WBAR donations go to Greece

Thank you to all who donated and helped us to pack and sort donations. This week, 100 boxes of our much needed aid was taken directly to refugees in Greece with Hope and Aid Direct. WBAR trustee Rachel went to Greece to help distribute aid. This is what story about the trip:

‘Ten heroic men and women drove five trucks full of aid from the UK down to Greece, sleeping in the trucks at night in temperatures down to -16 degrees. A group of us volunteers then met them in Thessaloniki to help with unloading, sorting, packing and distributing the aid to where it is needed. There are currently over 57,000 refugees stranded in Greece, at least half of which are women and children (https://www.rescue.org/country/greece). Many of these refugees are sleeping rough, living in tents or in inadequate portacabin style housing.

Our initial plan had been for some of the group and half the trucks to go onto Lesvos, while others stayed on the mainland in the Thessaloniki area. However, the situation is very fluid in Greece, with refugees arriving and being moved frequently. We found that the need in Lesvos at that time was far greater, so we therefore changed our plans and all 5 trucks, plus another truck with volunteers based in Thessaloniki, plus all the Hope and Aid volunteers travelled on to Lesvos by ferry.

We visited Moria detention centre, but the authorities there would not allow us to go in to distribute the aid. At least 3 refugees have died in the previous week in the camp and the refugee’s stories of the place are horrendous. The camp is an ex prison meant for 3000 people, but is currently housing over 5000 people, many in tents. Considering it has been snowing there in recent weeks, it is unimaginable trying to live in those conditions. We went to a small makeshift café outside the camp where we bought tea and talked to the refugees. They told us about the terrible conditions in the camp and how they are often only given undercooked rice for meals.  Most of those we spoke to had been stranded in Lesvos for many months and appeared to have a complete lack of hope towards their futures. It was hugely disappointing to have tonnes of aid in a nearby warehouse, yet not be able to deliver it to these people who were clearly greatly in need of it. There are many amazingly committed teams of volunteers who have been working in Lesvos for a long time who are working on this every day.

Due to the recent deaths, there was a lot of movement while we were in Lesvos. A large navy ship in the port offered to allow refugees to stay on board, so 176 men moved from Moria and were sleeping on board the ship instead. We were very privileged to be able to run a ‘Truckshop’ for these men, giving them each a jumper and coat from the ‘shop’ in the truck. We worked with the ‘Truckshop’ volunteers to offer refugees a chance to choose their own clothing from rails, a rare luxury for many of these people who rely solely on donated goods.

We set up on the side of the road, one truck full of rails of warm winter coats and thick jumpers and one truck filled with boxes for restocking. We also set up an area where refugees could wait for their turn and chat with a hot cup of chai made by our volunteers. I helped inside the truck, helping refugees find their size and choose which jacket and jumper they wanted. They were also given a bag on their way out, each with a warm hat, gloves and socks. Everyone was so grateful for what they received, with one man telling us it was the nicest thing anyone had done for him since he had been in Greece. He had been in Lesvos for over 10 months. However, despite their gratitude, as usual, it felt like no-where near enough. Many of the men were wearing flip flops and sandals over their socks, so their feet must have been freezing. Hopefully in the next few days more of our donations will continue to be distributed to those in need.

We also visited and took donations to 200 refugees who are currently housed in a hotel on Lesvos, paid for by the charity Caritas. We spent a very happy couple of hours sitting out in the winter sunshine, playing games and painting the children’s faces. Another visit was to Alexandria camp near Thessaloniki. This camp, run by Refugee Support Greece, is exemplary in the way they have tried to promote dignity in everything they do. We were shown round by a volunteer, who showed us the classroom, the community area, the food shop and even the boutique! Every week each family are given a set number of ‘points’. They can then exchange these ‘points’ for goods in the food shop and boutique, depending on their own needs and wishes. While this may not seem like much, for those relying solely on handouts, being given some choice and dignity makes a huge difference.

West Berkshire Action for Refugees plan to continue to take donations to those most in need.  We are planning a trip to Calais and Dunkirk soon, but very specific items only. A list of what is needed will be published soon, so watch this space!

 

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Support our work with refugees this Saturday – BAKE SALE!

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WBAR is holding a cake sale at Newbury Town Hall in the MarketPlace, Newbury this Saturday 17th December from 10am to 12pm.

Please come along and buy some of the delicious cakes baked by our volunteers. All funds raised will go towards supporting our work with refugees in West Berkshire, across Europe and the Middle East.

If anyone would like to donate cakes, feel free to get baking and drop them off from 9am on the day.

The Facebook event is here – please share!

Thank you for supporting us over an incredible an tumultuous year! As we watch the news from Aleppo with heavy hearts, we know this work is as important as ever. We will have more dates for volunteering with sorting, packing and loading going up on the Facebook group as they are finalised – keep an eye on the page.

 

WBAR Founder Awarded “Volunteer Of The Year”

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West Berkshire Action For Refugees founder, Lindsey Middlemiss, has been awarded “Volunteer Of The Year” by West Berkshire Council for creating this organisation!

Lindsey was invited to the award ceremony at West Berkshire Council on Thursday evening. The Chairman of West Berkshire Council, Councillor Quentin Webb, read out the judging panels recommendation and presented her with the award. The panel commended Lindsey on her dedication and commitment to refugees and enabling the residents of West Berkshire to respond to the crisis.

Congratulations to Lindsey Middlemiss from everyone in our group!

See the full report here:
https://spark.adobe.com/page/Ra9JZZ25H8T2L/?w=0_5622

WBAR aid delivered to families in Greece

Last week one of our volunteers, Rachel Birch, spent the week volunteering in Northern Greece. Below is her story from the trip. 

I have recently returned from a six day volunteering trip, delivering aid to refugees in camps in Northern Greece. The convoy trip was organised as a joint venture by Hope and Aid Direct and Muntada Aid. Three lorry loads of aid were driven across Europe to Thessaloniki in Northern Greece by six amazing volunteers. Most of the 22 tonnes of aid was brand new, including over 1500 pairs of Adidas trainers, 600 bottles of suncream, 1000 bottles of shower gel, 45,000 packs of nappies, 1000 pairs of crocs shoes and 27,000 bars of soap. West Berkshire Action for Refugees sent 53 boxes of aid weighing 500 kilograms, including shoes, toiletries and maternal care packs. I met the convoy team in Thessaloniki, alongside a further ten volunteers who had all flown from the UK, giving up their own time and using their own money to fund their trips. The team’s ages ranged from 17 to over 70, but each person was incredibly committed and hard working. Over the space of just a few days the team bonded and formed strong friendships. It was a real privilege to work as part of such a fantastic team.

Our work in Thessaloniki began with unloading our three lorries of aid into a local warehouse. The warehouse is shown in the pictures below – unbelievably when we arrived it had only been set up three weeks previously, yet was already filled to the brim with donations of aid. The warehouse is run entirely by volunteers, with several volunteers sleeping on camp beds among the boxes, with a few Syrian refugees who are also helping at the warehouse. The amount of work required to sort, pack, lift, organise and distribute the aid to 30 camps with 30,000 refugees in the area appears overwhelming, but the small team work tirelessly to match the aid to where it is needed. They only have their own cars and one van, so they were very grateful for all of our extra hands and the two 7.5 tonne trucks to drive the aid to where it was most needed. Our role was to help in the warehouse each morning and pack both trucks with the aid that was required in specific camps. We then spent the afternoons driving and distributing what was required.

The refugees I met and talked to each had their own moving and difficult story to tell. We delivered aid three times to a camp in the mountains called Petra Olympou, which is currently home to approximately 1400 Yazidi refugees from Iraq (http://google.org/crisismap/a/gmail.com/greece). The stories the men there told us about the way that Yazidis have been persecuted are stories that I will never be able to forget. They told us many horrific stories of what they had endured, including how two months ago 19 Yazidi women being burned to death in a cage for refusing to be sex slaves for ISIS (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/isis-burn-19-yazidi-women-to-death-in-mosul-for-refusing-to-have-sex-with-isis-militants-a7066956.html). A father welcomed me into his tent where he lives with his wife, 11 daughters and two sons. I couldn’t help but think him a hero for managing to save so many lives by taking them away from such a terrible situation.

Sadly, the circumstances the family now find themselves in is far from suitable to bring up children. All 15 family members are living in one large UNHCR tent. The toilet facilities at the camp are woefully inadequate, with one portaloo shared between about 50 refugees. One of the daughters showed me where the communal camp “showers” were – this turned out to be makeshift tents that you could stand in where you could pour water over yourself having collected it from the taps on the opposite side of the camp.

Despite the awful circumstances, the families and children were so pleased to see us and all wanted us to visit their tents and talk to us about their lives. One man that I spoke to for about an hour told me that I had made him feel like he wasn’t alone. These people must feel like the whole world has turned their back on them; they have escaped a genocide and risked their lives to find a safe place to bring up their families, to find borders being closed across Europe and a lack of any dignity or refuge offered to them.

We also visited camps in which tents were set up inside old, disused warehouses. As you can imagine, when the temperature is 36 degrees outside, being inside a canvas tent inside a warehouse is almost unbearable. Just visiting the tents for a few minutes felt oppressive, I couldn’t imagine trying to live in there with a family. The tents are set up directly on the concrete floor of the warehouse. The refugees are not given any mattresses, so they are sleeping on top of blankets on the hard, concrete ground. One man showed me his bed where he sleeps with his wife and two young children – it was a single yoga mat. Inside the tents you could see their meagre possessions, a few toiletries, a small amount of food and a few items of clothing. It is difficult to comprehend owning nothing more than what you can carry in your hands.

We had spent the whole morning packing care boxes for each of the 66 tents inside the warehouse. It was several hours of work for the whole team, packing each box carefully and fairly with the same items, including toiletries, a headscarf and various food items. What had seemed in the warehouse to be a useful and helpful box of aid suddenly seemed paltry and insignificant when we were actually handing it to a refugee in a tent. The size of the problem in Greece is so enormous and the need so great that any help volunteers can offer just feels like a tiny drop in a huge ocean. Many more volunteers and more agencies are needed, alongside governments and the will of people across Europe for any major change to occur.

Despite the horrors they have lived through and are continuing to live through, the children continued to be children. They laughed and joked and wanted to play endless hand clapping games with us all (not helpful when we were falling over them all trying to unload a lorry!) We saw lots of young babies living in the camps and heard from volunteers in one camp that a new baby was born in hospital the previous day who weighed just 4 kg. It would be discharged from hospital and start it’s life in the camp the following day. It is difficult to imagine the life that that new baby will lead if governments across Europe do not pull together with a solution to help these people.

West Berkshire Action for Refugees are planning a trip to the ‘jungle’ camp in Calais in August. Our website gives details of the aid we will be taking and where to drop this off. Alternatively, please donate whatever you can to help refugees in need – https://westberksrefugees.org/how-to-help/

need. https://westberksrefugees.org/how-to-help/

 

 

Aid Convoy To Thessaloniki

Aid from our group has now arrived in Thessaloniki, Greece. Lorries from Hope & Aid Direct collected fifty three boxes, containing five hundred kilograms of donations, from our warehouse last week. Leaving the UK on July 17th, the convoy travelled for three days to reach Thessaloniki, the second-largest city in Greece.

It is estimated there are thirty thousand refugees in the city, spread over thirty different refugee camps.

Eighteen volunteers, including WBAR’s Rachel Birch, have flown to Thessaloniki this week to meet the convoy and help distribute aid on the ground.

On the first day, donations from convoy, including maternal care packs, children’s clothes, women’s headscarves and shoes collected by WBAR, were delivered to a local aid centre in the city. Volunteers then visited two refugee camps, housing nearly two thousands refugees from Syria and Iraq, to distribute water and camp beds. Both camps had many families with very young children, desperately in need of support and aid, having fled unimaginable horrors.

We will be posting more updates this week…