Sitting here on a rainy, windy Saturday in March I think back to last week when I was in Lesvos
volunteering at Home for All which I talked about in my previous blog. It really was an amazing week albeit I had little idea of what I was going to experience apart from blogs by previous volunteers from doTerra. I started writing this and then realised there was so much to tell you that it would be good to split them up so you don’t fall asleep before the end! This first blog highlights what its like to be a volunteer at Home for All.
In my next one I’ll give you more information about Camp Moira where the refugees get sent to on arrival and what the situation is there, both with facts and also my personal experiences having been into the camp several times. I know the opinions of some are that refugees should go back where they came from but I wanted to see for myself what was really going on – albeit a tiny snapshot.
I was welcomed at the airport by a smiling Nikos and his wife Katrina and immediately felt their warmth and care. We chatted on the way to the rental house about their work and how doTerra had helped by finding volunteers and donating through their Healing Hands Foundation I met the other volunteers I was working with that week – Anette, Annelein and Vera from the Netherlands and Syliva and Monica from Zurich. I immediately felt at home with all of them – warm smiles and positive energy and this continued throughout the week with lots of laughs and fun – friends for life! I shared a room with 18 year old Vera – a really remarkable girl who was very wise beyond her years – we had many interesting conversations and she had already been in Lesvos for a few weeks so was one step ahead of us and I called her team leader!
Anette, Annelein, Vera and I would walk to the restaurant every morning through the beautiful olive groves with violet wild anemones gleaming in the sunshine whilst Monica and Sylvia drove the bus to the restaurant and we’d meet them there for breakfast at the bakery – delicious Greek pastries (blow the calories!) coffee and a wonderful view of the water.
The restaurant Home for All is set on a lagoon and is an ideal spot for relaxation and a peaceful place for our guests to come. I like to call them guests rather than refugees – as Sylvia said “they are just ordinary people in very difficult circumstances” and this certainly proved to be right. Once we finished breakfast we would set about cleaning the toilets and floors and then lay the tables ready for our guests.
In the kitchen the chef Athanasios (often with the help of the lovely Anette) prepared meals for us to take to some of the vulnerable people in the camp ie. pregnant ladies, diabetics and the old and elderly who needed better food than they are getting. They would be packed up in a bag and then two of us would drive up to the camp bus nicknamed ‘The Dollie’. We also met Shahzaib who is from Pakistan and has been at Home for All for 2 years. Shahzaib was great and takes care of volunteers and plans the schedule for the day and organises the arrivals of groups from Camp Moira. So at 12 o’clock Monica and Sylvia would go and collect the first group from the camp and we would then give them a warm welcome when they arrived at Home. A second group would be collected at 12.30 and both groups were served food by us and could eat as much as they wanted. After the meal we would bring out toys for the children and play with them. Adults loved the game Jenga which other groups had told us was a big hit and broke the ice which it certainly did. Others would go and sit outside and relax in the sun on the quay or go for a walk along around the bay. Our guests were people from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria and other war torn places and all had braved the boats in the hope of finding a new and safer life in Europe.
I spoke to one man who was a police officer in Afghanistan and whose wife was pregnant. He spoke very good English and had left the rest of his family behind in hope of a good life for his wife and future family. Another man was speaking to his mother in Afghanistan on his mobile phone and asked us to wave to her – it all seemed surreal but she had a lovely smile and it made everyone happy. In fact everyone smiled a lot – I think they were happy just to feel normal and safe.
However, there was one little boy who I was playing with and trying to get him to help me with a jigsaw puzzle – the other kids had loved doing them. He just held the pieces and looked blankly not able to focus. Then someone picked up one of the guitars they had in the restaurant and I suggested he may like to play one. Everything changed and a big smile came on his face and he started strumming – no real tune but he loved it. He kept the guitar with him until he had to go – in fact he took it with him to the bus and we felt really mean having to take it back. Still I hope just for a while he was able to feel like a little boy again in a normal home. Another little girl I started making bracelets with and she asked my name and I told her and she started making a bracelet for me – her first thought was to give to someone else not for herself although she had so little – it was very touching.
Whilst everyone was eating we would take a note of their sizes and go to the warehouse full of donated clothes to prepare parcels of clothes and shoes for them. Often they only had the clothes they arrived in and little space in the camp to store things. In the gaps in between the guests being at the restaurant several of us would work at the warehouse sorting clothes and shoes into sizes for men women and children so when it was time to make up the packs it would be easy to find things to fit. We also included things like toothpaste and sanitary towels. Women only get a limited number of towels given to them in the camp which is really not enough. I also heard a horrible story that women didn’t want to go to the toilet in the night because of safety so they wore sanitary pads. The people’s smiles hid a lot.
Once people had left for the lunchtime session at about 2.00 and 2.30 we had our lunch on the quay and then we would collect group of musicians who came from the camp to play and practice their guitar sessions. There were a number of beautiful stray cats all looked after by the people at home and the bakery and one of them sat in the middle of the group enjoying the music. (Note! being a crazy cat lady I can’t do a blog without a cat picture!)
Then it would start all over again in the evening 5.00 and 5.30. Once the last guests left and all was cleared away we had dinner. One night we ate at the restaurant with a lovely meal cooked by Nikos and he and Katerina taught us Greek dancing another time we went out to a restaurant and we had our favourite bar round the corner from our house where they didn’t have a menu – just served a selection of delicious dishes and including wine at about £5.00 a head!
So what were my feelings on being a volunteer. I loved raising the 600 euros they ask each volunteer to bring with them because it helps spread the word and people were so generous. Some people donated and I also did a raffle with my local business networking group and my friend Mandy McKenna from Firing Earth held a pottery painting evening which was great fun.
You need to be quite energetic as the days were long but it was so amazing that you didn’t notice you were tired. You also need to be flexible and happy to do any job needed – not good for divas! Being able to chat to people and not getting too upset about the sad conditions that you see – think of the positive value that you can offer everyone. I was so lucky with girls I worked with – the team was fantastic – we all flowed together really well and we are planning a return visit. I know they are always looking for people to help as they need 8 volunteers a week and I would be happy to speak with anyone who is interested. firstname.lastname@example.org