Samos Volunteers (SV) is a grassroots movement of volunteers who initially came together in the autumn of 2015 in response to the escalating refugee crisis. Starting out as simply individuals supporting local residents who were providing emergency assistance to refugees arriving by boat, Samos Volunteers became an established, hard-working team.
SV provides help and support to refugees and asylum-seekers living in the camp and shelters on Samos, by instilling a sense of normality, combatting boredom, and empowering people while they wait for their asylum to be processed. They endeavour to do this by identifying and fulfilling the needs of new arrivals and vulnerable people, and sustaining informal educational activities and recreational projects for both children and adults.
At the beginning of 2017, Samos Volunteers decided that their role as the primary distributors of non-food items should dissolve and be passed on to those mandated to cover these needs (the Greek Government and other larger NGOs). This enabled them to focus and expand on activities which benefit the refugee community on Samos through psycho-social support; namely informal education and recreational activities – an area which was not covered by others. However, they do occasionally carry out mass distributions in the camp when there is a great need. For example, handing out winter clothing packs during cold and wet spells.
The majority of SV’s 50 or so different classes and activities are run in their hub, the community centre Alpha Centre. Located in the capital Vathy, close to the camp, they run adult language classes (English, Greek, German and French) and child education classes. To give the refugees a sense of empowerment and mental stimulation, they are establishing a range of course and projects based on the skills of their volunteers and the requests from the beneficiaries, such as music and art classes, computer classes and relaxation and fitness classes. Samos Volunteers welcome new ideas and projects should they seem them suitable and sustainable.
They are also ensuring that refugees hosted in alternative accommodation have the opportunity to access their education program. Currently they are teaching English in 3 different shelters for vulnerable families and 1 shelter for unaccompanied minors.
NEW ARRIVALS DISTRIBUTION
Samos Volunteers continues to work as an emergency response team for anyone arriving on the island, often in the middle of the night and wet, by providing them with dry clothes and catering to any specific needs (such as providing mothers with baby care items). Their volunteers prepare kits for new arrivals which include a set of dry clothes, socks, underwear and sandals. They sort donations and prepare these kits in advance in their warehouse, as its difficult to predict when people will arrive on Samos and in what numbers. The registration process for new arrivals is often lengthy. Therefore distributing these items is a vital part of what they do in order to make people feel a bit more comfortable in an often stressful situation.
The recreational activities coordinated by Samos Volunteers are an extremely important part of their work and they have found they have a hugely positive impact on the daily lives of the refugees and migrants living in the camp. Over the last year, they have catered for all ages of men, women and children in activities such as chess and backgammon, football matches, dancing, singing, break dancing, karate and many more!
The children’s program includes daily kids activities by the camp and at the shelters and a kids reading circle. In summer they offer swimming lessons to children, women and men, at a beach that is walking distance from the camp and their centre. Swimming is a highlight of the week for the kids; its a chance to teach them a vital skill while having a lot of fun. For the adults, they offer swimming in addition to a range of other physical activities such as hiking and yoga. There is also a fitness class every evening led by 1 of their volunteers, which is a great way for the men in particular to get active.
Since the beginning of 2017, Samos Volunteers has acquired a large collection of donated books in English, German, Arabic, Farsi, Urdu and Kurdish. With these resources they have been able to bring a mobile library into the camp for both adults and children. Twice a week they set up their library table where people can check out books for 2 weeks at a time or renew their books.
In addition to all the above, in the mornings and afternoons they offer a tea distribution for the residents of the camp. This was started in the winter months when people were waking up freezing in their tents. They have continued this into the summer as its is greatly appreciated by the residents of the camp, refreshing and a method of rehydrating in the hot Samos weather.
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