Blog Lesvos — Evert, 5 weeks volunteer
The first three weeks in the camp I worked mostly on the shelter, this week I was changed to the distribution. This week surveys are planned for lone men therefore a male volunteer team was composed. This team was lead by CRR host Theresa, she is coordinating all distributions.
We started with the survey with a few volunteers on Monday morning. This survey was done to get insight in the biggest needs of the male men. This survey was initiated by various NGO’s among which EuroRelief, the partner we are working for. Equipped with a tablet, a translator and an American professor who is working in the camp for his first time, we went to the rubhall. In this big tents with 16 small rooms the lone men are located. Lot of them are still asleep because we started early. Seeing that we are coming for a survey only we don’t want to wake them so we started on the rooms where the men are already awake.
The research is focussed on basis needs, we ask what kind of clothes do they most need, which hygiene articles are they lacking, what kind of protection again heat they need in summer and a regular list of improvements in the camp. Via our translater, who speaks English really good, is coming a lot of info to us. We started often with one person and most of the times a roommate jumps into the conversation and another one, so at the end of the survey we are listening to discussions about what they need the most. Suncreen or a musquito net? Shampoo of shaving foam? Pillow or extra blanket? These questions show the pain of the survey, in the West we have lot of both items and here we cannot even promise one of them.
In the rooms in the Rubhall the heat is intense and the biggest need is protection through ventilators, however we already know now that we probably cannot supply them. So all the question they have about it we have to answer with question marks. Just like the refugee’s asking about which articles we do have in stock, big question mark. We skipped these questions after a while.
The survey showed us interesting things, lot of men chose improvement of eduction as main improvement, more important than improvement of toilets, showers and electricity. This is also the main reason that you hear if you ask someone why they escaped: ‘My friend! My children! School! No war!’ A place of peace and the possibility for education for kids are important motives. Like an old German proverb says: ‘Den Ersten sien Dod, den Tweeten sien Not, den Drütten sien Brod’, they older refugees know that they most probably will not make it in the ‘new world’ because of the difficult integration process. But they give up their live for the future of their children. That also young an lone men have listed education as so important let me think. It connects to what Mohammed, an Afghan I drinked thea with a couple of times told me: ‘I fled because I did not want to raise a family in Afghanistan, if I get kids I want that the can go to school safely and that they’re not worried about if their dad is coming home alive every afternoon…’.
The next days looked different. From Tuesday till Friday we are handing out bags with hygiene articles to all lone men. In the warehouse there is worked hard to make 2000 bags ready. The bags contained a towel, shampoo, shaving items, toothpaste and some little bottles. We are leaving to battle with the box truck, loaded with six big crates with the bags, to start the distribution between the rubhalls. This is a new way of distribution because we are not handing out tickets first but we are delivering the bags. Theresa have equipped us with tablets with excel sheets containing all the inhabitants of the rubhalls. So we can register what we did, to make it fair as possible. We are only handing out bags to men who are actually there to avoid troubles. The ones who missed us can come back later to pick up their bag.
These days are dominated by thankful faces and a lot of laughter if the men are opening the bags and trying to find out the meaning of the products. ‘My friend! What dis?’, a young Afghan men is looking to me with a bottle of face spray in his hands. His roommate is laughing, ‘Face spray, is for here’ he is smiling while is gesture making to his armpit. It’s a good thing to hand out the bags after the survey, it’s giving the idea that actually is something done with their questions. You see that the men are enjoying a human contact moment to break the boringness of their being for a while. If we are accepting all invitations for having a tea or a meal we would be overfilled at the end of the day. Ofcourse we will have tea so now an then to have a break. The kindness and hospitality of the Afghans is unseen, they offer you a complete meal while they have shortness for themselves.
The first days of the distribution are quit. All Afghans are waiting patient for their turn. The men receive their bag and ask for a bag for their friend who is not there. They accept that we are not giving out bags for persons who are not there. They thank enthusiastic for the received goods and we can move on. Until we start at the rubhalls at the other side of the street were the Congolese and other Africans are housed. The difference is directly noticeable. As soon the first Congolese have received there bag, other are start to crowd around the truck. ‘My friend! Me no bag!’. They are waving with their ID’s to get our attention. Theresa decided to close the truck, finished for today. She explained that if we would stop now, in a few minutes a chaos of refugees around us would be created.
The next morning the resumed the distribution at Rubhall 9. It’s still early, in camp terms, around 0900 hrs most men are still asleep. Despite that, short after our restart of the distribution we are again surrounded by a crowd. A Congolese from 11 urgent want to have his bag now because he will go to Mytilini today. He is showing us a lot of papers, after him a line up is formed. That is not intention and we remember Theresa’s warning from yesterday. Two men are standing on the tailgate and are shouting instructions in our best French. ‘Neuf? We are underway! Dix? Wait! Onze? Wait! Douze? Wait!’. One of the man understands our system and is translating our instructions to the other men. A understanding raised from the crowd. Allright, waiting and then its coming by itself. While the rest of the camp is coming alive, Afghans coming out to wash themselves, the police patrols are taking their positions the rest is returning to our truck. Despite the one who is testing the accuracy of our system with a pass of his friend, the rest of the day the distribution going good.
Sitting on the ramp of the truck I was wondering. So now and then I see a known Aghan passing by, greeting me. On the their remarkable way, a little bow with the head and the hand on the chest. The Somalian translator Mohammed is passing by for a little chat some later. After he walked away and I made my last round thru the camp, I realise that I feel love for this men. I moved by the fact that they spend the best years love their lives on a few square metre, surrounded by sweating men, flies, high temperatures and a minimum of hygiene facilities. How long will this take? I am also surprised that the men keep their dignity in this environment. They keep their strength, keep on fighting for each other, driven by hope for the end of the night. Maybe not for themselves but for their kids… Let us know forget them in our prayers, but pray for strength, a future of hope and she shining light of the Gospel in this night.
Ik sluit af met het lied, dat we als groep vaak als afsluiting van de maaltijd met elkaar zongen:
In de nacht van strijd en zorgen
kijken wij naar U omhoog,
biddend om een nieuwe morgen,
om een toekomst vol van hoop.
U bent God, de Allerhoogste,
God van onbegrensde macht.
Wij geloven en wij hopen
op het einde van de nacht.
U geeft een toekomst vol van hoop;
dat heeft U aan ons beloofd.
Niemand anders, U alleen,
leidt ons door dit leven heen.