With the help of ASN Team UK The Unmentionables was able to provide 3,150 pairs of underwear in just one month to two camps in Greece. The first project, a distribution at Souda Camp, on the island of Chios (The Unmentionables’ island distribution hub), combined the provision of underwear with bras, feminine hygiene products and condoms. The conditions in the camp were extreme, the heat overwhelming, and the desperation palpable. When told we were distributing underwear, our team was met with huge smiles, handshakes, and hugs. Each resident in the camp was provided at least one pair (if not more!) of underwear and access to condoms, while women and girls were provided access to feminine hygiene products to cover their menstrual needs for two months. As any one who has set foot in a refugee camp can tell you, while the need is great, the generosity is so much greater. Our team was able to not only distribute dignity providing hygiene products, but also to provide the dignity and humanity of conversation and a cup of tea. Each and every one of our volunteers left Souda with lifelong friends.
For the Souda distribution, each stage of The Unmentionables’ Smart Aid Model was executed by our incredible volunteers— from in-person needs assessments in three languages within Souda camp, to local purchasing to support the Greek economy (including from our dear friend, Hassan, a Syrian wholesaler living in Greece, who continues to source his products from his home country), to the private and respectful distribution of the products by our team within the camp. Today, the Greek government is in the process of dismantling Souda camp. At present it is housing just 300 residents, while the remainder have been moved to the Vial hotspot, 15km away from the town of Chios, or on to Athens. The Unmentionables is committed to continuing to provide intimate health and hygiene support to refugees and migrants on Chios, no matter the circumstances or camp location.
Additionally, The Unmentionables’ volunteer team had the unique opportunity to organize our largest underwear distribution yet in Eleonas camp (Athens)— 2000 pairs of underwear provided by ASN Team UK donors! Before heading to the Eleonas refugee camp we met with our two underwear suppliers with whom we had agreed to buy the underwear from. A huge part of our Smart Aid model, purchasing underwear from these local businesses not only means we get the best deal, we also support the local economy. Both owners were incredibly hospitable, never willing to let you visit without buying you a coffee or offering some juice. This generosity continued beyond what we’d ever expected.
On the first day at Eleonas refugee camp we were met by the volunteers with whom we set out a distribution strategy. In a newly built room, we laid out all 2,000 pairs of underwear, including children’s, women’s and mens. Split into pairs, with volunteer from our partner, Project Elea, with each volunteer from The Unmentionables, we filled our trays with a mix of underwear and sun cream. Designated to certain sections of the refugee camp, we then headed off in the early afternoon to begin our distribution. We knocked on every door on our list, taking record of the number of people living in the trailer, who was present and taking the names of those who weren’t to make sure that they could collect theirs on the Friday at the clothing storage.
Despite language barriers, the simple gesture of pointing towards the basket of underwear and holding up the various sizes always did the trick. We were lucky to have some refugees join us as translators as well as some of the Eleonas volunteers. To most of us, what came as a humbling surprise was how incredibly welcoming and grateful everyone was. The label of refugee clouds the individual characters of each person. While a few people found it a little embarrassing to be offered underwear so openly, the vast majority were thrilled to grab a pair and asked for more than one. So often we were invited for tea, given cold water, fed homemade food or given juice boxes, which we were told was a prized possession in the camp. These wonderful people were so grateful to be given at most one pair of underwear and a bottle of suncream. Even if we didn’t understand each other, they made the sweetest gestures to show their appreciation for something we take so much for granted.
It took us two days to visit every home as we returned to those where no one was in, on the second day. On the final day, Friday, all those who hadn’t been around when we visited went to the clothing area to pick up their pair. All in all it was a very humbling experience and if there’s one thing we learnt aside from the fact that you can never give out enough underwear, it was that kindness transcends all barriers.