December 11, 2015 Roadtofreedom

Road to Samos

DIARY

After heading back from Serbia last month where we provided much aid to the refugees at the Croatian border and Calais the month before, we decided to head to the shores of Samos, a tiny Greek island in the Aegean Sea.

As the refugee crisis worsens with the winter creeping in, countless innocent lives are further lost. These children, women and men escaped death in their own countries yet it caught up with them as they searched for safety.

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Many, just this month alone have drowned in the Aegean Sea desperately trying to make that treacherous journey across the water. Those who are not taken by the water later succumb to hypothermia and other such illnesses due to the lack of aid and resources there. It is horrific to know that these people are dying in Europe, humanity is failing.

With a team of five we set off to work on the shores as the refugees arrived handing them immediate aid such as clothing & food to keep them alive and well. Our aim was to raise £1000 to purchase as much aid as possible but thanks to your kind donations we exceeded that, tenfold.

When we arrived at Samos we had no idea what to expect, but we were initially very pleasantly surprised. The island is somewhat idyllic, mountainous, scenic and very hilly supplying us with some spectacular views from our taxi, en route to our accommodation.

We had been fortunate enough to have been offered accommodation at the local town hall type building where our host, Elena met us and showed us around Samos. It was obvious to see the plight of the refugees had deeply embedded itself in her core as she spoke with sadness, yet described in detail what had happened on the island when they first arrived. She took us around the town centre and introduced us to some of her friends, we were all very overwhelmed by their hospitality, the Greek people are among some of the nicest I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.

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Off her own back and with the help of volunteers this wonderful woman had erected a makeshift camp for these people to reside and as we were soon to discover, as far as these types of things go, Samos was one of the best camps we had seen.

Situated on the shore line the wonderful Greek people and volunteers from afar had created what can only be described as an organised, safe haven for the refugees, the first one they had probably seen in a while. It wasn’t without setbacks of course, it was still cold, supplies were strained and all they had was only possible through people like you donating and volunteering.

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On our first night we worked in the emergency cabin where men, women & children who had just come out of the dinghy’s and were wet would come for dry clothing, hats, gloves and scarfs. The atmosphere was intense and the cabin extremely busy, the refugees outside seemed understandably panicked and shaken. I was taken aback and not sure what to think at this stage, it all took me by surprise and I felt a little uncomfortable. I guess I was only used to seeing this type of thing in movie, it didn’t really occur to me it would play a part in this day and age.

When distribution had ended we waved off a large batch of refugees who were boarding an evening ferry to Athens, the mood lifted and the refugees bared huge smiles at the prospect of completing another step of their long and torturous journey.

After a long night we headed to get some rest to prepare for our first full day, it had been an extremely long time since we had slept by this point and we knew in order to be at our best we needed to get at least a few hours’ sleep.

The next morning we headed to the warehouse where all clothing and bedding donations are kept and arranged. We spent the duration of the morning tidying it up and organising it so items are easier to find when they are urgently needed by the volunteers at the shore, these were always transported by an amazing Dutch volunteer we met called Jap. This was a good group bonding exercise where we also had the pleasure of interacting with other volunteers and NGO’s and I started to feel a bit more comfortable in my surroundings.

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Whilst we had been doing this the rest of the team had met a lovely volunteer named Hannah who was staying with a lovely Greek couple down by the water. Mykalis and Maria had a restaurant that they had converted into living quarters and after meeting Hannah previously had welcomed her to stay with them.

Their quarters were stunning, situated on the shoreline a few feet from the sea. They welcomed us into their home, Maria was a talented artist and had painted and drawn intricate art pieces on the walls – both inside and outside, it was a sight to behold.

This beautiful couple had given up their normal way of life and spent every day for the last six months buying eggs, chips and bread, cooking them and preparing baguettes, and driving round dropping them to refugees who weren’t receiving aid. Their kindness absolutely melted my heart and inspired me in ways you wouldn’t believe.

The team had decided to throw a party for the children to lift the mood in camp so Mykalis took us out on his pick-up truck to buy supplies. The truck wove round all the hilly bends and sitting in the back being open to the elements with that wonderful view is a moment for life, one I will never forget.

Samos - Liz

We bought a lot of chocolate, crisps, toys and accessories for the children and headed back to camp to throw a soiree full of laughter, glow sticks and candy!

Whilst the others took charge of the party I manned the cabin with another volunteer. Once it was time to swap over I headed off with Jap to find the others little knowing this would prove to be one of the best nights of my life.

Upon finding the rest of the group it seemed they had made a few friends. I’ll introduce you…..

Mano is a Swedish doctor who had been heading up all things medical at the camp, a lovely man with the purest heart. The team had also befriended three refugees, Ahmad, G and Mohammed who together with Hannah kept us company until the early hours, 3am to be precise.

We talked for hours, covering every topic known to man, from the music industry to possession and poltergeists, to our own lives and personal talents when the conversation suddenly diverted and Ahmad and Mohammed explained their stories to us.

I had expected to be overcome with emotion on this trip but until this point everything had been relatively calm and we hadn’t witnessed anything too catastrophic but that was all about to change.

Ahmad detailed how the civil war had started in Syria, he told us about his life, his studies, how his university had been bombed three times and eventually how he had left his parents behind not knowing if he would ever see them again. He told us that life is too beautiful not to pray and that we must always hold onto hope, I can’t remember the exact quote but seeing this amount f hope inside a soul that had suffered so much captured me in a way I’m not sure I’ve ever been captured before. I cried uncontrollably and Ra’ed did his best to comfort me but before long he was off too and Tania as well.

Ahmad agreed to film an interview for us detailing the war in Syria so we could show society at home the real story, which I may add is in stark contrast to the over bearing narrative the media feeds us.

As 3am hit we said our melancholy goodbyes and agreed to meet the next day. It was already bearing on all of our minds that the next day would be our last and I don’t think any of us had fathomed how difficult it would be. I didn’t want to part ways, I wanted to stay, had to stay.

The sun rose like every other day but there was a dark cloud over us all. On one hand we couldn’t wait to greet our new friends but on the other we were petrified to leave them, not knowing what their fate would be.

We headed to eat at the local bakery and decided to buy every pastry they had in there to take down as a surprise breakfast for the camp.

We arrived at camp and distributed breakfast much to everyones delight. One of Ra’eds wonderful friends Naresh had come to Samos to help out as he was a doctor, he brought along the lovely Mai with him too and they worked out of the camp trying to train people in first aid and emergencies, something to leave behind that would stay with these people long after they had departed.

It was Naresh’s birthdays so we surprised him with a cake and along with the refugees we sung him Happy Birthday and everybody (including the kids) enjoyed some cake. It was a beautiful moment.

We spent more time with our brothers Ahmad, G & Mohammed where we met some wonderful families who were due to board the incoming ferry. Its remarkable how quickly you make attachments to these people and waving them goodbye feels as difficult as if it were family.

Shortly before leaving Ra’ed and I met a family with a young son who had autism, they explained he was always so hyperactive but around us he seemed so calm. Ra’ed held him as we waved goodbye to the boats until he was overcome with emotion and handed him to me. I held him as we watched the ferry leave, and he sung goodbye in Arabic in my ear. I started to weep uncontrollably and he rested his head on my shoulder, wiping my tears and kissing my cheek. There was something so magnificent about this child’s pure, innocent spirit, he could read my emotions like a book and did his best to comfort me. A moment for life I will never forget.

As we bid him and his family farewell the boy became enamoured with Ra’ed’s sunglasses as he could see his reflection in them, it was a funny moment in an otherwise heartbreaking situation. He kissed us both on the cheek and the forehead and hugged us goodbye, I can’t explain how much I didn’t want to let go knowing I would not only never see him again but I would never know if him and his family made it.

The time had come to bid farewell to our brother Mohammed, Ahmad and G. We made them promise to take care of one another and promised t maintain contact, and indeed we are all still in contact and can tell you they made it to Germany and Finland respectively.

Saying goodbye to our brothers was beyond difficult, we were all completely overcome with emotion and cried the whole taxi ride back to our accommodation. It didn’t feel right to come home, back to normality and just carry on with our privileged lifestyles while our brothers suffered more anguish not knowing what may lie ahead.

Completing a trip like this really puts things in perspective. I no longer about trivial things, celebrity gossip, what I’m wearing at the weekend to the rave. I can’t even imagine going on holiday because that’s money that could be spent flying out to help these innocent souls. Noting seems important anymore except the good fight for peace and justice so we can honour these beautiful people with a life they deserve. One that is safe and full of love.

Over and out.

Liz x