My First Week - Kia Davis

When you’re new, you don’t know what to expect. The thought of arriving in a new country to work with a volunteer organization for the first time can be overwhelming. Perhaps it will be difficult to get to know people, or to get started and know what to do. But somehow, at Samos Volunteers that never happens. This is especially true if you’re in one of the large shared houses that form the centre of social activities.

I arrived into Samos by air, landing at the mountaintop airport and descending down winding paths into Vathy, the small seafront town that acts as the capital of Samos. A housemate fetched me from the centre of town, and within an hour I’d met several new housemates in the large townhouse I’d share with 10 other people (plus a dog and a cat). I arrived on a Monday, which meant that the housemates were spending an hour cleaning, then eating dinner together. It was a great way to meet them and get to know their role at Samos Volunteers.

Although I had been to the website and knew the services that Samos Volunteers offered, I didn’t truly understand what the organization delivered until Induction. More than just an orientation to Samos Volunteers, the session highlights how important SV is to the life and well-being of people in the camp. I signed a strict code of conduct aimed at making my time here as positive as possible for the beneficiaries. Like doctors, the motto seems to be: ‘first, do no harm’. Some of the rules are surprising, like avoiding the kind of bonds with people that can leave them vulnerable and disappointed when I leave the island.

From the outside, the refugee camp is easy to miss.  A dense network of cabins and tents, the camp is positioned on the hillside with a view of Vathy and the sea. As arrivals to the island increase, so does the size of the camp, and the entrance is dotted with the tents of newer arrivals. In a small clearing here, kids participate in daily activities such as reading and crafts, while nearby residents look on amusedly, and sometimes sing along.

The first thing I noticed about the Alpha Centre, the community centre that Samos Volunteers runs, was the noise. It’s buzzing with activity as groups of people loudly argue over a Scrabble game, silently concentrate over a chess move, or excitedly discuss the day’s lessons. Upstairs classes for languages and computers make it more like an institute, while the basementis reserved for women and their children while they learn a craft or take a class. 

Learning how the Alpha Centre works is an exercise in discovering how little things can mean a lot. Keep the sugar topped up. Clean the bathroom every 15 minutes. Refill the dish detergent every three cycles. It can be easy to get lost in the details, yet the impact is reflected in every smile, thank-you, or even gentle correction when something goes wrong. The real value of the Alpha Centre is providing a safe, welcoming environment, and every little detail helps add to that.

Whether waiting for dryers to stop spinning at the laundry, riding up to the camp to do kids activities, or one of the many other shifts, I quickly got to know the other volunteers. International volunteers are passionate college students and young professionals, retirees, artists, and people finding themselves. Community volunteers come from the camp and share a commitment to keeping Samos Volunteers running, providing translations, helping with the Alpha Centre or kids activities, and providing general good humour.

By week 2, I was already training new volunteers. Time here has a way of flying by and limping along at the same time. I feel like I’ve been here forever, but I also feel like I just arrived. Every new day brings a new set of challenges, but also a deeper feeling of being settled, and right where I belong.

Samos Volunteers