Championing community volunteers on Lesvos

On the Greek island of Lesvos, community volunteers are integral to A Drop in the Ocean’s work in Kara Tepe camp.

Foto/Photo: Dråpen i Havet

The makeshift site was set up after a fire destroyed much of the Moria camp in September 2020. Residents in Kara Tepe live in tents and there are continuously frequent disease outbreaks, such as scabies and lice due to the difficult conditions. The geographic location of the camp makes it extremely prone to the consequences of storms and heavy rain. 

Around 70 per cent of the 7000 camp residents come from Afghanistan, while others come from Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Iraq and other countries, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

A Drop in the Ocean has restricted access to the site but operate a laundry service for around 6000 of the camp’s residents. The team provides over 1000 kg of clean laundry per day, in cooperation with the organisation Dirty Girls of Lesvos. Project and Volunteer Coordinator Kirstine says community volunteers are integral to the operation. They have the language skills needed and work with all aspects of the service.   

Working together

One of the community volunteers is 35-year-old Hanan from Syria. She lives with her husband and four small children.

“I was in my tent when they [A drop in the Ocean] came to get my laundry. They asked if I speak both English and Arabic, which I do, and so I joined the team. I love to help translate and learn English. In Syria I was a nurse, and I spoke a little English. Now I have learnt a lot,” she says.

“My children are proud of me. Whenever they see someone from the organisation they go, ‘mommy, mommy, go to work’”. 

Being a community volunteer has allowed Hanan to meet and befriend other people in the camp. She states that volunteering in the camp and supporting the residents is a wonderful feeling.

“The camp is very big, but when I joined the laundry team, I got to know a lot of people. I am very happy to work as a volunteer and very happy to have gotten to know these people,” she says. 

Some of the community volunteers live in the camp with their families and others are in the camp on their own. Community volunteer Ali is 20 years old and from Somalia. He came to Greece by himself and lives with other single men in the camp.

“The best thing about working in the camp is that I meet different people. We are all working to help each other out. Here, everyone is the same. All of my family is in Somalia, so this is my second family. We all work together. Every day we work together as a team,” he says. 

His sentiment is shared by 18-year-old Yoones from Afghanistan. He says: “I like this group so much. Here, in the camp, everything is so bad. But I have friends from all over the world now. I am so happy to be part of the team”. 

Understanding

Coordinator Kirstine explains that the international volunteers gain a different perspective from working with the community volunteers.

“There are a lot of advantages having community volunteers, both from their side but definitely for the international volunteers. The international volunteers gain a deeper understanding of the situation for people in the camp and their lives,” she says. 

“It is kind of like a cultural exchange. International volunteers are not there to rescue the camp residents, but to work with them to find solutions.” 

Moreover, international volunteers take the knowledge and a better understanding of the situation for displaced persons developed during their time in the camp, back to their home countries, where they can use their experiences to advocate change. 

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