Ser voluntária em Lesbos - o
principal ponto de chegada dos refugiados à Europa.
As minhas histórias, as deles e como podes ajudar.
COMO POSSO AJUDAR?
Depois de ouvirem o que tenho a contar
sobre Lesbos, algumas pessoas perguntam-me o que podem fazer para ajudar. Eu
respiro fundo e penso cuidadosamente nas minhas palavras antes de responder. É
tão difícil de formular uma resposta coerente, correcta e livre de julgamentos
quanto a um assunto tão complexo. Os maiores problemas têm que ser resolvidos
pelos políticos: os refugiados precisam de uma opção segura para fugir da
guerra. Sabendo isso, sim, existem coisas que nós “comuns mortais” podemos
A informação escrita aqui, muito
provavelmente, vai estar desactualizada daqui a um par de dias. É importante,
se queres ajudar, actualizares-te e pesquisares com atenção antes de dares um
passo em frente.
Dito isto, existem sites e projectos que
posso dar a conhecer para que possas fazer pesquisa e tomar uma decisão
informada sobre a melhor maneira de ajudares.
Pode parecer contraditório, mas não
percas demasiado tempo a procurar a “causa perfeita”. Se vires um
sítio/projecto que precisa de ajuda, parece-te legítimo e bom, é tempo de agir.
Muitas pessoas perdem-se com a quantidade de informação e acabam por não fazer
O melhor recurso para receber informação
actualizada é: www.refugeemap.com
Este site indica todos os pontos onde é
preciso ajuda, a sua prioridade, quem são as organizações que lá estão, como as
contactar, etc. É o ponto de partida para todos os tipos de ajuda que vou
enumerar de seguida:
Existem grandes problemas quando alguém
envia donativos (em géneros), para um sítio que não tem voluntários para os
Antes de enviares o que quer que seja,
contacta a organização para onde vais enviar e pergunta:
1) O que é preciso? 2) Como devo etiquetar e organizar a encomenda?
Considera enviar pequenos donativos para
organizações pequenas em vez de muitas coisas para organizações grandes. É
melhor enviar muito de uma só coisa do que caixas cheias de coisas misturadas.
O tempo dos voluntários é valioso nos campos de refugiados. Muito do meu tempo
foi passado a abrir caixas e a desdobrar camisolas para ver os tamanhos, a
dobrá-las de novo e a pôr em prateleiras com etiquetas. Dar a pequenas
organizações também significa que estas podem tomar decisões mais rapidamente
(menos burocracia) e levar as coisas onde são precisas.
Não tens que te meter num avião para a
Grécia para fazeres a diferença.
Eu estou numa altura da minha vida em
que posso, mas existem muitas maneiras de ajudares os refugiados na tua cidade.
Contacta a Plataforma de Apoio aos Refugiados (www.refugiados.pt) para saber
qual a instituição mais próxima de ti a receber refugiados (está previsto
chegarem os primeiros em Dezembro 2015).
Se achas que a melhor maneira de
ajudares é dando dinheiro, deixando a cargo de quem o recebe decidir como o
usar, tenta dar a alguém que esteja na linha da frente e em quem confies. As
organizações grandes têm recebido muitos donativos mas a burocracia impede-os
de tomarem decisões rápidas sobre onde o dinheiro deve ser aplicado. Voluntários
independentes com dinheiro podem decidir, na hora, como ajudar.
Ao mesmo tempo que eu estava em Lesbos,
um grupo de amigos e familiares que vivem na minha cidade (Ovar), juntou-se
para também eles fazerem a diferença. Organizaram um mega evento de
solidariedade para com os refugiados e angariaram €5 000. Esse dinheiro vai ser
aplicado em dois projectos: enviar-me de novo para Lesos e criar mochilas para
serem distribuidas. Conteúdo: gorros, cachecóis, luvas, capas para a chuva,
escova dos dentes, pasta, kit de barbear, etc. Cada mochila tem um custo de 5€.
Se quiseres ajudar neste projecto, procura por nós no Facebook e entra em
Esta é uma compilação de opiniões
pessoais e não refletem o ponto de mais ninguém.
Com excepção do projecto “Ovar,
vamos ajudar?”, não estou afiliada a nenhum projecto ou site acima mencionado e
por isso não posso aceitar nenhuma responsabilidade pelos mesmos.
I visited my old school last week to talk about Lesbos.
I think people assume this is an easy thing for me. It's not. I have to talk about deeply personal stories that left me traumatised. The reason I choose to do it is because I believe these stories will change people's views about what is going on in Lesbos. I hope by the end of the talk, the students and teachers will go home and remember that the word "refugee" represents the individual people they have heard about on my talk.
It's hard. It's so very very hard. I fight back the tears as I speak about my days in Lesbos.
My family assumes that the reason I hold back from telling them details is my apathy. In reality I try to protect them from knowing the suffering I witnessed and carry with me.
Dear students from St Dominic's International school,
You may not know much about me, so I thought about writing you all a letter and introduce myself.
My name is Sara and I'm a portuguese girl who moved abroad when I was 18. I have had the chance to meet many incredible countries, but most importantly, beautiful people around the world.
I became very sad about the news on TV regarding refugees arriving to Europe and because I had some free time, decided to go and help. I became even more sad when I saw the amount of children (and adults) who didn't know what would happen to their life in the near future and if they would have anyone to play with when they arrived to their new country.
Miss Robidas contacted me to see what we could do together and I thought: there must be a way that we could show these children that there are many friends in Portugal and all over Europe that want to play with them. We came up with the idea of asking you all to write letters to the refugee children, but what you did went beyond my expectations!
Today I'm happy and inexplicably proud. Are people allowed to be proud of themselves? Or is it considered show-off? A couple weeks ago I was interviewed by my favourite portuguese magazine. I didn't know what to expect from it but today at 7am I get tagged on a post from my cousin, who works at a newsagent and was stacking the shelves with the new arrivals. It was me on the cover. The tagline reads "Portuguese people that are changing the world". It makes proud not because I am on the cover of the magazine but because someone is actually comparing me with people whom I admire and do work that inspires me everyday! I'm... I'm... speechless.
NOTE: I'm sorry if none of this makes sense. It's an attempt to analyse what's been on my mind for the last few weeks. It's messy and confusing. As it should be.
Sitting at the airport between England and Greece is hardly the ideal moment and place to analyse the last few days. But things are racing though my mind and it's hard to stop it from happening.
I realise now, that my days were nothing but normal. I mean... They were normal in that context, but looking back... It was so messed up. I don't think it's normal to spend my days making posters for missing people and stick them around towns. It's not normal to rescue people off boats and hugging them as we all cry. It's not normal for me to say no to people that want warm clothes. It's not normal for children to tell me they are hungry and I can't do anything about it. But here... All of this happens daily. IT IS THE NORM.
A huuuuuuge THANK YOU to Mariana Soeiro, her mum and friend, who donated some money so we could buy bread to be distributed around the queues of people that are waiting for registration. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
For many and various reasons, it's getting very hard to make these posts.
How can I write "today was a good day", when only a few kilometers away 10 children drowned?
I think I should go back to stick to facts.
Today I spent the day sorting out different things: I went to distribute some bread to the people waiting at the queue for registration. While there I realised that 99% of the people didn't know how the new system works.
There's tickets issued with numbers and you need to wait until your number shows up on the white board before you can join the queue. For example, if the board says "numbers 1 to 1000" and you have number 300: you can join the queue.
If you have number 1200, you can't.
It's a hard system to understand if you have no sign explaining it and the police only speaks Greek and a bit of English.
The good weather is back. That means dry people, dry camp and smiles all around. Things really changed in the last few days! There's a new registration system (there's always a new registration system), and a new place to queue. It's much better like this! People have access to the toilets and the medical clinic, even before they get registered. And there's many tents and space to sleep. I'm happy to see the changes!
It's been a hard couple of days. The last thing I wanted to do after getting home was writing on the blog about the horrors I witnessed.
I saw some things that will stay on my mind forever. But I also became extremely proud of the team we are working with.
I have held countless babies in my arms these last few days. All of them soaked. All of them dry 10 minutes later after I was done changing their clothes.
I found a 7 year old girl naked, rolled in a bed sheet, in the middle of the rubbish, trying to keep warm. I remembered seeing her father asking me for help 15 minutes earlier and I had said "no" because we were closing and I was going home. I gave him a bed sheet and said "that's all I can do for you now!" And he proceeded to take the girl's clothes off because they were soakin wet, and rolled her in the bed sheet. When I closed the container and was on my way to hand in the keys, I saw the rubbish shaking and when I lifted some plastic, the girl was there. I held her in my arms while she shivered and didn't say a word. I took her to the clothes container and hugged her for a few minutes while I cried and soothed her. I then got myself together and changed her into some dry clothes while I asked her father to hold the door closes because there were hundreds of people outside trying to get in so they too could get dry clothes.
I take it all back. All the stuff about being happy and whatever else. I'm not happy here. I'm angry, upset, frustrated and tired of a situation I don't understand and can't resolve.
I've said it before: who do you think it is here trying to help refugees? The government? Superman? No... People like me and you, with no political influence or money. Just a pair of hands and a brain. We all know some dry clothes don't solve the problem, but what else can we do? It's out of our hands to open the camp areas where people have dry houses to sleep in. It's out of our hands to make it legal for refugees to take taxis and buses before they are legal in Europe. It's out of our hands to provide a real boat for refugees to cross to Europe in. So clothes and shoes is all we can do for now. And it has to be enough. But it's not.
It was very "easy" in the first few days to post here. Everything was new, I didn't know many people and had more free time. It's now day 19: we have made friends, we go out and spend time with people after work. We do long shifts and at the end of the day we are exhausted. We know our way around the camp and we know what to do. That means we do more now than in the beginning. It also means we are seeing more of what is happening, but I don't think we are understanding it better. Maybe we are more confused. I don't know.
But still... I try to take many photos so I can at least show a bit of what my days look like. Here's some from today:
A massive storm came over Mytilini today and I really worried about what we would find at the camp. When we arrived the rain at calmed down but it was impossible to walk without getting wet. This makes big problems for us because it meant everyone would get wet feet and would need dry shoes. I focused on drying the cement floor where everyone had to walk past. I brushed the water out of the way for over half an hour but it worked! Yay!
Queues are getting long again. People are waiting outside the gates so they can get their paper for registration and be allowed to board the ferry to mainland Greece. It's 9pm and everyone is exhausted. There's people sleeping on the side of every road.
We are told that really bad weather is coming and the ferry may stop going to Athens. This means thousands of people will be stuck in Lesvos. Not only that but... Where will they get shelter from the rain? There's no where to go!! I fear what tomorrow will bring.
I have to apologise for the lack of news these days but I do have good reasons for my absence.
I was ill for two days and that meant I stayed in bed most of the time. I kept myself very very busy researching into news things and opportunities and even gave an interview. Wooohooo exciting!
Then on Saturday I was finally ready to go to Moria again and work on the camp but the day was chaotic for the Doctors of the World team and it was impossible to get someone to pick us up. We decided to spend the day at the port with our good old friend the soap bubbles. We cheered up some kids and played a bit. We saw a Norwegian boat arrive to the port and it had many refugees aboard. We waved as they went past and they seemed relieved for arriving to Greece. We tried to figure out the official version of what had happened but didn't find it. We assume they rescued the refugees from the rubber boats. It may be that the engine stopped working, the boat turned, who knows.
Then today, Sunday, is the official day off for all volunteers.
We met with some other people from the team that we usually don't get to spend time with outside "duty hours".
The weather wasn't that good but we decided to go for a swim because it was Jolijn's last free day and we knew of a good spot. We hadn't swam until today because the whole idea seemed out of place. Swimming at a beach full of life jackets and rubber boats at the same time some refugees hide from the sun under trees and we sunbathe. It just seemed off. But I think by now we understand how thins work, we understand we aren't being disrespectful and our heads are, maybe, more organised. And it made sense to go in the sea today.
We were once again in Moria distributing clothes and other items to the refugees. I thought I would bring my phone with me today and get many photos so you can get a better feel for what our work is like everyday.
A guy came and asked us for help because he lost his backpack and everything else he had, during the sea crossing. I grabbed a small bag and put in it a tooth brush and paste, soap, shampoo and some sardines. I waved goodbye with a smile and wished him luck. That was all I could do.
I went around the queue of families waiting to get registered and found this little girl running around with no shoes on. That's an easy problem for us to fix. Grabbed her some sandals and socks and she was ready to go.
It may not be very interesting for you to read that I don't have any dramatic stories today. To me that is so good to hear. We spent another day distributing clothes, diapers and baby milk. We are happy doing this. We put a smile on many faces and although it is a simple job, it's a rewarding one. This is enough for us.
The stream of refugees is steady at the moment. It is only a rough figure but maybe 2 000 / 3 000 a day in the non Syrians part of Moria Refugee Camp, which is where we are based. The police change the system of the camp everyday. The conditions for non Syrians keeps deteriorating. The queue has been moved to a very bad location that becomes dangerous at night. It has no lighting, no protection and it isn't safe. It's on a muddy path next to a busy road. It's not even inside the camp. There are no toilets, nothing. In the meanwhile, a new part of the camp was constructed or Syrians on the day the prime minister visited. It was all made to look very nice and like everything is amazing in here. It's not. Why aren't all refugees treated the same? It's almost funny to think of discrimination between refugees. But anyone working at Moria recognises that this is a problem.
It was a no drama, quiet day. The police has rearranged the camp and now the families' queue is right in front of the place where we store the clothes. This is good and bad. But mostly good. It means we can look at the people waiting for their papers and assess their needs. We can quickly figure out which kids need shoes, nappies or jackets. Because we don't always get sizing right we have to go back and forth many times so it's good that we are close to the families now. It means we get to help more people in less time. The downside is that now everyone sees us leaving this room with the clothes and supplies and more people come and ask for things they don't need. Everyone wants new shoes even if they are not wet. Or a new t shirt or even two or three. Although we have some clothes, if we distribute them around the people who don't need them, we would run out in 2 days. I understand the position of the parents that know we have new shoes and come and ask for some for their kids even if they don't really need them. I would probably take the chance myself. But we have had to be ruthless sometimes, smile and say "no". Yesterday we gave all the men's shoes we had available and also all woman shoes. That means that today, whoever needs shoes won't be able to get any and will have to wear their wet ones. This is a hard situation to say no to. I wonder if the people that ask will understand that the reason we aren't giving them shoes is because we have none.
There was one story that stuck to my head though.
A translator came in the room with a father and daughter from Afghanistan and she begged us to help them as they had been wearing the same wet clothes for over 3 days. The girl was around 10 and crying non stop. I did everything I could to try and get her to smile. It finally worked when I gave her a colouring book and some pencils. But only for a few minutes until she started crying again. Her father told us she is ill and needs to see a doctor but the priority is taking her off these clothes. We search for things and finally find stuff that fits. I take her to the doctor's office and the doctors start asking questions to the father which the translator was helping him understand. The father then explains "she has epilepsy. It got really bad when we told her we were leaving Afghanistan and doing the journey to reach Europe. She would have seizures very often and specially on the days before we left. She has to take pills everyday twice a day, but because I don't know when we will be able to buy more I have only been giving it to her every two days. She also gets anxious when she is around many people. Being here at the camp and having to sleep in a tent with so many people hasn't helped. I worry that the crying, the fever and all other symptoms are all the result of the psychological trauma and there's nothing we can do about it."
Sunday means a day off for the volunteers that work in the refugee camp. We had planned to go to the north of the island with Marianna and Michael, the local people we are renting our room to but that have become friends by now, so we could see the place the plastic boats arrive to and help if needed.
In the morning it was raining hard and we really doubted that the trip was going to go ahead. "Surely the smugglers wouldn't put the boats in the water with this weather" we thought. But we were wrong.
We headed to the northernness point of the island of Lesvos and through the 40km road along the coast we counted hundreds of plastic boats and probably thousands of life jackets. It was unbelievable. Bear in mind refugees have to walk this road in the opposite direction so they can reach the registration points and board the ferry. It's a mountain road with no side pavement. Someone's there's buses to take the woman and children. Only sometimes. Men have to walk the road. 40km of up and down twisty road with no side pavement. It's dangerous to even drive this thing. Imagine walking it.
We met Marianna and Michael after I contacted Marianna on Air BnB to rent her house. She asked me why I was coming to Lesvos and I didn't want to say the reason because I was scared she was not going to approve of us being here to help refugees. I decided to tell her and her reply was something like "Thank you for taking the step to come and help these people!". I was so relieved! I had seen many news articles about the people of Lesvos not being happy about the situation. Since that first contact Marianna was a friend that helped us all along the way and beyond her duty. We are very thankful for her and Michael, her partner!
As we drove to the north they explained details about what the local population is doing to help the refugees. I was so shocked and happy to hear that they don't know anyone in Mytilini (the city where we are in the island of Lesvos) that is against refugees arriving. They told us they know about a group of people that support a right wing political party that is obviously against the events, but that is all. This is such a big contrast from the amount of hateful comments I read on the news articles that are posted by Portuguese newspapers. I scan ALL the comments looking for a positive one. In the last few days I didn't find a single comment from someone that emphasises with the situation of the refugees. In fact, when the news about the 1 year old child that died this week was posted, I read a comment saying "good. That's one less terrorist entering Europe". In all honesty, this comment made me feel more sad and angry than all the horrors I've seen since arriving. Yes the situation on the island is bad, but there's no one here not trying to help these people escape war. Everyone empathises with their situation. No one judges you for helping them. And why would they? Helping is always the right answer. ALWAYS.
We knew we had arrived to the correct spot when big tents started emerging on the beach. They were from all the relief organisations that wait for the boats to arrive so they can welcome them and treat people for hypothermia, take them of wet clothes, make sure everyone is ok, etc.
One of the groups at the beach is the "Volunteers for Lesvos". They are the local people that organise shifts to help at this place. They have two big tents full of clothes, blankets and other items that the refugees may need. We sat with them and waited. They told us some boats had arrived early in the morning. The sea was so rough. There were thunder and a lot of rain. I prayed for us not to see any boats. It would mean people were safe in land. After a couple hours we went for lunch at a taverna near the beach. Today is Jack's birthday and it was nice to have a moment to sit down and pretend we are normal people on a holiday destination an that the world is in peace and nothing bad is happening around us. Well... That was until a group of photographers shows up at the taverna and starts talking about how "the smuggler came back and brought another 350 people on the wooden boat". They start showing pictures around and videos and 2 minutes later they are being uploaded to computers and sent off to the press. More journalists arrive and do the same. As this commotion is happening I realise the four of us at the table are so shaken by what's happening that we are not reacting or moving. We try and listen to more information. According to the reporters the smuggler charges 2500€ per adult on the boat and 1500€ per child. He already did two trips that day with 350 people each time.
I'll save you the trouble of figuring out how much he earned that morning.
If we assume half the people he transported were children, he would have made 1 250 000€ in one morning. Yes, that is over 1 million euros in one morning. Think about that for a second. How angry does it make you feel?
As the photographers talk I notice more people showing up for lunch. They are wearing wetsuits and yellow t shirts. I read on their t shirt that they are lifeguards and they are from Spain. I think the organisation's name is Pro Active - open arms. They are the ones that risk their life jumping in the sea to help the boats when they arrive. Hoping they don't turn over and no one drowns.
I don't really know what happened after. All these things played in my mind for the rest of the day. We didn't see any boats coming in. I a silly way I was glad that the only boat that was making trips was this big wooden boat that drops the people and returns to Turkey, as opposed to the plastic boats, which don't usually bring a smuggler and just get deflated when they reach Greece.
As we leave the restaurant I glance over the shoulder of one of the photographers uploading the photos. I see a few of the boat as it's still in the water and many children's faces are terrorised about the situation as they hold their parents firmly.
The last thing I hear the photographers saying is that they are going to take the information and photos they have to the police and coast guard. They don't seem very hopeful about it making a difference. Neither do I. Hoping for the best but expecting the worst.
Over the last few days I've received many messages from people that want to help but don't know how. Some people read my post about how most of the money donated to charities goes into admin fees and are skeptical to donate to them. Me and Jack spent some time putting together a few ideas on how you can help by not being here. I hope it answers some questions.
We both think that the best way to help is by getting involved. Refugees need support more than they need physical things. Find out which organisations in your area are preparing for when refugees arrive and introduce yourself. Tell them what skills you have and how you want to help. Maybe you are involved in some activities you want to tell the refugees about. Football clubs, scouts, baking club... It will be good for them to join so they can settle in and feel welcome as well as practise language skills.
You may know that there's many people that don't agree with their arrival, so being a friendly face is the best you can do to help.
If you're the kind of person that prefers to donate money, or someone that is working and doesn't have time to volunteer:
- I can make sure that all the money you donate goes towards being spent on helping the refugees directly and 0% on admin fees (I am covering my own costs here). This is usually the best way to help as opposed to "send things". Usually the cost of sending is much bigger than donating the money and let the people in the area buy the supplies. There's a few volunteers here that do this. Their friends and family send them the money, the volunteers buy whatever the donor wants, they deliver it and send the receipt to the donor. If you want to do this please send a private message so we can sort it out. We can talk about how you want me to spend the money. Ideas: The organisation I volunteer for needs medical supplies at all times. I can ask them what they want and buy it for them with your donation. Refugees often need hygiene items. Tooth brushes, soap, tooth paste, sanitary pads for the women, diapers, rash cream for the babies, baby milk, etc. I can buy these and distribute in the port to those that need it. Socks are also a good option and blankets. It's so cold in the ferry at night. And they will need it during the rest of the trip as they enter cold countries. The advantage of letting me buy these items instead of donating them to the Doctors of the World is that I can take them directly to the port to people that may already have been to the camp but didn't receive these items or have already run out. You can also give me the freedom to ask the people what is it that they need and I get it for them with your money.
I do want to clarify regarding how organisations spend their money. I don't think it's bad to pay people to help. I just think it's not done in a transparent way. "Sending" a nurse or a doctors is sometimes more important than sending clothes. And some people are essential on these operations and they should be paid! How else would they be able to do this full time for months on end? But I do agree with the way the Doctors of the World are doing this here in Lesvos. Most of the volunteers are local doctors and nurses. To me that matters a lot. And when this organisation receives money for a specific goal, that's how they use it. So you can rest assured that if you donate money for medical supplies, it will be spend on medical supplies.
You can find more information on how charities spend their money online. Insert the name of the organisation on this website to see ther spending percentages by use:
Only 60% in supplies, 30%!!!! In fundraising and 8% in admin fees.
The organisation we volunteer for has a whole room with all these hygiene and clothing items mentioned above, in Moria refugee camp. But people sometimes overlook how hard it is to make the supplies reach the people that need it. Just because we have over 100 pairs of shoes it doesn't mean we can just put them outside and let people pick and choose. That would mean that people that really need them maybe wouldn't get them. We try and distribute to people we see that need these items. But maybe they didn't go though the medical office, maybe we didn't see them, maybe we didn't know their socks were wet inside the shoes. It's very hard to help EVERYONE and having the correct supplies of what they need at the right time on the right place. What I'm trying to highlight is the many logistical problems with donations. It's not as easy as "I have a box of clothes. Where do I send it to?" There's others, like the lack of space. The Doctors of the World have only a small room in the refugee camp were they keep the clothes , shoes, etc. We need to distribute all of it before we can receive other things. So when people contact me and ask "can I send a box?" I have to say "no" and it breaks my heart because I don't want to discourage them from getting involved.
So, to summarise, if you want to help and
A) you have free time: get involved in your local area.
B) you have money and want to donate it: get in touch. I can help.