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Tag: Karamanlis

GreeceHumanitarian AidRefugees

Life at Karamanlis and Frakapor

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.

GreeceHuman RightsHumanitarian AidRefugeesUncategorizedUNHCR

#SCMHelp4Syrians Greece Update

The refugees that had been stuck at border of Idomeni since early this spring have now been in the camps set up by the Greek government for just over 4 months. What you hear are stories of sadness and despair, families torn apart by border closures, depression, and more. The people all want to move on, they want to get their families back together again, and they desperately want out of the dreary, hard, noisy, buildings that have become their homes.

SCM is working in two camps at the moment: Karamanlis and Frakapor. While somewhat similar in size, they couldn’t be more different. They are about a five minute drive from each other, but Karamanlis is located in sort of an industrial park area with other buildings surrounding it, including a building being rented by another group that SCM has partnered with, called Swiss Cross. The warehouse serves as a storage place for all the donations that have come in for the camp, an office space for the two organizations, a community center, and has workshops for a tailor and a carpenter – both Syrians who are putting their skills to use to help their fellow refugees at the camp.


The Karamanlis Boutique shop where the people can come and pick out the clothing items they need and like.

It also houses the “boutique” and the grocery store where the people can come and spend points they are assigned based on family size to get food, household supplies, clothing, etc. This way, they can pick out things they want and need, and supplies can be adjusted according to demand. There is a falafel stand and a coffee shop that do charge for their wares, mostly sold to the aid workers that are there.

Frakapor is located near what must be a sewage treatment plant in an old warehouse and the odor from the plant is quite noticeable when you first arrive. After a while, you get used to it, and I imagine that the people living there have gotten used to it, but it just adds to the depressing conditions of life in the camp. They don’t have a community center like at Karamanlis, and this is something that would have a positive impact on the people there.  They do have an area for the classes we are teaching and both the adults and children are very happy about the classes SCM is providing in English, German, math and Arabic grammar.

While walking through Frakapor with our team lead Jamal, we were stopped by a man who spoke to Jamal briefly, and with some emotion about something, then we parted ways and continued on our walk so I could see the scope of the camp.  A few minutes later, we ran into the same man again, and this time he invited us to have tea in his tent with this family.

The man, whom Jamal knows and SCM has been helping to get treatment for severe depression, was very hospitable, he had his children there – two boys and a teen aged daughter, but his wife is not with them. With Jamal translating and filling in the story, the man’s wife had left Syria on her own before he did and made it to Germany. The man and his children planned to follow her, but only made it to Greece. They are originally from a city in the north of Syria, and traveled through Turkey, a journey that took them 17 days, then crossed to Greece, and finally they ended up at the border with Macedonia where they were abruptly stopped by the border closure. It has been a year now since the children have seen their mother and the man his wife.


They fled from northern Syria only to be stuck now in northern Greece, apart from their mother, who did make it to Germany right before the borders closed.

This broken family is just one of many such stories of how this crisis has torn families apart. They have been forced to flee their homes in Syria, in terror for their lives, and now they continue to suffer from separated family members, depression, lack of hope for the future.  And with nothing to do all day for most of the adults in the camp, despair runs rampant.

I met a woman in the camp who is also helping SCM as our teacher administrator for Frakapor. She was an administrator at home in Aleppo, Syria, and fled to be with her sister who is already in Sweden. Other members of her immediate family have also already made it to Europe and are settled in new communities. She is now with other members of her extended family – cousins and aunts. She was married, but her husband left her for another woman, and now she is on her own, and stuck in Frakapor. She is occupying her time, though, by helping SCM administer the education program at Frakapor.

Both of these people that I met at the camp had different stories, but they are both languishing in the camp, and I could see the hopelessness and sadness in their eyes. There are a lot of faces like that in the camp. I don’t want them to give up hope, but I can sort of understand that they don’t see how this is all going to end. Their chances of reuniting with family members already in Germany or Sweden or elsewhere seem to be out of reach, and no end is in sight for the conflict in Syria. They have lost everything, and many are thinking what else is there? The answer, in their minds, is another day in the concrete and steel box of the warehouse at Frakapor. And that’s it.

Please continue to help us help them. We want to continue to be able to supplement their food rations and get more educational materials for the classes. We also want to help support the craftspeople that are working in the camp to fix things, repair things, and more by getting them the supplies they need.

Thank you!


GreeceHumanitarian AidRefugeesWomen & Children

The Men of Karamanlis #SCMHelp4Syrians #Greece


On my last day in Greece, it was a day of celebration for the refugees. It was time to have a party for Eid al Adha, and our partner Swiss Cross had planned a party in what they affectionately call the Blue Elephant – the blue warehouse next door to the Karamanlis refugee camp. Music, sweets, watermelon, falafel, gifts for the children, and more were all getting under way by mid-afternoon.n SCM helped to purchase a few of the supplies for the party.

What was also getting under way was an art installation to bring attention to the men in the refugee camp. I spoke with the photographer, Gwen Versluis, who created the project, and she told me she was inspired to do something after having spent time volunteering on Lesbos to help the refugees there. She wanted to do more for them but she was not able to spend months and months in Greece so she began looking for another way to put what resources she had available to work to raise awareness. She noticed that the stories of the men were very underrepresented, that they tended to get a negative image in the media, and that everyone wants to help the women and children, but rarely the men. She hopes her project will change that.


The mother of this baby wanted his photo with his father in the background – he is the man with his arms crossed.

Versluis had heard of a project called Inside Out – The People’s Art Project, started by the artist JR, who had won a TED prize for his work. She decided to apply for a grant to bring her idea to fruition and was accepted. She spent time in Karamanlis Camp taking portraits and interviewing the men, and on September 14 she and some volunteers began putting the portraits on the outside wall of the Blue Elephant. She wanted the portraits to be displayed where the people could see them, and with the party that day, it brought plenty of attention to her project from the people in the camp and the volunteers. Only a third of the portraits had been posted, with about 40 more to come. I met one woman outside who pointed out her husband on the wall. She wanted a photo taken of her baby, with the pictures in the background, she seemed proud her husband is part of the project.

More will be available online about the project on the Inside Out page and on Facebook. I know some people will not agree with the project (met a volunteer or two who have already questioned the premise) but in one anecdote about underwear, I find that I have to agree with the artist. A young man came in to the shop to find some nicer clothes to wear for his wedding – yes weddings are still taking place – and he was able to find most of what he was hoping for except a clean undershirt and briefs. There are tons of women’s and children’s underwear, but there are no men’s underwear. SCM has been asked several times to send women’s and children’s underwear, but no one asks for anything for the men. Dignity is something that is hard to quantify, and we, as the people trying to help the refugees in the name of helping them preserve some sense of dignity, seem to overlook that men need help with that, too.