Friday, 29 July 2016

Is it Friday yet?

I was determined that this week was going to be the week when no one would throw anything at my face. It wasn't. Someone got upset because I didn't give him two toilet rolls and, as a protest, decided to take none instead. But why couldn't you just hand it over to me? Why did you have to throw it at my face? 
Some weeks this job feels impossible to handle. This wasn't one of them, but the last one was. I'm eager to write about the details, but most of it is all confidential. They are not my stories to tell. Not for now anyway. It involves human trafficking, panic attacks, suicide attempt, depression, despair... The episodes replay in my head over and over. How I wish I could cuddle all these people in a pile of cotton and sing lullabies... 

I walk around the camp and some people call my name and say "Hi Sara". I think about how sad it is that at some point in their life, when someone asks them "where do you live?" you have to answer "at Moria Refugee Camp". It's not a camp. It's a detention centre. It's sad and dirty and I wish no one had to be here ever. I arrived not knowing anyone around here, I'll leave calling many of them friends, but feeling powerless when it comes to improve their life conditions. I never expected to leave before all these people were gone for good from this camp.

Lost thoughts from a scattered mind. One month left in Lesbos. Probably the last, but who knows. 

Friday, 24 June 2016


I woke up suddenly with the alarm sounds, my heart beating faster than normal. I think Jack felt the same way and even before I asked him to, he was already looking at the poll results. “Fuck sake!” he says. “Don’t bullshit me!” I asked. But no, the laugh never came and so it was true, the UK has voted to leave the EU. I froze in bed, wishing I really knew how all this is going to impact my future. In that moment, I admit I didn’t care about anyone else. All I wanted to know was “what will it be of me?”
I drag myself out of bed and run to work.
I work at a detention centre for people that are trying to achieve a safe place to restart the life they had to pause one day in their country. It’s a shitty place.
My job is to stand in front of a line of people that come to me and ask me for things they need. I have to look at them and make a quick decision on whether or not I will give it to them. In between the “I need sandals” and me saying yes or no, I think of how many sandals we have left. how many people are likely to arrive today, how many people will I have to say no to because I gave sandals to this person who has sandals but they are in bad state? But all they hear is the “no”. Some people understand, others simply can’t object because of the language barrier, and then, like today, some people decide to shout at me. Say I’m the most evil person working at this camp. That I don’t like black people. That some others simply refuse to come and ask for things at this location because they don’t want to look at my face. That I have an evil smile. That I take pleasure in seeing people suffering. That everyone else that works at this place is an angel. But not me. I’m pure evil. I smile and hold back tears. I find a place to hide and cry. I do my best, I do what I can. I take three deep breathes, clean the tears and go back to work.
Later in the day I find a friend crying. She was hiding her face in a room and it takes a while for me to meet her eyes. She’s underage, she’s from Afghanistan and usually a cheerful girl. She tries to stop someone telling me why she’s in this state but I persuade her. “No one likes Afghan people. I feel like a dog. People treat us like animals and we live like them. It has been over 3 months since we arrived to this place. I miss going to school. All I have are dreams of becoming someone. To become a doctors, a lawyer, a policewoman. My father is losing his mind. My sister has a heart problem and she cries every night in pain before going to sleep. No one wants Afghan people in their country, we are the bottom of the bottom. What will it be of my family? Where will we go? We have an interview date for our asylum but that’s in 5 months. I don’t know how to keep living here like a dog. I don’t know how long I can go on being treated like an animal.” What can you say to this girl?
I leave work and head off for an ice cream. As I’m eating a kid comes and asks for money. I say no and smile. Another one comes and I do the same thing. A third and forth little girls arrive and as I’m saying no, one of them starts pointing at me and talking Greek. She repeats the word “whore” a lot while she is poking my shoulder. As she’s walking away she spits on me.

I wish I had the mental capacity to analyse this fucking mess of a day. But I was told that writing helps, so dear reader, I’m entrusting you with my thoughts. Maybe someone will be able to look at this and make some sense of it. Borders, no borders, borders, no borders… politics, race, animals, dreams…

 I don’t know how many more BREXITS I can take this week and how many more personal insults. Thank god it’s Friday. 

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Sara, I want to volunteer!

I have written much about this topic, but questions and requests don't seem to stop. Here goes again:

This is something you need to think a lot about. Just because you have good intentions it doesn't mean you should come and volunteer, but that is the best thing you can have at the beginning. 

I can give you resources so you can find the ideal place for you to apply before volunteering. 
Here are some links (I will try to keep this page updated). - website with a lot of info about where to start, who to contact, etc. - Information point for Athens volunteers

ps: Thank you for wanting to help! I respect you for thinking about this!

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Back to Moria | De volta a Moria

[em Português no fim]

Life inside Moria changes daily, so you can imagine that a lot has changed since we were here one month ago. Before, you could see the hope in people's faces. They used to talk about Germany and the amazing life they were going to have when they got there. They were in a rush. Now, people are stuck here. Some of them have been inside for over 40 days and there's no indication of when they will leave, where will they go, what will happen to them. People lost all hope and live daily in a place that is not designed for them to stay more than a few hours. They have 3 meals a day, they have a tent to sleep and that's it. Nothing to do all day, no schools for children to go to, nowhere to play, nowhere to go and ask questions. I feel like these people have been forgotten here. It's no man's land. I never thought I would return to see this place in such bad shape. 

A vida em Moria muda todos os dias, portanto não é difícil de imaginar que depois de um mês sem cá estar, o campo esteja irreconhecível aos meus olhos. 
Antes conseguia ver a esperança no rosto de quem cá está. Falavam da Alemanha e de como iam ser fantásticas as suas vidas quando lá chegassem. Estavam com pressa de lá chegar. Mas agora não, agora estão presos aqui, alguns há mais de 40 dias. Não há informação sobre quando vão sair, para onde irão e o que lhes acontecerá se esse dia chegar. 
A esperança já lá vai e agora vivem num lugar que foi construído para as pessoas apenas ficarem aqui umas horas. Recebem 3 refeições por dia, dormem numa tenda no meio das pedras, sem colchões e é isso. Não há nada para fazer ao longo do dia a não ser esperar. As crianças não têm uma escola nem nada para fazer, nenhum lugar para brincar. Não há sequer um lugar onde fazer perguntas e informarem-se. As clínicas transformam-se em pontos de informação legal. 
Sinto que estas pessoas foram esquecidas aqui, num sítio que não é de ninguém. 
Nunca pensei que voltaria e este campo e estaria pior do que quando me fui embora. E no entanto, aqui estamos. 

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Brief for part III (& a bit of debrief from part II)

And so here we go for part III. 
It's so bloody hard to try and put into words what the last 40 days have been like. 

If you recall, the first time I went to Greece to volunteer in Lesbos it was September. When I returned in December I was thoroughly burn out. I didn't leave my pijamas for 2 weeks, barely left bed, didn't see any friends or family. I eventually had to, when Christmas came, but the inner struggle was ripping me apart. As I said, it's hard to explain, but I think anyone that has gone through burn out understands the lethargy, the feeling of not being able to get up and get on with life. 

When I was preparing to return home for the 2nd time after being in Greece for two months, I told myself I wouldn't let this happen again. I was burn out, yes, but I would fix it. I signed up for work shifts even before I left Lesbos. I made a point of asking to do breakfast shifts at the restaurant where I work, so I could get up early and (maybe) have a productive day. I was determined to not go back to the mental state I was in December. I signed up for counselling a few days after returning. This has proven one of the best decisions I've ever made. I was assigned to someone that has questioned me on why I don't dedicate time to my wellbeing and taught me how to do it. I've spent the last 40 days preparing for the next time I return to Greece, which is tomorrow. 

I've read books, I've done online courses, me and Jack have spent many dozens of hours talking about how will we take better care of ourselves this time. You will probably be surprised to learn that our "preparation" goes from "how can we eat more healthy?" to "did I pack enough clothes to go out for a drink?". I would have probably twisted my nose if I heard this is how people prepare to go and work at a refugee camp. But... the thing is... If I don't take care of myself, how will I take care of others? In the last few months I've heard things I never thought I would hear. Specially those coming from children. Bombs, kidnapping, raping, ... these words weren't part of my day to day vocabulary until very recently. I'm still processing this mess. 

I've found some amazing resources lately, but I believe the most helpful of them all has been Jessica Alexander's book Chasing Chaos
Jessica starts by talking about her time in Rwanda but I swear that if you changed the name to Lesbos I would say she was telling my story. The struggles about fitting in or making friends with colleagues, the cynicism after a few weeks of working in the field, she even says she didn't leave her house for days on when the returned! It made me feel so much better about what I was going through, knowing that this is the same process to everyone. To know it's not just me questioning my motives for doing what I do, for getting upset with all the "you're so wonderful" messages because really, I feel like I do an unimportant job. 
I rarely tell people what to do, but if you are considering a career in humanitarian work or thinking about volunteering (in Lesbos or somewhere else), please read this book. Humanitarian work is messy, it fails, it's hard to tell when it succeeds. But you need to know that before you start. I can't believe I knew so little when I first went to Lesbos. 

I'll leave you with one of my favourite quotes from the book (although I have underlined half of it)

As you can see, I am ignoring thinking about what really is happening at Moria Refuge Camp. there's nothing I can do to help as I am home, so I am leaving the time to worry for when I'm there. 

Here I go. Speak soon, 


Saturday, 16 April 2016

Testimony @ Taizé's website.

A few years back I volunteered in Taizé for a few months. It was a time I treasure deeply and think about often. I feel extremely grateful for the chance I had to live with 80 girls from all over the world. I made beautiful friendships and I was lucky enough to meet some of those friends around the world (NZ, Australia, Laos). 
One of the sweetest friends I made in Taizé was Eve. I find it hard to talk about Eve because she is someone I only got to be friends with for a few months before she suddenly passed away. I think I am scared people will judge the dept of our relationship and judge my mourning. I miss Eve so much. I think my time in Taizé will be marked by her friendship and how the last time I saw her was there. How we hugged and promised to see each other soon. 
I don't know why I'm talking about her, but I think it's unthinkable for me to talk about Taizé and not about Eve. I think if she was alive she would be in Greece working alongside me and the refugees. She learned portuguese (and she spoke it fluently !!!) just so she could go and volunteer at a school in Brazil. She used to skype me and tell me about all the big ideas she had for the place, at the same time she would talk about the next school she would go and work in, somewhere in Cambodia. 

Anyway, when I was in Lesbos back in March, one of the brothers of the community asked me to write something about my time with the refugees. It has just been published on their website and you can have a look here.

A little excerpt:

“I volunteer at a refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece. My main job is to distribute clothes, shoes and hygiene kits to the people that have made the dangerous crossing between Turkey and Greece on a small plastic boat, often with poorly made life jackets.
I get to hear a lot of stories from the people that make it to Lesbos, and it’s those stories that stay with me long after the people have left the island and continued their trip to mainland Europe, looking for a place where they are welcomed."

Friday, 25 March 2016

Ser voluntária | Being a volunteer

PT | Partilhei um testemunho no site "Para Onde?", um óptimo recurso para quem está a pensar fazer voluntariado e não sabe onde começar.

EN | I shared some words regarding my time in Greece, on a portuguese website that helps people interested in volunteering find the right resources. It's in portuguese, but here's a link to a Google automated translation to English.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

3rd time lucky | À terceira é de vez

EN | We came home 5 days ago. We already bought tickets to return to Lesvos for our 3rd time. No fancy explanations. It's where we are meant to be right now and we are lucky enough to be able to do what we feel like doing. We will be working for Doctors of the World Greece for the next few months, starting in May.

Returning to Lesvos will give us an opportunity to engage in longer projects and make a real impact at the busiest time of the year. Last summer, on some days, over 2 000 people arrived to the beaches of Lesvos. We are not essential, but we can help them a bit.

We are very thankful for the support of the portuguese NGO "Ovar, Vamos Ajudar?"  which supports us and allows us to dream and make those dreams come to life. We are two people in Lesvos, but we have an army of people working with us.
I know we do precious work there and that's why it's important for us to return. 

PT | Voltámos a casa há 5 dias. Já comprámos bilhetes para voltar a Lesvos pela terceira vez. Não tenho uma explicação elaborada. Sinto que é onde tenho que estar neste momento e por sorte, posso escolher ir onde me leva o coração. Vamos continuar a trabalhar com os Médicos do Mundo Grécia pelos próximos meses, a começar em Maio.

Voltar a Lesvos vai-nos dar a oportunidade de trabalhar em projectos mais elaborados e longos, além de que poderemos ajudar na altura mais difícil do ano. No Verão passado, em alguns dias, mais de 2000 pessoas chegaram ás praias da ilha. Não somos uma ajuda essencial, mas podemos ajudar estas pessoas um bocadinho.

Estamos agradecidos pela ajuda da organisação "Ovar, Vamos Ajudar?", que nos dá apoio e nos permite sonhar e tornar esses sonhos realidade. Somos dois em Lesvos, mas temos um exército de pessoas a trabalharem connosco. 
Sei que fazemos um trabalho importante e é por esse motivo que temos de voltar.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Week 4

We spent most of our time this week sorting out through donations.
It's not what you call a "fun job", but someone's got to do it. And it might as well be done during a time that there's not many people arriving to the island. The weather has been crap!

We are very well stocked for the next few months! But you do need to breath in and out when you see some of the useless stuff people send us! 

Example: within TWO boxes, this is how many pairs of high heels we collected (and threw in the bin after the photo). As much as you think it's a good gesture to send your very nice pair of fancy heels, NO, THEY ARE NOT HELPFUL.

Before packing something to send our way, think "would I feel embarrassed about handing this to a person that is wet and cold?", if the answer is yes, don't send it. 

We had some time on our day off to take the cameras for a walk. 

I can't believe it's been 4 weeks since we arrived. Time has gone very fast. We feel like we barely made a difference. I keep reminding myself that opening boxes is just as important as other jobs. Oh well, on we go to week 5.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Jack and Sara in Moria

We recorded a video to show you what it's like to volunteer in Moria.

I am thankful for the many donations we have received over the last week towards the campaign we started to get underwear and socks. This is our way to say THANK YOU!

I spent 3 hours subtitling the video in English so please turn on subtitles :)

Week 2 and 3

It's been hard to find time to come and post some news. I beat myself up for not doing it often, but truth is I can't stretch my days. I simply don't have time to do it. Shifts have been hard. They were specially hard on the second week. Snowed most days and I barely had the energy to keep myself moving. 

Some days I wake up and I even find myself being happy and peaceful. Others, like today, it's very hard. As I'm sitting on my computer, at a café in the port, I read news about another boat sinking and 40 people being dead. I look to the sea and think "this is happening right here". It's a hard thing to grasp. 

Some events knocked me out in the last few days.
On one of the days that it was snowing, a woman approached me with a baby on each arm and asked me for help, in perfect english, regarding what her next step is, after getting the registration papers. I told her she needs to get the bus to the port and buy a ferry ticket to Athens, but I know there's a ferry strike, and as so, she might only be able to buy a ticket to travel 2 days after. I write on a piece of paper the name "Kara Tepe". It's the camp where Syrians and Iraqis can go and stay, get some food and rest. I tell her to go there after buying her ticket. I carry one of her babies to the bus stop and we wait together for the bus to arrive. She tells me her husband did the trip a few months before and he has reached Germany and now it's their turn to join him. the bus arrives, I leave the three of them and go back to work. And then it hits me! Here was a clear situation in which I could have done so much more to help. And I didn't! It was a perfect opportunity and I missed it. I could have travelled with her to the port to buy her ticket and then help her with the kids and her bags. Pay for a hotel, give her a place to rest... I missed a golden opportunity. I could have really helped her! I went to the port a few hours later and tried to find her. I didn't see her. I like to think some other person noticed this struggling woman and helped her. But what if no one did? It's been over a week and I still wonder how she is. How she will manage to do the whole journey to Germany...

Here's some photos of your week:

We spent a lot of time this week organising donations. With the cold weather, less boats arrive, making it the perfect time to go to the warehouse and prepare for busy days. 

Will you help me share her drawings? Share her pain?

It is snowing and children are impatient. Moria campo is hardly the ideal place for children to hang out. There is nothing to play with besides stones. I decide to get paper and markers, improvise a table with a stool and 2 minutes later there are already 10 children trying to all draw at the same time on a single A4 sheet. I get more notebooks. It seems to work: parents relax two minutes, the children forget where they are, paint and laugh.

A 11 or 12 year old girl shows up, asks me for a marker and starts drawing. She pushes away the small children that try to interrupt her and concentrates on what she is doing.
I realize immediately that something strange is happening. She was not like the others. She wasn't going to paint a sun, a flower, a house ...
She began drawing bombs, planes, guns, people crying, amputated people, people with blood.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Mínimo dos mínimos

Todos aqueles que me enviam uma mensagem a dizer "Sara, como posso ajudar?" têm aqui a sua oportunidade de brilhar :)

Na continuação dos projectos da associação Ovar, Vamos Ajudar? para ajudar os refugiados, venho apelar à vossa adesão na nossa campanha MÍNIMO DOS MÍNIMOS.

Até dia 31 de Janeiro estamos a aceitar roupa interior (cuecas, sutiãs) e meias para todas as idades, para serem enviados para Lesbos e distribuidos por mim e pelo Jack! Estes items vão ser enviados juntamente com outros (luvas, gorros, cachecóis, mochilas) que comprámos com donativos anteriores :)

As pessoas fazem fila á porta do armazém onde distribuimos bens de primeira necessidade, para pedirem aquilo de que precisam. Toda a gente precisa de tudo, mas por não termos stock suficiente, temos que tomar decisões rápidas e que fazem com que não possamos ajudar muita gente. Por exemplo, o stock de sapatos está muito em baixo, por isso já só podemos dar sapatos a quem perdeu os seus e quem tem os pés molhados tem que manter os sapatos que tem. É muito difícil dizer-mos "não te podemos dar nada". Tentamos sempre dar algo, nem que seja um rolo de papel higiénico, mas gostávamos de elevar a fasquia e fazer do "mínimo dos mínimos" roupa interior para qualquer pessoa que nos pede ajuda!

Pontos de entrega EM OVAR:
-Natália Moreira Cabeleireiros
-Gabinete de Contabilidade Salomé Costa
-Casa das Festas

Mediante disponibilidade também podemos recolher :)

Estamos a concentrar a recolha em Ovar porque só temos uma semana, mas se alguém quiser organizar na sua área e enviar para Ovar a morade é:

Rua Elias Garcia,
55 1B
3880-213 Ovar

Se alguém estiver a pensar enviar pelo correio, digam-me para saber e não enviarmos tudo antes de chegar.

Convidem todos os vossos amigos para o evento:

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Week 1

And so we are here. 
We arrived on Tuesday after a long travelling day and due to the weather, we almost had to spend an unplanned night in Athens. Being at the airport, ready to board the plane to Athens, it was like being at a convention of volunteers. Although you could see some locals, most of the people getting ready to fly to Mytilini were volunteers. You can very clearly see them: they have big backpacks, sit on the floor, wear waterproof jackets, look fearless and ready to work. 

We set off to work the next day, still tired but ready to start. There is someone already helping at the location we used to distribute clothes from in October, so we have been given a new location. We are in Kepe, the reception centre for Arabic speaking refugees. That means people from Syria and Iraque. This is already a big improvement, because before, only Syrians were registered here, and on the other part of Moria Camp, all other nationalities. It was very hard to organise translators in both arabic and farsi languages for the other area. This way, instead of being divided by countries, people are divided by languages they speak! It's so much easier this way! Now I can focus on learning one language: arabic. 

It's also fairly nicer here. There is a courtyard and the huts hide the fences. It's almost bearable. 
There's trees, an area to walk around and you can see everything that is happening around you clearly. There's even toilets for the refugees to use! This is very different from the place we were working in before! 

People get to wait in the courtyard until their paper is ready. After they get the paper, refugees can go to the medical clinic or come to us for clothes, before exiting the area and moving on to the next part of the journey, which is getting the ferry to Athens. 

This is what the inside of our room looks like. There are clothes, shoes, milk powder, hygiene items, diapers, etc. We organise it as well as we can, but it's hard when we receive boxes full of unusable clothes. 

Here's an example of several items we collected from different boxes!! Costumes. Your intentions may be good, but I would feel nothing but embarrassment if I had to give these to a kid that was soaking wet. It would be like a bad joke. These items went straight to the bin.