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/

 

 

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Maternal Care Pack making-up morning!

As part of our urgent appeal for maternal care packs for desperate refugee mothers in northern Greece, we’re holding a Making-up Morning on 30th April.

Saturday 30th April
9.30am-12noon
Newbury Baptist Church, Cheap Street, Newbury

Come along and help us make up maternal care packs for desperate refugee mothers in northern Greece!

Bring along finished packs you’ve already made up, half-finished packs or individual bits you’ve bought, and help us make up as many packs as possible.

We’re planning to have some refreshments to keep our volunteers going. Cake donations welcomed!

Thank you!

Here is the Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/110403876031398/

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Socks for the Sole & Buggies for Babies

Donations unloaded at the warehouse
Rachel Birch, Asta Von Stackelberg, Steve Lennon (from Hope & Aid Direct), Charles Storer (Chief Exec of Hope & Aid Direct) and Lindsey Middlemiss at the warehouse in Calais with unloaded boxes of aid

Last week, we delivered a lorryload of aid to support refugees and destitute migrants in Calais and Dunkirk, including food, socks collected by local primary school pupils and buggies for babies and toddlers in refugee camps.

 

Our group West Berks Action for Refugees organised the delivery of aid, which was 50% donations from residents of West Berkshire and surrounding areas, and 50% donations from the Slough warehouse of CalAid, with British NGO Hope & Aid Direct providing the lorry without charge.

While group founder Lindsey Middlemiss has been to Calais and Dunkirk before as a volunteer, this was the first time on such a trip for local nurse Rachel Birch, musician John Kane and mum Asta von Stackelberg, who organised a sock collection at her local school in the Hendreds, South Oxon.

 

Lindsey and Rachel in the Jungle
Rachel & Lindsey in the Calais Jungle

Lindsey said:

 

“Going to a refugee camp or the Calais ‘Jungle’ with volunteers for the first time always brings home how shocking it is. With the Jungle, you’re standing in an unsanitary shanty town, that you might expect in a developing country in Africa or South America, but you’re just minutes from the British border. It is very surreal. There are thousands of people and hundreds of children, including many unaccompanied children, live there without being properly cared for.

Having been to the hell of the old camp at Dunkirk, it is good to see how conditions have been improved in Dunkirk over the last 2 months, but even there, the situation is still pretty desperate. The stony ground in the camp is unsafe for small children, so parents were desperately grateful for a donated pushchair. Other donations were gratefully received by the volunteers at the warehouse, so huge thanks to everyone who donated, collected and helped us pack it all up properly.”

 

RefugeeFamilyWithPushChair.png
Lindsey Middlemiss, Rachel Birch, Steve Lennon (from Hope & Aid Direct), John Kane and Asta Von Stackelberg with a refugee family who had just received a donated buggy. The families faces have been blurred for their protection

URGENT Aid Collection for France

In response to an increased need in Calais and Dunkirk, following the destruction of a large part of the Calais Jungle camp and the relocation of the Dunkirk camp, we’re going to be doing a big run to Calais next month. Hope & Aid Direct have offered the use of one of their 7.5tonne lorries, which means we can get a lot more out far more effectively than in cars.

We will be opening up donations for a very specific list of items for the next 4 weeks only. In order to manage this in the short amount of time we have, we need as many volunteers as possible to help in 3 ways:

1. Act as local collection points or organise local collections, e.g. at schools. We are asking that anyone who does this takes on the task of rejecting inappropriate donations, sorting what they are given (either packing it into single item banana boxes or into single items bags – e.g. a bag just of thick blankets, a bag just of socks, etc) and bringing donations to the store at Vets4Pets, Greenham Road, Newbury.

2. Helping sorting and packing at the Vets4Pets store. We will also be opening up donations directly at the Vets4Pets store, but preferably on days we have volunteers there.

3. Picking up banana boxes and taking them to Vets4Pets. We use the Fyffes-style ones with the slide-on lids. We have found that Sainsburys generally have them out, so if you shop there, please check every time and pick up as many as you can.

The donations we are collecting are:
• foil blankets
• thick blankets, adult sized ONLY (NOT pram size)
• roll mats
• sleeping bags, ONLY in individual bags
• fire extinguishers
• torches, wind-up or with new batteries ONLY
• 130 litre strong bin bags
• Mens gloves
• backpacks (small for grab bags and large for possessions)
• mens thick socks, clean and in good condition
• Sizes 41, 42, 43 trainers, clean and in good condition
• Mens small and medium joggers, clean and in good condition

Food
o 1L oil
o 1kg rice
o 1kg sugar
o tinned fish (tuna, sardines, mackerel) in ring-pull tins
o tinned vegetables (tomatoes, chickpeas, kidney beans NOT baked beans) in ring-pull tins
o biscuit packets
o tea and coffee
o dried fruit and nuts
o vegetable stock cubes
o 1L UHT milk

It is vital that ONLY these donations are collected and that they are in good, clean condition, with all food in date.

Drop-off points:

SUNDAY 3 APRIL ONLY: St Nics church, donations to Joyce after morning and evening services (11.30am and 7.30pm)

NEWBURY: Vets4Pets on Greenham Rd, Newbury (call ahead if its a large amount). ALL listed donations.
Friday 1st 8.30-11.30am
Saturday 2nd 9am-5pm
Monday 4th April 11am to 1pm …
Tuesday 5th April 11am to 1pm
Friday 8th April 9.30-11.30am
Saturday 9th 9am-12pm

NEWBURY: Any day 7.30am-9pm. Aldens, 19 Pyle Hill, Greenham Rd, Newbury. FOOD ONLY.

EAST GARSTON: Any day. Hillsprings, East Garston, RG17 7HW. Call 01488 648534 first if possible. ALL listed donations.

LAMBOURN: Any day. Iveagh Cottage at Nugent Farm, Upper Lambourn, on the B4000. Call 01488 71250 if needed. ALL listed donations.

For alternative times/days, please call 07894 967164 or check the Facebook page updates. If you can act as a collection point, please let us know!

Thank you!

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