessaloniki area, the camp is home to around 1500 people, a lot of families. The sun is so hot now and the ground is covered with white railroad chipping, the glare makes it hard to keep your eyes open.

We are currently living in Thessaloniki, our whole little family, we have moved here for at least 2 months and we are working very hard on a housing project alongside a group of dedicated individuals.

We are not quite ready to release all the details of this project yet so I wanted to get in touch to give everyone an idea of why we are still so motivated to help and what we are witnessing here in Greece.

The best way for me to do this is to tell you a story.

I recently met an inspiring man who is working extremely hard in a camp close to where we are living, he is very friendly and open hearted, I didn’t really understand the work he was doing until we began to talk about it.

He spends his whole life in the camp every day morning until late at night and has spent many night sleeping on the hard railroad chippings outside a woman’s tent to protect her and her children, this man has gone into the camp at 4am to rescue a victim of abuse and get her to safety when the military or police would not enter, this man puts aside his own personal safety to protect the vulnerable he serves. Night is particularly hard in this camp, especially for the woman and children.

They are frightened to leave their tents at night and feel unable to use the toilets for fear of attack, the older children are vulnerable to bad influences in the camp, there are mothers there with 5, 6, 7 children to care for and they are by themselves.

Can you imagine being that woman with your children? Totally alone and terrified in a camp housing hundreds, how would you survive? Single mothers are extremely vulnerable. How would you protect your children from the infiltration of abusers? This man stands as her protector, for this mother and for many others.

It is this man who listens to the mothers who are terrified for their children – there is no network to talk to via the big organisations the reports are made but very little is done and when it is done it is disorganised and haphazard, sometimes those who are meant to benefit are missed. The community is just told to wait. To wait?!

There is a consistent failure in the Greek camps, the big organisations are hampered by regulations and their sheer size, their health and safety laws for their employees/volunteers prevents them being really affective in these new and challenging situations. Smaller NGO’s are pushed to their limits with the numbers of vulnerable and the scale of the need. Those who are independent are frantically trying to pick up the pieces with extremely limited resources while the millions of Dollars and Euro’s pledged by the USA and the EU float somewhere in the boiling hot sun above our heads.
We have been trying over and over to find out how to access the money pledged to help the people stranded here, no one seems clear how we can do this, the red tape in Greece is phenomenal even the lawyers are baffled by it. The big organisations that have access are also not being terribly clear as to how we could make a proposal for support to them, promises of emails and meetings never happen and then that person leaves Greece and you are back to square one again. It is crazy there is an absolutely enormous need, it is so incomprehensible. In one camp alone there are so many urgent cases we are trying to compile a method of “choosing” who to help……

Hmmmmm….. Consider that one for a while….. Do you help the mother we talked about just now with 5, 6, 7 kids who is so terrified for her children she cannot sleep at night, or do you help the family that is being racially abused and threatened with violence, or do you urgently help the family whose 4 year old son has already been beaten up, or do you focus on the mothers with brand new babies, or do you focus on the heavily pregnant? How can we choose? How would you choose?

Bear in mind it is hot and some of the camps are completely inhospitable, 40 degree heat with a newborn in an airless tent? or heavily pregnant? or with chronic illness? or with so many children who are bitten by mosquitoes and hungry and bored and hot?

It is impossible.

Of course the solution is no more camps and real alternatives that are humane please, but the reality is this is not happening fast enough for the people deteriorating in the camps and unless cases become extremely urgent nothing seems to happen – and even then the response from the people with power to change things is achingly slow. It is horrendous to watch.

The only true way to attempt to improve the lives of those who are stranded in camps is through dedicated volunteers who act as social workers or protection officers. They are absolutely up to their necks in the camps completely 100% dedicated to the work, if we had enough of these people the camps could be better, but long term dedicated volunteers have to be supported too.

This amazing young guy I met this week he is the one who drives the injured or sick to the hospital – it is well known now that the ambulances do not respond to the camps, sometimes they will come after 2 hours if there are volunteers with those who need….. 2 hours is a long time to wait for only the possibility of an ambulance.  So this man drives them himself directly there and fights their corner in an already extremely overstretched healthcare system. Recently there was an extremely tragic preventable death in a camp, is it inevitable that this will become the norm? Maybe this will become acceptable as it’s not reported and these people are being hidden away?

This is also the man who fixes peoples glasses, who takes them and pays for them to visit the optician. He worries about the children’s teeth and often pays for their dentistry, while he was here eating supper with us he was worrying about a 13 year old with rotten teeth she was in considerable pain. He collects and pays for the prescriptions the community is handed, as only some basic medication is available free in the camps and most people have no transport or money to get the medicine they need. He is there for the people who need him every day and night, for the basic mundane things – broken phones, broken tents, broken beds but also for the big crises.

You would expect this level of care to be available to all the people waiting in all the camps here but no, sadly what he provides is incredibly unique. You would imagine that it would be easy to find those who most need help and you would also imagine you could go directly to the big organisations present and witness the most vulnerable people being prioritised, watched over and cared for – right? Wrong.
Despite the millions of £’s, $’s and €’s seemingly being received by Greece or other organisations the only way to truly know who is vulnerable and who needs urgent help and how to help them is to be among the community as a trusted individual, too often those who shout the loudest get the help and those that need the most are missed.

We are working with him and with others like him to build a good picture of who needs help first and in what capacity this help is appropriate. He and others like him are an integral part of our work trying to alleviate some of the suffering. We have begun compiling a “case list” for want of a better term in order to try to get help to those most in need at the point of having the right help to offer.

We are currently doing a lot of the behind the scenes legwork that enables a project, we have been struggling through acres of Greek red tape and bureaucracy planning and writing and preparing ourselves as best we can for the day we get to sign on the dotted line…..

If you would like to support the project we will be in touch very soon with multiple opportunities for support we will need volunteers and we are going to need to furnish at least 10 brand new apartments, maybe you could buy a family a new kettle or provide bedlinen – or beds? Or maybe you would like to support an individual family?  Or buy food for the community? Maybe you and your friends would like to come here buy washing machines and plumb them in for us?!

I will send out a newsletter as soon as we sign the contract with full project information – photos and description of our plans.

It is going to be amazing – fingers crossed! In fact please would everyone cross everything for us for a week? Thank you!

Sam & Theo xxx  

p.s. We have significantly reduced our outgoings by moving to Greece.  We feel incredibly lucky to be able to be here and try to help. We are only here by the luck of our birth and the support that you have shown us.

Thank you very much.

If you are able to support us personally further please donate here 

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