Below is a an account from a recent volunteer with SCM in Greece, Dvorah from Seattle. She has been on missions before with SCM to Jordan. Thank you Dvorah for sharing!
Life at Karamanlis and Frakapor, Two Refugee Camps in Thessalonika (or Saloniki, for short)
Winter has arrived. It is cold. To me, it feels like the winters I remember in Michigan.
My first two days/nights here it is below freezing, and the refugees live in large unheated warehouses. There are about 400 at each camp, but Karamanlis is the better off of the 2, because in addition to the warehouse in which they line their tents up, side by side, there is, next door, another large warehouse that has been simply and sweetly set up with spaces divided for children’s art and play and learning activities, a space with weights for working out, a private women’s space with supplies that women both need and enjoy, from hygiene to make-up, to needle-work, and relaxing, in which children are not allowed, a children’s library, and a tailor’s shop with Aburahman stitching, mending and creating clothing, as he did in Aleppo, before fleeing with his wife and 2 sons, the older of whom just had his first baby, who I met yesterday.
Here, too, are the offices for the volunteers of the NGO’s, which include Swiss Cross, founded last year by a young Swiss man, Michael , who saw the need upon his first volunteer work to Lesvos, receiving refugees from the boats on the Aegean. Never having done anything of this impact and magnitude, he had the drive, resourcefulness, smarts to make this happen. His mother, Christina, is here now, and she and I have worked together sorting many hundreds of boxes of donations, currently consisting mostly of clothing and shoes for winter to equip 800 men, women and children.
This warehouse holds the massive amounts of clothing, toys, sports equipment, hygiene, blankets et al, to supply the 800 refugees with needed items.
Swiss Cross brings in many volunteers mainly from Switzerland, but also Germany, Italy, Israel and Greece, and whoever finds them as a source to help. Michael won an award in Switzerland recently for this work (google Swiss Cross). Two lovely young Israeli women, Adi and Noam, have chosen to volunteer here prior to beginning their service in the Israeli army. They are resigned to this dreaded responsibility.
Salaam Cultural Museum, SCM, is the NGO I am with, the only American presence here, and currently just 3 of us: John, team leader, 37 years old, is a gracious dedicated young man from Bainbridge Island: Rasha, a 30 something Palestinian woman who grew up in New Jersey, and serves in so many ways here, including as a translator, and also going beyond the Pale to assist families experiencing major crises. In a couple of weeks, 13 volunteers will arrive under SCM’s auspices. This morning at the hotel, I witnessed the arrival of 4 large heavy boxes from SCM, which John will unpack when he comes down for breakfast, where I await, with my coffee, eggs, olives and tomatoes, fruit and yogurt. I will enjoy seeing what comes out of these boxes, since I know very well who collected and packed and sent them. Thank you, Rita, and all your workers and volunteers, in my neighborhood of Wallingford, Seattle.
Yesterday I led a doll-making workshop, with Chrisina and Miryam’s help, for the women, with fabric, needles and thread and beads and googly-eyes and pipe cleaners. (photos posted on my FB page.)
On sunny days, and we have had a few, it is warm in the daytime, but at night the temperatures drop to below freezing, and the warehouses are unheated. Everyone is bundled in parkas and scarves to stay warm. I go to my hotel, 30 minutes from the camps, and have warmth. My heart is with the refugees contending with being cold.
At Karamanlis, children roam between the warehouse where they live, and the warehouse across the road with their activity spaces. It is not unusual to see children under 5 unsupervised. It is taken for granted that they will be okay, and looked after by any adult in the vicinity. I have served to assist the children’s and women’s space with activities, and have brought music on my tablet to aid the ambiance, introduced rhythm instruments, pulled out jump ropes and Twister and bubbles and art supplies from the warehouse-supplies to be available to the kids. The large center space becomes a free-for-all, with badmitten rackets and birdies, pingpong for young men, gathering of grown up men smoking cigarettes, a falafel shop.
The volunteers work their butts off, rarely taking time even to eat, don’t get enough sleep, no days off. They are mostly 20-somethings who thrive on the stress, so my offerings of yoga, meditation, Reiki, etc go unheeded. You can’t push the river. Can’t be attached to outcome, or meeting my needs of being a Jewish grandmother telling them they need chicken soup when they are sick (and several are), trying to encourage them to eat and rest and take a yoga class with me.
I may add to this document later, but for now, let it suffice as a summary of life here at Karamanlis and Frakapor.