A Day in the Life of a Volunteer - Lucille Watters

At the beginning of April I set out from the Island of Elba, Italy, to spend a month working as a volunteer helping refugees on the Greek Island of Samos, in the Aegean Sea which is only 2km from Turkey. It seemed like the way to do something to help in this difficult and complex situation. I had found an amazing ONG called Samos Volunteers who were involved in helping refugees fulfil themselves as well as relieving some of the problems they have here. The Samos camp was originally meant for 700 people, now it contains over 3200, with many refugees living in makeshift tents constructed from whatever they can find.

Samos Volunteers is run by people from all over the world. During my month here, I have been working alongside other Europeans and with a few people from North and South America. We pay all our own expenses but the cost of living is quite cheap here on the Greek islands. There are also refugee volunteers who also contribute with their many skills. Because I am teacher, I became involved in a couple of English classes. Strangely I have got the most satisfaction from a class I have never worked in before; the ABC class. Many people here have never used the Roman alphabet so they need to learn this before they can start learning another language. The satisfaction that you see on their faces as they begin to master some basic words and phrases in English is fantastic, being able to communicate is of vital importance for their future.

One day I was walking through the centre of town and saw a fifty year old Afghan woman from this course. We stopped and exchanged a few simple sentences, just the usual “How are you”, but it was a big step for her and the smile of satisfaction on her face showed her pleasure. Often just little things like that have made me feel joyous.

I have also been involved in working in our Community Centre where refugees can come to relax, chat, drink some tea and play board games such as draughts and chess or read a book. I clean the tables, collect the cups and give information on our courses and where refugees can find medical or legal facilities. Volunteers run other activities from yoga and fitness to music and computer classes. Saturday morning is cleaning the refugee camp time and I put on my rubber gloves to help volunteers and refugees in collecting the rubbish.

I have also been active in women’s activities. We have a designated space for women in the centre and Saturday is women’s day. Here all sorts of things happen from sewing and crocheting to learning basic computer skills, and fun things like eastern hand painting. Most afternoons mothers arrive with kids and it is great fun playing with them. Even though we don’t have a language in common, a smile works wonders and it’s not long before the children are doing “one, two, three” rhymes and leave saying “bye, bye” in English.

It’s been an interesting, worthwhile month, sometimes sad and testing, sometimes happy and gratifying. Yesterday was my last day and as I say goodbye to my students, refugees I have met and the other volunteers I am overwhelmed by gratitude for what they have given me and hope I have been able to help them just a little bit in their very difficult situation.

Samos Volunteers