Monday, August 22, 2016

First day in Oinofyta, Greece

I'm sitting in the living room of our Airbnb place in Chalkida, Greece. The air conditioning is having some effect after half an hour of intense labor. My travel companions have driven to the Athens airport to pick up a piece of late-arriving luggage. It is nice and quiet here.

Our day was long, beginning in Athens with an 8:30 meetup and pickup of our rental car and a 90-minute drive to Chalkida, very pretty. We met our host, Frank, who showed us how everything worked and then led us to what he thought was "our" refugee camp. Turned out he took us to Ritsona, the Syrian refugee camp that's gotten a lot of publicity in the American press. When the staff there told us we were in the wrong camp, we wandered around for another half hour until we found it.

The Oinofyta camp is on military property - as I found out the other Greek camps are. It houses about 700 refugees, mostly Afghani with a few Iranians. An old warehouse has been subdivided into one-family rooms, and that is supplemented by tents. The residents are provided with meals and water and toilet and shower facilities. There's a warehouse full of donations from around the world. Today we worked from 1:00  to 5:00 distributing clothes, shoes, and blankets. There are about ten volunteers this week: five from Spain, one from the UK, one from Hong Kong and the three of us. The volunteers have been there varying amounts of time; we were brought up to speed by the immersion method. We are fed lunch and dinner. 

It was hot today; weather in the 90s, but we were indoors most of the time rather than in direct sun. The heat was easier to tolerate than I had expected.

The residents were mostly middle- or upper-middle class when they left Afghanistan.

The camp received a "donation " of 2,000 blankets today; in return, the NGO ( will pay to have electricity installed in its containerized office. Tomorrow, the residents will be asked to dig a ditch to lay wire to the computer center; in return, they'll have access to the online Skype application to turn in the paperwork for their asylum request. Afghanis are not considered war refugees, so they are not eligible for residence in the EU. They either need to be accepted into Greece, or sent home. Numerous residents of the camp decide to pay smugglers to get them across the borders of other southern European countries. The success rate is low, but the refugees are desperate.

I'm in learning mode, as usual. We were busy today, and I am tired but not exhausted. It surprised me that one good night's sleep last night in Athens appears to have caught me up. I don't have any sense of jet lag today.


Pippa said...

I read your blog regularly but have never commented before now. I just wanted to say bless you for the service you are providing and thank you for your humanity. If I could, I'd be there with you.

DJan said...

I am so glad that you've got there safely and with minimal discomfort. I look forward to hearing more as the days go by. Thank you for including your followers along with you on this amazing trip! :-)

Linda Reeder said...

It takes courage and gumption to do what you are doing, but we already knew you possessed those traits. We do want to know all you can tell us as you live this experience.
I'm glad to hear all is well so far. I wonder what it would have been like had you been assigned to that Syrian camp.

Arkansas Patti said...

I am so impressed with this trip of yours. It is not a pleasure, tourist trip but a necessary, helpful and giving one. Kudos to all of you giving of your time and energy. So much harder but also much more effective than opening a check book.

Deb Shucka said...

I assume you're doing so well physically because you're exactly where you're supposed to be. I appreciate reading a first-hand account of this phenomena. I wonder if you'll go back, and what you'll bring away. I can hardly wait to read (or hear).

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Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

Thank you for all the detail you provide so we can follow your journey. And thank you for going there to do this in the first place! Sorry my check didn't make it before you left; life threw me a curve. But I'll be sending it and I'm sure you will have good ways to direct it later.

joared said...

I'm enjoying reading your blog accounts of activities, experiences and thoughts. Reading a bit of your first hand encounters with the refugees makes this massive migration so much more personal than evening news accounts. Recognizing your limitations as it is with any of us is certainly important as we assess what contributions to the world's needs we can provide.