Thursday, 29 October 2015

Day 26 and 27

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.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Day 23, 24 and 25

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!

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Day 21 and 22

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'll leave you with some photos. 
I'm lost for words. 

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Day 20

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. 

Day 19

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!

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Day 18

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. 

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Day 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17

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. 

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Day 12

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. 

Day 11

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. 

Day 10

We are finally back to Moria refugee camp. 
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, 11 October 2015

Day 9

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. 

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Sara, how can I help?

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:
This is the information on the organisation we are with:
They spend over 92% of all the money in supplies and only 4% in admin fees. 
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. 

Day 8

The good news of the day is that we have sorted out our accommodation for the next 4 weeks. All the hotels in Lesvos are either booked or too expensive. All the organisations are staying at the hotels and it really is impossible to find a room available. Through a series of events that happen last week, I was put in contact with the local scouts. They offered to help  and found a guy that is the Cubs leader an also a university student in Mytilini that has a free room in his house from next Sunday (in 8 days). We met him today and we are so thankful for his help! Thank you Manolis!! 
In return he asks us to help him on Sundays with the scouts group because he is a single leader for all the kids. Deal! 

Because of this we missed our lift to the camp in the morning again. We were told the high commissioner for the Refugee agency from the UN was coming to Lesvos. We tried to find the conference he was helping because this guy is someone I really look up to and I would have loved to meet him. He's Portuguese and called Antonio Guterres. I aspire to one day work with/for him. Oh well... We weren't lucky with the search so we headed to the port. It was very different from the day before and I really think it had to do with this guy's visit. It was very clean, all the bins were empty, there weren't many people and the waiting room at the port where toilets and seats are provided, was open!! Over the whole week I've been here I never saw this open for refugees to go in. 
Nevertheless we took our bubbles and stayed or a while. 
As the sun went down a van came to deliver food. We had seen it before. It's a group of volunteers (no organisation) that cook and bring it to the port. The queue was huge. People came from all sides. 
We have a feeling that there's no boat tonight and all these people will have to sleep out. On top of that there's bad weather approaching.

To finish with some positive news though, we. We were walking around looking for the UN guy we found some information points for the refugees. 

As I wrote before, there's many people trying to take advantage of the refugees and overcharging for trips, food and items that should be free. The people of Mytilini were outraged by this and decided to make these posters stating the average price of common items. It even says that the price of the taxi trip is 3.50€ (some taxi drivers charged 20 PER PERSON!!!!). Such a good way to make people feel welcomed! Well done Mytilini!

Day 7

I'm exhausted. Probably the most tired I've ever been since arriving. 
We still don't have accommodation for next week but things are looking up. 
Because we had to find a room we didn't go to the camp today and instead stayed in town. In the afternoon around 5pm we went to the port with some balloons and soap bubbles and decided to go cheer up some kids while they waited for the boat. 
Mission accomplished !!! 
Around sunset I started becoming light headed and decided to sit down for a rest. I sat near the sea and there were some people around. 

There was a little shy kid and me and Jack did some bubbles to try and make him smile. We played a bit with him an then his father introduced himself to us. We stayed talking with them for 4 hours until they boarded the ferry (see previous post for full story). They gave us some food from Iran, taught me words to use when I go to Iran and asked me many questions about Europe. I hope they felt more relaxed and hopeful about the journey ahead. I gave them my email and asked them to tell me when they are safe. I hope they do. 
When the ferry arrived a queue started to form there were so many people!!!
We said goodbye to our new friends. They want to get to Germany. I hope they find the safety and normal life they are looking for. 
On the way back home we saw many people camped in the port. Maybe waiting for the next ferry, maybe resting, maybe with no money for the ticket. Who knows?
At home, all I can think is about the long journey ahead of Puria and his family. I even put it on google maps so I can visually understand the hardship they will have to face. I hope they reach safety fast. I hope people welcome them. I hope police is nice to them. 

Off to sleep. ZzzZzzz

Friday, 9 October 2015

Don't make me a liar. Não me faças passar por mentirosa.

 [portugues em baixo]

This is Puria and his family. I met them today while they waited to board the boat to Athens. Puria is the little boy in the family photo and he is the one sleeping on the bench waiting to board the ferry. Puria, his brother and his parents asked me many questions about Europe. They asked if people were going to be nice to them. If they were going to be able to play football on the street and if they could go to school and learn. I said "yes!" to all these things. Please, don't make me a liar. Welcome these people and all other arriving. Be good to them! Puria will appreciate it and be thankful. So will I. 

Este é o Puria e a sua família. Conheci-os hoje enquanto esperavam pelo barco que os vai levar a Atenas. O Puria é o menino pequenino na foto de família. Tem 5 anos. Também é ele que está a dormir no banco enquanto espera que o ferry chegue. O Puria, o irmão e os pais perguntaram-me muitas coisas sobre a Europa. Perguntaram se as pessoas vão ser simpáticas para eles. Se vão poder jogar futebol na rua com outros meninos. Se podem ir para a escola e aprender. Eu disse "sim" a tudo isto. Não me façam mentirosa. Recebam bem quem quer que chegue ao vosso pais ou cidade. Sejam bons para eles. Por favor! O Puria agradece e eu também.

Thoughts on the dark side of charity work

Someone asked me the other day "what's your job in the real world?" And I froze for one  minute before answering. This is the real world! Being home is the fantasy version of this. Where you ignore what's going on and you live your life carefree. 

I want to explain a bit better what goes on in here and what the the refugee's journey is like. I don't know all there is to know about it and I will probably write some stuff wrong. But this is what I understand:

- people think the most dangerous part of the sea crossing is when the boat is in the middle of the sea.  It's not. It's when the boat is very close to land and everyone starts getting anxious to go out. People stand up and the boat turns over. Kids drown. One 2 year old child died today when this happen. It's no joke. This is happening. People are dying in the shores of Greece. Mostly children because they can't swim when the boat turns. 

- when the the refugees get helped out of the boat they are (sometimes) welcomed by organisations that give them blankets and other things they may need. What you don't see on the news is that there's too many people trying to help. It gets intense sometimes because everyone wants to help as they get territorial over this. There's also some organisation that only go there for the pictures so they can post them online and get more money given to them. This is the dark side of charity work. The prime minister was here this week and on that day there were many organisations on the field helping. There were charities playing with children. The Red Cross was on the field. The following day, everyone was gone. Except for the "real volunteers". What you don't know is that people that are with the Red Cross and the UN are paid a lot of money to be here. Me and Jack are paying for everything out of our pocket. And so are many other volunteers that came by themselves or with no "real organisation". There's a lot of people here helping that are just a group of friends that got together and wanted to help and they flew here. They pay for everything themselves. I'm not saying that it's bad to help if you're being paid for it. I want that too. It's just... I don't know what I'm saying. It's just weird. People donate money and they expect that money to be used wisely. But the money is being spent in weird ways. Like nights in the most expensive hotel in the island for the volunteers. My conscience is clean. I am living on a budget here and I prefer to volunteer with an organisation that I know is spending their money wisely paying for medical equipment. I did my research. I know who I'm working for and I trust the Doctors of the World Greece. I know the work we are doing is good. Damn the rest. But is is indeed the dark side of charity work: it's all about money. 

- anyway , when refugees get to the camp they have to queue to get the registration papers. There's different queues: if you're Syrian you go to one part of the camp and queue there. If you're from another country you go to the place where we usually work an that some people call "hell". I'll tell you why people call it hell. Because it is hell. I only realised how bad it was when I visited the Syrian part. It's so nice in there. There's chairs for the people to wait. There's trees, no barbed wire. There's children playing. People getting food and water. The police doesn't scream at you. And when you go to the other part, where afghan people wait for the papers, it's madness. People sit in the mud while they wait. The police kicks them, spits at them and beats them up if they stand up or they leave the queue. There's police dressed in heavy gear ready to attack. There's two police trucks parked next to the line. They laugh at the people. I do have to say some police are ok. They tell me "help this lady because the baby doesn't have shoes". But this is the minority. This is rare. I'm very worried that in my mind police violence it's going to be a normal sight and I'm not going to act upon it. We met a journalist today who is trying to help us to find accommodation. We told him about this. He advised us to try and film it and report it. Police needs to get in trouble. He has done it before. My head is rushing at a million miles an hour. I don't know what to do or think. But let's keep going. 

- the paper the refugees get is valid for 6 months if you're from Syria and 1 month if you're from anywhere else. It says you can stay in greece for that time before you have to ask for Asylum in the country of your choice. As soon as refugees get this paper they walk or get a taxi to the port. They want to get the boat to Athens. They pay 60 euros per person for the ticket. The taxi drivers are smelling money and they wait outside the refugee camp and charge a stupid amount of money per person for the trips to the port. It's 10km from the camp to the port and some people have been charged 20 euros per person for this trip!!!! Sometimes the locals see this and they report the drivers ! But nothing happens to them. There's other "refugee businesses" operating. There's people selling free phone SIM cards for 1euro. They sell hundreds a day!! Imagine that. Around 250 euros a day earned from the refugees.

This is such a messy and complicated subject. I can't get my head around it. I don't even know what to think. I write all this in hopes it will make sense when I read it back. Maybe it will.  

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Day 6

 Moira Refugee Camp, Lesvos , Greece 

Today was a quiet day. 
Several people arrived with wet clothes and shoes because of the sea crossing and so we focused on distributing socks, shoes and trousers. The queues are small now and everyone is relaxed. Even the police. It's good for a change. 

Hoje foi um dia calmo. 
Várias pessoas chegaram com os sapatos e a roupa molhada por causa da viagem pelo mar. Por isso hoje distribuímos sapatos, meias e calças a muita gente. A fila para o registo tem estado pequena e tosa a gente está relaxada e feliz. Até a polícia! O que é bom para variar.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Day 5

I'm so tired today, but I want to make a short post before I forget everything that happen on this day. We arrived to the camp and you could feel that the atmosphere was much more relaxed than the day before. There were orderly queues for registration and the people were sitting down on the floor waiting for their turn the police had their heavy gear on, which was very intimidating.
But because there was order the volunteers could distribute water and whatever else was needed. There were no people fainting! Yay! 
We spent the day distributing clothes to kids without shoes or people with wet clothes from the sea crossing. Everyone was so thankful. It was nice taking them to a safe room where we could talk and help. We also distributed sanitary pads to the ladies and nappies for the babies. Tooth brushes and paper roll. There's no many things that these people need, but it's nice to be able to provide some. We always say goodbye with a smile and say "good luck". 
A girl, around 8 years old, had all her clothes wet and with mud. I took her to a small room and asked her to take all her clothes off and quickly found new ones for her. The hardest past was to find underwear. Underwear is not usually donated and we really don't have much. But I found a bikini and that was enough. When I took her wet shoes off, her feet were so wet and for so long that all the skin was coming out. It was like her feet were sponges that never dry. I cleaned them and put new socks. Jack got new pink shoes. She was so happy :)
And so was I. 
We also had a guy speaking English really well and he said he wanted to reach Switzerland. He was cheering up his wife. She kept crying and he would say "things are good now. Relax." He asked where I was from and when I said portugal he said "Cristiano!!!!! And Mourinho!!!! But I like Messi."
We also met a sweet afghan lady who took some time to speak to Hellen, one of the nurses and let us interview her and record it in a video. I will upload it soon. 
We have her baby milk and tooth brushes and shampoo and everything else. Her baby's clothes were wet from the sea and he had spent the whole day without a shirt. 

Apart from the happy stories we saw a lot of police violence. The police forbid us to take pictures and record inside the camp. I tried to film the police hitting the refugees but I was so scared they would see me record that I decided to not do it. 
I saw one policeman screaming at the refugees and laughing at the same time. 
They scream in English but the Afhgan people don't understand. One policeman saw a man getting up from the queue and hit him with the stick until the stick broke. I was horrified. Then another man got up as a policeman kick him. I filmed this. Then I saw the police screaming at a kid because the kid was next to his father and the police didn't allow it. They wanted the kid BEHIND the father. They told the kid this in English. And when the kid didn't understand they screamed  louder. And when he didn't understand they pushed the kid. I saw a police and screaming at someone saying "DONT STAND THERE. STAND HERE!!!!" And the "here" was 5cm to the side. When the refugee moved, the police turned to anther police and laughed. The whole team of the Doctors of the World condemns what the police are doing. But we are just as scared. There's not much we can do. I feel like if we stand up to the police we will be kicked out and that's worse because we cannot help the refugees. Some policeman are good!! One of them kept calling me to go and give shoes to the babies who were barefoot. And when I would do it he would clap and say "thank you. Bravo."  
It's hard to know what's going on in here. 
I know there's so many people that needed help today and we simply didn't noticed them. But I am keeping in mind that we did help some people. I'm doing what I can. That's the spirit I think. 

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Day 4

 Text message at 11pm "be ready at 8:45 for pick up". And so we are. 
We drive to the camp and pick up a Greek psychologist. She explains that she works with the unaccompanied minors and helps them reunite with their families or find a home. She tells us many of the kids come alone so that they ask for help when they arrive and the agencies help the family come over. It's a cheeky way of getting everyone to arrive to Europe. 
We get to the camp but there's a man outside that can't stand up. He is complaining about his feet. Christos, the nurse with us, calls an ambulance to take him to the hospital. He needs an x-ray. 
After one hour outside the camp we try to get in. We can't. There's a lockdown because of the crown pushing against the gate. We have to go all around the camp to try and get through another gate. We are told the prime minister of Greece will come and visit today. I think "he chose the best day!".
We manage to go inside the camp. There's chaos outside but inside its quiet. The queue for registration is moving, although slowly. We spend the next hour doing nothing. Just getting used to the place. Then a woman that is in front of the medical office faints, with a kid in her arms. I take the kid in my arms as the doctors take her. I take the kid to the clothes room and change his diaper and clothes. He was soaking wet. He was around 8 months old. Jack was choosing clothes for him and guessing what would fit. We clean the baby's face and when we took him to the office very one laughed saying it was like a new baby. The kid was happy. The mum was too. They go and join the queue for registration.
Another hour and we have nothing to do. Then the day starts to get very very hot when the clouds clear and people start to feel sick in the sun. We start to fill in as many bottles of water as we can. I ask Jack for help but he is having an argument with a policeman. I dot understand what's happening. Then people start pushing against the gate because the people at the back of the queue are pushing them. People start feeling very bad. Some start to faint. I go back and now there's three policeman screaming at Jack. I go over to see what's happening. Jack saw a policeman spitting at the refugees as decided to photograph it. The policeman freaked out and was demanding the photos to be deleted. Jack is trying to report the guy for his behaviour. More policeman come and defend what the first one did. I ask Jack to quiet down because everyone is agitated and not being rational. Jack gives him the film with the photos. He goes. A few minutes later we discuss the subject and I tell Jack I think he should apologise and make peace because everyone here is indeed trying to help. He agrees with me. He goes over and apologises to the policeman for being agitated and screaming. The policeman says "I don't want you to think I'm an animal. I'm not. I'm human. My parents were refugees too. I understand these people. But there's so many and it's out of control. What are we supposed to do when 6 000 people arrive in one day? I understand them. I'm ashamed of what I did but I lost control. I'm sorry too" and shook Jack's hand.
 We turn to the other situation. A man has a fit in the middle of the crown, outside the gate. The police wants to help but if we open the gate to get him everyone will try to go in. Some policeman screams really loud and everyone steps back. I call a doctor and Jack. The three of us go out and pick him up by the arms and legs. There's many photographers taking pictures. None helping. We bring him in. The doctor takes him. The police can't close the gate. There's too many people getting in. People stepping on each other. They think that if they get through this gate they can register and that means they can get on a boat to Athens. But this is just a side gate. It won't take them to the registration. The police finally close the gate. We analyse the situation. There's a few people fainted on the floor. We take them to the side. The doctors tells me to check for pulse on a few people. I could see them breathing, but I cannot feel a pulse. I lack experience and knowledge. I put a few people in the recovery position. Their family members are scared. I try to smile and say they will be ok. I tell them I'm a doctor. I lied. But it does the trick. They calm down. 
Then we hear screaming and the police going mad. More people fainting. It's non stop. I lost count. We have to bring them through the gates. There's kids too. And grandmothers. I think it was around 70 people in the space of an hour. We had to open other areas of the camp to accommodate it. It was so hot. I too thought many times I was about to faint. We give water, we put people in recovery position, we reassure everything will be ok. And then we realise all these people think they just jumped the queue Because they are in the doctors area. We don't have the heart to tell them they may need to go to the end f the queue when they feel better. People tart jumping the barbed wire fence. It's a tall fence. And with really sharp wire. There's blood and cuts. Jack takes a translator to tell these people that there's no point jumping the fence because this is not the registration place. There's no point. They jump anyway. We finally get a translator to tell everyone (around 150 people) that they need to join the queue again and leave the area we took them to when they fainted. Many people grab as and beg us not to let that happen. We have no choice. There's a mother crying saying she lost her daughter. She's about to have a panic attack so I lie and promise I know where the daughter is and I will get her. I shouldn't say this and I know it. I ask for the girl's name and leave to do something else. A bit later the mother calls me again and asks about her daughter and tells me the last place she saw her. I ask for the girl's name again and go to the area she thinks the girl is in. I scream and call for her a few times. I find her. I reunite her with the family. Made my day! Yay! 
We now have to get all these people to understand that they are not in the queue if they stay in this area. Some understand and ask to leave. Things start to quiet down. I advise some families to stay in the area an get some rest. It's not amazing but at least is closed and shaded. There's water and toilets. They seems to listen. 
I head to the closed office. I can feel the adrenalin rush passing. My head feels heavy and my eyes want to shut. I am happy when Christos says it's time to finish our shift. It's 6pm and we have been here 9 hours. It's time to go.  

If there's one thing I want everyone reading this to remember is: we are all trying to help. We do what we can. It's so hard though. Everyone is so tired. Both refugees and workers. The police are trying so hard. They work 24 h a day at the registration office and controlling the crown that keeps getting bigger and bigger. The doctors work non stop to stitch people's hands because they jumped the fence or whatever else. The refugees just travelled over the sea to reach safety. They have been standing in the sun for over 2 days waiting to get the papers that gives them the right to board the ferry. They have no food , no shade, sometimes they have water. Everyone is trying to help. We just do what we can. Is it enough? I don't know, but we will keep on trying. 

Monday, 5 October 2015

Day 3

We spent the day working at the refugee camp for non Syrians. It's hard to analyse it. I'll stick to telling the facts. We got picked up by Christos, the nurse that coordinates the volunteers. He was very surprised by our age. Apparently volunteers are usually older. There was a girl in the car with him already. She is a doctor from Belgium. 
We get dropped at the entrance of the camp and have to walk past a massive queue. It was easily over 100m. Bear in mind is 3pm and the sun is shinning on these people's heads. This is the queue of people to be processed and receive their papers so they can board the boats. We get introduced to a million people that are also volunteers with Doctors of the World.
We memorise no name at all. Everyone seems happy we are here. 
We are asked to work in the distribution room. Our job is to sort out the many boxes full of clothes and organise the shelves. 

We are told that more boxes will arrive today and that later in the day we will open the doors and let everyone ask for the clothes they need. We work through the afternoon. 

There's a lot of diapers, baby milk, sanitary pads and hygiene items. 
Some people show up with an English speaking person and they are looking for clothes. We help them. Then a woman shows up and she tells us she has a list of people that need clothes. They are all children. We don't understand the situation but we oblige. We get a t shirt for a 16 year old boy, then trousers for a 9 year old girl, etc... Every time we give her clothes she looks unimpressed and we don't understand why. She is talking in a language we don't understand with someone else. Eventually the man explains that these are clothes for kids that are alone. They have been separated by their parents for some reason or another. They are orphans or lost. This man and woman are the ones representing them now. They are part of an organisation that helps kids in need. They are "shopping" for clothes for these kids to keep warm on their journey from Lesvos to Athens on the boat "it's very cold on the boat" they tell us. And things start to make sense. Me and Jack pick up some nice warm jackets, some "fashionable" jumpers and trousers and make a big bag for these people to take. They seem happy. They tell us these kids may end up in Germany. They don't know. They leave. 
We keep sorting clothes. It's unbelievable the weird things we find in these boxes. Not useful at all. 

Many people knock on the door and ask for water. We don't have any and we don't know where to get it. I end up giving my bottle to a woman with a kid.

 Eventually I find that there's a water tap next door and I go and fill some bottles. When I'm there the doors open and a woman is being carried by two man. She has fainted and they are looking for the doctors. I point them in the right direction. The Belgium girl shows up and passes me a boy who must be around 10 and has a mental disability. She asks me to take care of him and tells me he is happy when someone touches his skin. We go into one of the doctor's offices and I lay him in the bed. I play with his hands and sing silly songs. He seems happy. I text Jack and ask him to bring soap bubbles. He takes over the baby sitting duties and plays with the boy for a while. We are told his parents are in the queue but it's better for him to be inside. Imagine having to wait in the queue for hours with a disabled boy in your arms. 
Someone else brings in a fainted woman. Her kids are 1 or 2 years old and are crying. Jack stays with the disabled boy and I get the bubbles to cheer these two up. It works. They stop crying. The doctors are taking care of their mum. All is good for a split second. Then their aunt has a panic attack. The nurse gives me a plastic bag and ask me to get the woman to breath through it. She is not listening. She hyperventilates. I take the kids again. The doctors take her to the room. She is not doing well. There's many people opening the door of the clinic and trying to get in. The nurse comes and tells everyone we will only work if everyone waits for their turn "ONE AT THE TIME!". The nurse tells us that we will be taken home in a few minutes. There's a riot outside because the queue is not moving and people are getting anxious. Then he changes his mind. It's too risky for us to leave. If they open the gate people will flood in. We decide to go and get balloons from the supplies room and distribute them amongst kids. This seems to lighten the mood a bit. There's a policeman screaming at a few people. It's no place for kids. But is has to be.

We see the sunset through the fence. It's beautiful. And then we remember there's a fence through us. This place was built to be a detention centre. Then the government changed their mind and made a refugee camp. It's very different, but the fences stayed. 

We get told now it's the time to leave. 
We get escorted out of the camp and as soon as the gates open for us to leave, a sworn of people try to get in. 
We apologise over and over again as they wave their papers at us and ask for help. We can't help them. The police processes papers. Not volunteers. But they don't know that. 

As we leave we see a van distributing water and food. Everyone wants some. We drive away and get dropped at home. 

During the day many things crossed my mind. I tried to analyse all of this as it happen but it's impossible. 
I don't know who the people "at home" think that the people "on the field" are. I can tell you they are just as scared, clueless and normal as you are. This is a "war" fought by people just like you and me. Not super heroes. There only so much they can do. 
I realised a very important thing though. This is not about politics. None of this. Me being here has nothing to do with my political views. I could be completely against refugees entering Europe and still be here. This is about humans like me needing medical care and basic help. There's no mention whatsoever on whether it is wrong or right to help. Everyone knows it's the only thing to do. And they do it. That's it. Maybe this is the wrong conclusion. Who knows ? As it stands, we are ready for day 2. 

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Day 2

Day 2: yesterday we had our "first encounter" on our way from the airport to the city of Mytilini. There were some refugees camping on a roundabout underneath some trees. We soon started to understand who was a refugee, who was a tourist and who is a local. Refugees carry sleeping bags , tents as big backpacks. They are wary and a bit scared but you can see the slim relief in their faces for being here. 
We had the day off today and went around the island for a walk. We headed to the port. There were many scouts collection rubbish bins and cleaning the beaches. There were tents all around the port. People using every bit of shade possible and any wire as a clothes line. We still can't figure out this place. There were big queues outside the ferry office. Many people trying to get on the next ferry to mainland. 
Right next to the port there's a private beach fenced off and only accessible for tourists. It's a weird clash of realities. There was an ambulance helping a kid. It's Sunday and the clinics and hospitals are closed for some rest for the volunteers. 
Further along the street there were rubber boats all over the beach. 
As we walk we count many many life jackets on the side of the street. 
We sit and observe this empty beach full of cues regarding what happen there. Many cars drive past and try as spot something but we can't figure out what. There was a guy driving alone that came last many times and I think he was waiting for us to leave. There were people with binoculars also driving past. Were they looking for new boats? We don't know. 
We walk through the port on our way back. We don't know what to think. There's so many people. We finally stop near a cafe and rest. A woman (possible Romanian?) comes to us with a baby in her arms and asks for money. We say no and offer some water. Guilt and shame all over me. She turns around and asks for money to some refugees. They give it to her. More guilt. More shame. I have long decided not to give money to beggars. But why? My moral scales are so messed up. What's right? What's wrong? 
We try and say hello to everyone on the street. Some smile. Some ignore us. There's a lot of refugees taking photos of themselves and their family. We hope one day these photos become part of a happy album that tells the story of how they escape war and were welcome in Europe. It's hard to tell if the worst part is over or not. What's next?
Tomorrow we head to the camps. We have no clue what to expect.