After driving back and forth between Greece and the Netherlands and crossing all those borders over and over again without any trouble, I had to do something for those who are not allowed to do this. Family, friends, old colleagues and other great benefactors were so kind to donate money for the Katsikas Refugee Camp in Greece. This week we finally managed to shop and bring the donation to the camp.
What did we buy from the donations?
The original plan was to put this money into clean underwear because that was supposingly something that was needed a lot. But just before we left, the co-ordinator of the camp e-mailed me that they would really appreciate school supplies for the kids. They were reorganising the school and could use more supplies. No problem! We drove over to Jumbo (in Greece that is NOT a supermarket but a big shop like Action) and started plundering their school supplies. This is what we gathered:
120 lined notebooks
25 boxes of color pencils
200 normal pencils
15 boxes of crayons
50 whiteboard markers
30 blanco notepads (for coloring and painting)
6 liters of paint
10 packs of paint brushes
50 re-useable water bottles to take to school
240 stickers (to put names on the bottles/cups etc)
After getting everything packed and paid, we went on towards the camp. Just outside the camp, we got welcomed by Renate, the regional co-ordinator from Lighthouse Relief. Together with some other volunteers, we carried the stuff inside. They were really grateful for the donation and told us all the school supplies will be distributed to both the Yazeedi camp with 60 children and the Katsikas camp with over 70 children.
Walking around the refugee camp One of the volunteers opted to show us around the camp. She told us that before she arrived in Katsikas, she had worked at Lesbos. Just like some of the others volunteers. Because all the refugees are now moved immediately to the mainland, she decided to follow them. Originally a stay of 2 weeks was planned, but that was 3 months ago.
According to her, this refugee camp is one of the best organised camps in Greece and that they are a kind of 'role model' for other camps. This is not just due to the organisation, the volunteers etc. This is due to the community driven spirit of the entire camp. Everybody works together and everybody takes a part in it.
The camp exists 5 months and has around 500 refugees at the moment, most of them from Syria. In these past months, they managed to build a small community from scratch. A warehouse including a library and a (free) shop for clothes, a tea bar, a beauty salon for the women, a tent to smoke the sisha and other 'spots' were they can gather. Some of the refugees had even managed to build a small garden in front of their tents, including vegetables. And of course the most important: a school. The school only exists out of 5 big tents but here the kids can get all kind of education. The teachers are refugees themselves and used to be teachers in their homeland. Besides the regular classes like mathematics and Arabic, there are also foreign language classes, like English, Spanish and French. These classes are given by volunteers and are for the adults as well. Up till last month they also had a German teacher, but she had to leave unfortunately.
It was amazing to witness this community. Every tent was turned into a real home. The atmosphere was peaceful. The kids were playing, laughing and coming over to say hello. Others were busy building something and some were just sitting in the shade while chatting. In the meantime the volunteers were walking around, organising all kind of activities like readings for the kids in the library and game hour.
Even though the atmosphere was so friendly and peaceful: you realise why these people are here. You see them living in tents with just some carpets on the floor. Just before we arrived, a huge thunderstorm had passed by with a lot of rain. People were digging ditches and the tent that is used as 'tea bar' was flooded. Some tents had collapsed and they were fixing them and putting the carpets out in the sun to dry. Although this camp has enough facilities as it comes to toilets, showers etc. In the end they can not provide them with what they need the most...
We got told that every month some families leave. They find ways to get into contact with smugglers and try to continue their journey. Also on one part in the camp, the foundation for bigger, stronger tents had been put. Foundations build from wood to put tents on top that would be more winter proof. In this way the refugees will not have to sleep on the cold ground. But they aren't finished. This is due to the fact that the refugees don't want to move. They do not want to leave their 'home' again. They do not want to leave their gardens. And most of all: they do not plan on being here, when winter arrives in Greece.
While walking through the camp I could feel this contradiction. It has made a big impact on me and it has been an experience I will never forget.