Our trusted volunteer Kayra Martinez reports from the field at Idomeni, Greece, where hope still flowers despite the desperate situation.
The last few months have really hit close to home. Many of the people I have met while working on the Greek islands of Kos and Lesbos have been stuck along the Balkans, Hungary or in Idomeni, a small village in Greece, near the borders with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
I spent the last two weeks in Idomeni, visiting friends, taking aid and offering my two hands in the refugee efforts, helping some of the 9,900+ people stuck on the border.
Every 'Drop in the Ocean' Helps
I signed up with the Norwegian NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) "Drop in the Ocean" and spent the first several days working in Idomeni.
One sees many photos about recent events there, however, no one can truly be prepared for such intense suffering. The smell was ghastly, as people burn anything they can to keep warm and the toxic fumes spread throughout the area.
Conditions at Idomeni
People were sleeping outside in extremely thin tents. There were mosquitoes, bugs and snakes. They don't have the ability to take a hot shower and have to cook over charcoal or wood, oftentimes inhaling the toxic smoke. During the weeks prior, it had rained non-stop so there was mud everywhere.
We were fortunate enough that the sun was coming out and we had dry weather. Knowing how rich and well resourced Europe, Asia and America is, compared to the plight of these refugees, it's like witnessing history repeating itself.
I felt ashamed that these people were being denied their basic humanitarian needs. It motivates me to work harder.
The number of children was also astonishing. They were everywhere! They surrounded us with hugs and kisses every day when we arrived.
Fractured Families, Still Hopeful
We spoke a funny hybrid of English/Arabic together and they laughed at my accent when I tried to say "Sho ismek" (what is your name?).
I'm sure they felt the uncertainty in their mothers' or fathers' energy. For the most part they were happy just playing with anything they could find and being kids.
Initially, the men traveled alone to get asylum, in hopes of bringing their wives and children. However, the laws got tougher, the borders closed, and all the women were left in Idomeni, stuck for 7 to 8 weeks with no money, sick children and no support.
In every tent there are numerous families with similarly tragic stories. I had to hide my tears and provide comfort, support and love to everyone I met. It was all I could do.
Our team was made up of 10 - 15 people of all ages and countries around the world. It was a bright light in such a dark tale. We distributed from a little caravan in an orderly fashion every day at 9am in the C area.
The refugees anticipated the distributions and often we were met with a line before we were able to set up.
We had several refugees who were so kind to offer their language skills; translating and working alongside our crew, asking nothing in return.
We offered one article each day to keep things simple for everyone. If we distributed shoes, we handed out 400 tickets so that the first 400 people to wait in line would receive them. Our working hours were from 9am-2pm.
Our crew shared a nice Greek lunch in the sun and then gathered to organize the items for our distribution the following day, often times working into the night. The days were long, and as I had cases to attend to, both in other camps and in Idomeni, the two weeks flew by quickly.
The People we Met
I managed to walk around one day with a translator and a couple of volunteers. We were pleasantly surprised when people in the tents invited us to come and sit down, have a chat and offered us some of what little food they had.
They were happy to share their stories, amazed that people had come so far to help them and asked for a selfie. They asked about the borders, why they had closed them and how they could be reunited with their family members.
The people I have met here are so gracious. They ask for nothing, are kind and gentle souls and only want a chance at a safe and simple life.
They left their countries, families, careers and everything they owned and worked for to be met with fear and uncertainty. They still remain hopeful, though there is a deep sadness in their eyes that will likely not fade any time soon.
One day I will never forget was after the distribution, it was a sunny day. We brought paint, rain jackets, plastic gloves and some stencils. I've never seen so much excitement.
The kids got in line, their smiles were ear to ear and they took part in colouring our caravan from top to bottom.
They painted big hearts, a lovely blue drop, (the same as our insignia from Drop in the Ocean) and handprints from each of the children. It was quite a sight. If only for a day we could take their pain away, this was that day.
Neu Kavala Camp
The remainder and majority of my time in Greece was spent at Neu Kavala, a military camp that is run by the military.
Our NGO was given the green light to help with distribution and we were able to implement a very good system and organize a well-run distribution working hand in hand with the military.
The camp is near Polykastro and has roughly 4,000 people, although the numbers change quite frequently. There is a lot of need, but the military has been great allowing us in, which will be a great benefit for all of the refugees.
I have decided to devote my time off (I work a full time job) to this particular camp and getting as much aid as possible there.
I will be flying out monthly to Greece (my new home away from home) and will be taking aid each time. I still have several days in Frankfurt in between my work trips that I can help locally, although in Germany there are quite a lot of resources in comparison. We still have arrivals so we have needs here as well.
I sincerely thank you for all the support. There is power in numbers so any kind gesture is appreciated. I'm helping numerous projects so I can use support with these projects, ranging from photography, safe houses for women, children's activities and of course moving donations from the U.S. to Greece and Germany.
Thank you to the lovely ladies who wrote a personal note, pinned it onto the handmade baby hats and sent them all the way to Greece. I was able to place them on the little heads of many children.
Thank you to the people in Polykastro who organized two large bags of children's clothes that were washed, ironed and sent with love.
I helped two father’s pick out adorable little pink outfits for their daughters. Thank you to the German company, Hipp who donated pallets and pallets of Kaiserschmarren and other treats.
Thank you to my friends who gave us generous discounts on Oxylent vitamins and Sovereign Silver, it kept the refugees and volunteers healthy.
Thank you to my friends and family for all the packages and donations being sent over from all around the world. It is so appreciated.
Our drop in the ocean has brought much happiness indeed to many people.
How to Donate
If you would like to donate I will post the Drop in the Ocean page as well as my go find me page:
Here's to a future of acceptance, integration and solidarity.