I will admit that I have been nervous about today for the past few months. That's because today is when the team from Effect.org was schedule to go to the Oinofyta refugee camp. I was not quite sure what to expect. I will start this post by saying that it was one of the best experiences that I have had in a very long time.
The Oinofyta refugee camp is located about an hour north of Athens in a town called Oinofyta. It is physically located in an abandoned warehouse near the highway. The warehouse is rented by the Greek Ministry of Migration from a bank who owns the property (a causality of the Greek economic collapse). This camp houses about 400 residents. A majority of these residents are refugees from Afghanistan or Pakistan. Most of them escaped their home countries due to threats by the Taliban, but each family's story is different.
We were greeted at the camp by Lisa Campbell who is the Executive Director for Do Your Part - a nonprofit organization. This organization runs the camp's day to day operations. Everything from medical assistance to food delivery is all coordinated through them. Lisa talked us through the purpose of the camp and some of the issues they are currently having. Her concerns echoed those of the nonprofits we visited with earlier this week.
Next, one of the volunteers on Lisa's team took us on a tour of the camp. On the tour we went inside the factory and walked through the area where the residents lived. It was basically a series of hallways with multiple rooms on a factory floor. The rooms were assigned to the residents and served as their home while in the camp.
While on the tour we also saw a recreation room where classes are taught, the facilities where food is distributed, a kitchen area, and a "store" where residents can find goods such as clothes and cooking supplies. One of the really nice things we saw was a sewing room where residents use old tents to make Oinofyta Wares. It was very cool to see. This is a way for the residents to make money to support themselves and the camp. I did buy some bags that the residents made. You should check out their website.
Once the tour was done we had our choice of tasks for the day. I signed up for the wood working job. There I met Jim who is a volunteer from Do Your Part. He works in construction in London and has dedicated two weeks of his time to helping Oinofyta by offering his craftsmanship. Together we worked on building a shelter where the residents can be outside and work in the shade. I had a fun time working with Jim and a few of my team members on this task. We also had help from some of the residents - including one little boy who was living in the camp (who is destined to be an architect). By the end of the day we had a solid design mapped out and began construction. I was actually sad to leave without helping Jim finish his project.
What did I learn today?
The physical conditions of the camp were not as bad as I thought they would be. While not luxurious by any means, the residents had access to the basic necessities. They also had a semi private place to call their own. Again, it by no means is ideal, but this camp was better than the tents that I was expecting.
The ability to cook or select your own meals goes very far if you consider how this gives you a sense control over your own life. You could see the importance the residents placed on this as they prepared meals for their families.
The kids were happy. They were running and playing just as you would see kids anywhere else in the world.
The residents have gotten very creative at working with what they have. I saw this in the wood shop. We only had access to a hand full of tools, but we were able to make do and build something that achieved our goals.
This whole situation is complicated. The more I learn about this refugee crisis, the more I see a tangled web that impacts everyone - not just the refugees. I don't have a solution, but I know that it is bigger than just one person or organization.
Overall today was a great day! I took lots of photos, and I have included a few below. Enjoy!
As always if you want to support Effect.org then you can do that on my donation page below. Thanks again for everyone who has been supporting! I have over $500 in donations to pass along to Effect.org now!
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