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Kate wrote this from Leros in December 2015

When I came on holiday to a beautiful Greek island in June this year I must admit that I didn’t expect to find myself working and traipsing daily through a rubbish tip.
At times it feels quite surreal, as if we are on the set of Mad Max 7, a determined and sometimes fierce nucleus of holocaust survivors inhabiting the shells of once grand buildings, wheelbarrowing our survival supplies along dark, mouldy corridors, from one vast store to the next in an attempt to create a system out of the chaos. We have created a camp, erected dwelling units, located a food source and latterly there is enough so groups are not driven to fight when it is shared out. The rubbish tip has gone, we are striving to maintain hygiene and keep sickness out of the camp. We have taken over a network of buildings, survivors with relevant skills have come forward, set up a medical unit, wired the ruins of an old psychiatric institution for light, refrigeration, a phone charging station (one of our few means of trying to contact the outside world), a hospital villa with a washing, drying and clothes recycling system.
We have allocated work tasks, have job titles, a shift system, meetings about distribution, health, food, storage, newcomers, management of the camp.
Life is serious, tough, we send out boats to outlying islands in search of more survivors, we have developed a complex system for greeting these new arrivals who are often malnourished, dehydrated and suffering from trauma and exhaustion; we greet them with care and usher them in to our community.
Some of us leave to seek out other surviving communities, we say farewell as a group, drink lethal fire water at the harbour as we wish them bon voyage then wave the ship goodbye, a community sending out positivity, solidarity and hope.
We are constantly evolving, facing new challenges, tensions sometimes surface between individuals /groups, challenges for power, groups splinter threatening the community’s core stability, there aren’t enough workers to share tasks, divisions emerge and there maybe a period of unrest. But then the group acts to restore cohesion, democracy, because survival of the fittest is not our way.
The drive for power, control and dominion over the earth’s resources, cruelty, greed, selfishness and disregard for all forms of life, led to our former world’s destruction. We will not replicate those mistakes.
We are the pioneers of a new world of community and compassion.
And this is not the film set of Mad Max 7, this is reality, and some of us have just come from the front line…

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08/11/2015
Matina from Leros Solidarity Network writes;
Within Leros in this beautiful island in the Aegean ..
Solidarity embraces every day more and more.
In the drama of thousands of refugees, who in recent days were trapped on the island, the residents did not remain unmoved.
Many opened their homes and hosted our fellow human beings and helped others in various ways, giving hope to humanity.
And most encouraging, the most promising is that the youth have not turned their heads. Today the initiative of students of the Lyceum, who enthusiastically followed by parents, friends and neighbours, in many kitchens cooked homemade, traditional food for refugees. A thousand people ate hot, homemade food offered with love.
Well done to the children, well done to all who helped to have a beautiful Sunday.

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l1

Louise from Welsh organisation SHARE wrote these moving blogs during her time volunteering in Leros in October 2015.

24/10/15

I’m finding it hard tonight to put in to words just what the situation is like here. I think there are somewhere in the region of 700 refugees in the Police Compound this evening. Outside it is lashing down with rain, windy and there is constant lighting. At the compound there are two toilets, no showers. The refugees sleep on pallets and filthy sleeping mats, some may have nothing, undoubtedly many of the blankets given out this evening will be soaked through already. There are many children and babies.
Many many people brought across from the island of Farmakonisi were already soaking wet today and in the tiny storage room at the Compound we had run out of men’s trousers, shoes and underwear. As well all the nappies had been handed out and volunteers resorted to giving out old sheets and curtains found beneath the bags of unsorted donations to try and provide some warmth for the refugees.
Although there is a very organised and scheduled volunteer group here, there are not enough people to share the many jobs that need to be done. And there is NOT enough money to go and buy the absolute bare essentials needed to keep the refugees warm and dry and to feed them.
No amount of Facebook posts, photos or videos could portray just how tragic a situation this is. Whilst working within the compound this afternoon, there is no time to take in and process what is seen. Between handing out food to hundreds of people and trying to find the clothes and shoes that fit them, giving out handfuls of nappies and making up bottles of milk for the babies, the time just flies.
But back in the comfort of our hotel this evening we got talking to a couple on holiday from Switzerland and their response moved me to tears.
They had spotted the boats travelling across to Farmakanisi packed full of refugees and as soon as they realised we were volunteers wanted to know more. The man sat and cried as we related our experiences and the lady went in to her bag and gave us hundreds of Euros. The lady was a teacher and she’d been teaching her children about the plight of the refugees. They’d written poetry about it, learned their poems and took them out on to the street and recited them in the town where people gave them money. This was the money she handed over to us – delighted to know that it would go directly to help the refugees.
On a lighter note, it was an absolute joy earlier today to hand out some of the kids packs we had made up. Nothing fancy, just a small colouring book and a few crayons ties in a sandwich bag. The smiles upon their faces and especially on the faces of their parents was heartwarming.
I’ll leave you this evening with a photo of tonight’s refugees, 500 of them walking along the harbour front to the police compound. While we lie in our warm beds this evening, with all of our basic needs met and more, these people, just like you and I put their trust and faith in us, that somehow we will find a way to provide for them and perhaps somehow we may also find a way to persuade the governments of our countril2es to step up to the mark and not a day too soon, do the right thing. It’s an absolute outrage that nothing is being done to stop the people traffickers sending refugee packed cheap boats with limited fuel out to sea when there are vessels that could be deployed to the Med within days that could safely transport these human beings to a place of safety.
It leaves me speechless that this is so widely known about and yet still…nothing is done.

28/10/15

l3Tonight, the reality of what the refugees experience as they take their perilous journeys from Turkey to Greece hits a little harder. I’m standing outside on the deck of our ferry as it sails from Leros to Kos. Jagged outcrops of rock pierce the darkness, the light of the full moon silhouetting them against the black sky. I imagine that this is what the military island of Farmakanisi must look like.
In the distance I can see the Turkish coastline speckled with lights. Aboard this huge boat it doesn’t seem so far away, but for the refugees the distance must feel like it goes on for an eternity.
The water beneath us is black and the sea is choppy tonight. It makes me feel sick to my stomach to think of how terrified the parents must feel when they place their children and babies inside the inflatable boats. And what about the elderly and injured, those on crutches and who walk with sticks, mothers with disabled children, men with only one leg – so many people who are totally dependent upon the kind heartedness of their fellow refugees to be able to travel any distance at all. Some of these brave people have paid as much as $2000 to make this trip.
Imagine then, the fear that is experienced when the boat you are on begins to deflate, is punctured by the sharp rocks of Farmakanisi or simply runs out of fuel as is so often the case. Picture yourself sitting inside a boat at night, the water pouring in, at first throwing all your belongings in to the sea in a desperate attempt to keep the boat afloat. Then the realisation that you are sinking and that you must jump overboard, along with your family and friends and somehow remain afloat long enough to make your way to shore where you then must scramble up sharp ragged rocks to reach safety.
But there is no real safety. You find yourself on an island with no shelter, no food, no light, no water unless you ask for it and nowhere that you can comfortably rest your body and sleep. You sit in the dark, in your soaking wet clothes and wait for daylight in the hope that the coastguard boat will come and take you to Leros. If the weather is bad it is possible to be trapped here for many days.
We have heard some horrific stories of what it is like to be stuck on this island and what amazes me most, is that in spite of all this suffering the refugees remain hopeful and optomiistic. Just this evening in the police compound there were groups singing, doing what ever it takes to feel happy about their lives.
I am in AWE of them all, they are more than worthy of our support, of our love, kindness and compassion. I wish all the people I have met during the last 7 days a safe route through to the country they decide to live in. And I also wish that one day, very soon, the governments of Europe will wake up from their slumber and see what is right before their eyes. A humanitarian crises on a a HUGE scale; that the everyday people of their countries are doing their best to prevent in the only way they know how. They SHARE their donations, their love, their compassion and one by one do all they can to to ease the pain and suffering. Some days it feels like a giant sticky plaster on a wound that can never heal. Yet on other days it really does feel like you make a difference. The simple act of sharing a smile, saying hello and listening to the stories that people want to tell is often all that is needed to help a refugee feel that they are loved and that some cares about them.
As we sail closer to Kos my heart is heavy yet my faith is strong. I am so sad to think of the onward journeys being made as I sit aboard this ship. At the same time though, the courage that people have already shown is astounding and I have to believe that they will make it through. That their wish to find a safe place to call home will come true and that one day we may all meet again in a truly civilised society.

 

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Madelena from Leros Solidarity Network wrote the following blogs about the Villa Artemis project in Leros in November 2015.  This initiative is still running, and now a number of refugee families and vulnerable adults are staying there.  It’s a project we continue to support.  You can donate toward this project via the donate tab on our website.


Part 1, A night at Villa Artemis

Tonight going up to the Villa we had light up the stairs for the first time! And when we reached the front door we heard the sounds of women’s laughter and children running around with toys in the corridor. It felt incredibly festive and we took photos of the group. Three of the women kept kissing us and taking our arms telling us how happy they were to be in the Villa and that this was the first time since the bombing began in Syria that they had felt the peace and security of a ‘home’.

Part 2, A night at Villa Artemisv4

We sat together in the kitchen and it wasn’t long before the smiles turned to tears and horrifying stories began to emerge. Farida (none of these real names) had lost three children in the bombing, the youngest a baby. She sat and breastfed her friend Raja’s baby. Raja had a baby that the father had never seen and in her escape from Syria she became too traumatised to feed it. Nabilah held her two year old son who she said had forgotten how to smile; she said his pain is as great as that of his sister, who cannot smile because her mouth is disfigured from the fire following the bombs.

Part 3, A night at Villa Artemis

After all these stories, we held each other and cried and the children hovered, sad eyed in a circle around us. Seeing this, the team insisted that hope must triumph. Anna picked up 2-year-old Sayid, whose face was swollen out of all proportion, because he had been kicked in the face by terrorists as the family were fleeing. I took Layal, whose smile had been burnt off her v5face by the bombs, by the hand, and all the women went and sang children’s songs, bathed the little ones and put them to bed.

 

An update on the situation in Leros

The hygiene kit program that we sponsor continues to run, and is organised on the ground by ECHO100Plus.

Leros has not seen many new arrivals of people over the past few weeks.  This could be partly due to the wintery weather that the region has experienced.

The number of people in the hotspot, Pikpa, Villa Artemis and other houses is estimated to be at around 650.

The residents of Pikpa are being empowered to become more self reliant which is important as many of them are long term residents.  As hand washing clothes in the yard has become almost impossible in the winter weather, the washing machines in the kitchen are available on a rotating schedule.  The residents are now preparing their own salads for lunch and dinner from donated veggies, and the military has taken over the supply of meals from Mercy Corps.

Resident children are now in school “LEDU” (Leros Education), and this has been funded by the UNHCR and Save the Children.  They attend classes in English, Greek, maths, geography and music.  In the afternoons, young adults aged 18-25 are able to participate in Greek classes.

LSN and ECHO volunteers continue to work within Pikpa, and ECHO continue to develop their Hub initiative near the hotspot.

Our response to the deadly cold snap in Greece, but we need more help

Moved and concerned about the deadly cold weather in Greece, we wanted to respond with appropriate aid.  The problem is so vast, but we can make a small difference.

Thanks to your support, we have been able to provide funds to move a vulnerable Syrian family from a camp in Nea Kavala into secure, safe rented accommodation.  The funds provided will also pay for utilities and a food stipend for the family allowing them to be warm, safe and self sufficient for the winter period.

We have also been in contact with a solidarity group in Rhodes, and have purchased a heater for their refugee accommodation.

We would really like to be able to move some more vulnerable families to somewhere safe and warm, getting them out of the horrific camps, and into humane and safe accommodation, but we need your help.  Please donate by clicking the link below.  If you’re a UK tax payer, please click to gift aid your donation which will make it go even further as our friends at charity checkout will claim back the gift aid. Thank you.

https://lsn-uk.charitycheckout.co.uk/

Through the eyes of a 16 day old baby…

I am 16 days old, and my name is Riad. I am Kurdish and a refugee from Iraq. My mum and dad have been living for several months in a squat in Athens. I cry a lot, because it is so cold in the squat, which is an old school. Together with two other families my mum and dad and me live in a big classroom, and the only heating we have got is a small electric store – you can see it on the pictrue. The heater keeps going out, because too many people put on their heaters at the same time. When that happens it gets really cold, and my small body gets even more cold than it is. In the night the heater does not work at all, and I get very scared that I will get ill and perhaps die. I think I am too small to die. I have only lived for such a short time.

My mum and dad have no money, so they can not afford buying any clothes for me. Therefore my mum has wrapped me in a lot of blankets. It is snowing now here in Athens, and it is so cold. I cry most of the time, when I am not sleeping, because my mums milk is so cold, when she is breastfeeding me, and then because of the cold milk my stomach hurts. The doctor says.

Today was luxury, and my mum was smiling. Normally she does not smile. She cries a lot. I think she is very unhappy. My mum has got no shoes, only some slippers, and I get very worried, because if she gets ill, what about me?

Okay, I will just tell you, why my mum was smiling today. Because I cry so much, she always cradles me on her legs. Now she has done that since I was born, and her legs hurt. She so much wanted a cradle for me, and do you know what? This morning a very kind Greek man came with a cradle for me.

And then my mum got happy.

Later today a lady came. She was here yesterday too. Yesterday she brought some clothes for me, but they were much too big. Do not know, what she is thinking about. She can not be used to small human beings like me. Today she came again and brought Johnsons baby oil for me and johnsons babycream and something to drink for my mum. She said it was good for my mum, because my mum is breastfeeding me. She brought a lot of other stuff, and she got it all from a very nice lady from Great Britain, who is going to open a cafe for refugees and homeless people like me.

But she did not bring any shoes for my mum. I really do hope she will, because I think my mum deserves it.

This was my story. A story about being born in Europe as a refugee.

Hope you enjoyed reading it.

 

Anette Kjær Jørgensen