It was both difficult and eye opening for me to have met such incredibly brave people fleeing unspeakable horror in places like Syria, Palestine and Afghanistan while I was volunteering in Athens this summer. Mohammed is one such brave individual who told me about some of his experiences and, in time, graciously agreed to let me write about them.
I just want to say a huge thank you again to everyone who donated to this cause! Our organization, Refugia’l, managed to raise a total of 6,600€ for the residents, with 1,300€ of that coming directly from my friends, family, and generous acquaintances back home. An extra big thank you to the people at ECOH Inc., who together accounted for a significant portion of the funds raised. You’re all beautiful humans.
3 weeks have never flown by so fast. I feel like I just arrived in Athens, but somehow today is my last day. If I had the money to survive here longer, I would love to stay and keep working at the refugee residence.
I love Greek food, but I do not like these little cactus fruits someone in our house has picked up from the grocery store. I’m not actually sure they’re Greek, but I’ve never seen them before.
I had my first “real” English lesson the other day. Different from the day where I offered activities in English, this is a TRUE lesson with a white board and everything.
The kids sit down silently and wait for me to begin. We sing the alphabet in beautiful unison. I invite the children up one at a time to write the letters of the alphabet on the board. We introduce ourselves and spell our names. Later, we go through and think of a word that begins with each letter. They are creative and clever. They give me a standing ovation when the hour is up, and leave the room in single file.
Just kidding. It’s fucking chaos.
Things are starting to come together at the school residence. We’ve arranged for a meeting with all the volunteers this week so we can create a schedule of activities each day. I’ll be teaching English classes every day at 5, and helping out with whatever else needs doing before and after.
For now I’ll just be teaching kids, but I hope to offer some classes to adults soon.
We’re slowly making a dent in Donation Mountain, too. Between the projects here and some smaller occasional tasks at other camps, we’re going to be busy. We now have some work at a small camp specifically for pregnant women, we’ll be going twice a week to the summer camp outside the city, and some of our Spaniards will be doing an activity making human towers (known as castellers, or muixeranga because they’re from Valencia).
I have my first English “class” today, which is really just a test to get a feel for the kids levels, and to get them comfortable with me. This is no challenge. The kids are all SO extremely friendly and energetic everywhere we go.
I lay out some colouring pages, markers, and worksheets with simple math questions in English. I bring colourful clay and hope no one tries to eat it. About 15 kids show up, and within moments are tearing the room apart. The 10 year olds are swinging the 2 year olds around. The 2 year olds are crying because they’ve pushed the markers so hard into the paper that they break. I try to keep some order but you wouldn’t believe how hard it is. I had a couple students in Spain that I thought were difficult but this is next level. The clay is a big hit but of course everyone has trouble sharing. Kids are flowing in and out of the room, their attention spans don’t last long and there are no rules about where they have to be. They always ask to bring entire colouring books or boxes of markers to their rooms. I hate saying no but obviously we don’t have enough supplies for that so I have to. Then I have to watch to make sure they don’t try to sneak it out anyway.
One of the mothers comes into the classroom and I smile at her, but she starts just screaming at me in Arabic, pointing at the clay. She’s holding the hand of her 2 year old son and I’m worried she’s mad that I’ve given a young kid something he might try to eat? I’m asking the other kids to translate for me, and piece together that no no, she’s angry because I didn’t give him any clay. I can assure you I did, but maybe one of the other kids stole it from him. He’s 2 so like…who knows.
She storms out, and one of the other volunteers tells me there’s an issue in the camp, where the Iraqi community feel they are treated more poorly than the Palestinian residents. I have no idea if that’s true in other aspects of the organization or not, but I assume they must have some reason to believe that. Though I am not denying 2 year old children play-doh because they’re Iraqi. Did I even know he was Iraqi? No. I feel better that this isn’t the first time she’s yelled at someone though.
After an exhausting 2 hours trying to keep the children entertained, speaking English, and from eating any play-doh, I help with some donation sorting and head home.
Later in the evening I meet a friend to sit just outside the Parthenon; under the stars, overlooking the city with a couple drinks in hand. Athens is a strange place, dirty, abandoned, crumbling, yet somehow bustling, illuminated, and beautiful from here.
We have a bit of a trek to cover this morning so we leave early. Cesc has been in contact with another refugee camp outside of the city, which will take us about an hour and a half to reach. I’m a little reluctant to go at all, because it doesn’t seem sustainable or wise for us to spend our time traveling there and back every day, but it can’t hurt to check it out.
Alright. Another day, another attempt at getting sorted in the squatters residence. The Portuguese volunteers are opening the clothing donation room for distribution and suggest we come help out at noon. Again, we arrive on time. Again, no one is around.
I’m not an organized person, and I don’t really expect a squatter’s residence to be organized…but it’s a little strange here.
The rest of the volunteer squad doesn’t arrive until the 1st, when we will begin working at a refugee camp and/or squatter’s residence. Cesc and I are here early, so we take today to be touristas and explore the city.