Distribution and logistics
Since April 2016, Samos Volunteers had been the main provider of non-food items (NFIs, which includes clothes, shoes and hygiene items) to the refugees and migrants residing in the camp in Samos. This work was initiated to fill the gaps in basic needs of those detained on Samos, at a time when no other organisations were capable or willing to provide these services. We became a permanent and daily distributor of NFIs, while our initial purpose was only to cover the urgent needs of the people.
Now however there is no longer an emergency situation requiring the daily distribution of NFIs in the camp by our group. With a decrease in the population of the camp and an increase in many families being hosted in alternative accommodation in town, Samos Volunteers decided that our role as distributors of NFIs should dissolve and be passed on to those mandated to cover these needs. This enabled us to focus and expand on our activities which will benefit the refugee community on Samos through psycho-social support; namely informal education and recreational activities.
Whilst we have stopped the daily distribution of NFIs in the camp to recenter our time and resources on more permanent informal education and activities, we are still committed to filling the gaps of what’s most needed and overlooked. Therefore, Samos Volunteers continues to work as an emergency response team for anyone arriving on the island, often in the middle of the night and wet, by providing them with dry clothes and catering to any specific needs (such as providing mothers with baby care items). Our volunteers prepare kits for new arrivals which include a change of clothes, socks and underwear, and sandals. We sort donations and prepare these kits in advance in our warehouse, as we cannot predict when people will arrive on Samos and in what numbers.
The registration process for new arrivals is often lengthy. Therefore distributing these items is a vital part of what we do in order to make people feel a bit more comfortable in an often stressful situation.
Most refugees and migrants have been on the island of Samos for several months with no opportunities for formal work or study. To combat pervasive boredom and gaps in education, Samos Volunteers provides language classes, which we foresee as hugely important for their transition into Europe. We use a proportion of our monetary donations to equip and resource our teachers and students with textbooks, notebooks and stationery.
Our informal education has taken many different forms as the group has worked to expand our resources and our capacity to bring classes to people living in the camp. In May 2017 we moved out of The Rainbow Centre (a spaced shared with Save the Children International), into our own building, Alpha, just a few minutes walk from the camp. In this new space we are holding language classes for adults in English, German, French and Greek. We offer up to 5 levels of each language, ranging from absolute beginner to advanced.
Whilst the majority of classes are run in our hub, Alpha, we are also ensuring that refugees hosted in alternative accommodation have the opportunity to access our education programme. Currently, we are teaching English in 3 different shelters for vulnerable families (these include families with very young children, pregnant women, elderly persons, persons with disabilities), and 1 shelter for unaccompanied minors (these are persons under the age of 18, who have made the journey to Europe alone, usually teenage boys).
Our classes, however, are not limited to language teaching. To give the refugees a sense of empowerment and mental stimulation, we are establishing a range of courses and projects based on the skills of our volunteers and the requests from the beneficiaries. We welcome new ideas and projects should we deem them suitable and sustainable.
The recreational activities coordinated by Samos Volunteers are an extremely important part of our work and we have found they have a hugely positive impact on the daily lives of the refugees and migrants living in the camp. Over the last year, we have catered for all ages of men, women and children, in activities such as chess and backgammon, football matches, dancing, singing, break-dancing, karate, and many more! During the summer, we offer swimming lessons to children, women and men, at a beach that is walking distance from the camp and our centre. Swimming is a highlight of the week for the kids; it’s a chance to teach them a vital skill while having a lot of fun. For the adults, we offer swimming in addition to a range of other physical activities, such as hiking and yoga. There is also a fitness class every evening lead by one of our volunteers, which is a great way for the men in particular to get active. The population of the Samos camp currently is around 65% male, and amongst these, the majority are aged between 18-30. Unfortunately, as in most camps, there develops a culture of drinking, largely due to boredom and wasting months detained in poor conditions. We want to give the refugees and migrants an alternative to this, and encourage them to spend their time learning and doing something productive or physical.
In our new centre, Alpha, in addition to our daily language classes, we offer adult art and music workshops. We also have a women-and-baby space, where we are hosting activities usually requested by the women themselves (such as knitting, pottery, jewellery-making, yoga and meditation, and dress-making), with a safe play area for their young children. On Saturday afternoons, we bring tea, some treats, and we're happy to be able to offer a comfortable space for women to socialise and relax.
While our activities are expanding, we love and encourage volunteers to bring with them ideas for new activities and workshops!
Since the beginning of 2017 Samos Volunteers has acquired a large collection of donated books in English, German, Arabic, Farsi, Urdu and Kurdish. With these resources we have been able to bring into the camp a mobile library for both adults and children. Twice a week we set up our library table where people can check out books for two weeks at a time or renew their books. Our collection ranges from children’s books and fiction of all kinds to non-fiction, dictionaries, and educational books for adults. We have established a children's reading group which runs every weekday morning, allowing children of all ages and backgrounds who have spent many months (maybe even years) without primary education to come and practice reading in both English and their own language with our guidance.
We also have set aside a space in Alpha with comfy chairs and bookshelves where anyone can come read in a quiet, comfortable space away from the camp. The library provides a way for people living in the camp, often for many months and with little to do, with a small escape.
Our library has been successful and is expanding! If you're interested in donating to our library, follow this link to our list of needed items or check out our Amazon Wish List of requests from people in the camp!
In the mornings and afternoons we have a tea distribution for the residents of the camp. Tea distribution was started in the winter months when people were waking up freezing in their tents. We have continued this into the summer as it is greatly appreciated by the residents of the camp, refreshing, and a method of rehydrating in the really hot Samos weather.