”I can remember well the smiles on the faces of the people in the shop. Visiting a shop with a quite big selection of clothes, with fitting rooms, background music and friendly people waiting to help you, that was more than they could hope for. I realized that day that this concept was so much more than a fair and dignified distribution, we changed the atmosphere in the camp, the market became a social hub.” – Bart Driessen, Site Coordinator of Northern Greece.
By: Vibeke Hoem
Exactly one year ago The Dropshop Market opened in Nea Kavala in Northern Greece. From that day, 2.833.400 drops have been spent on 90.468 items by 1.765 families in 208 opening days. Underwear and socks are the most popular items. Bart Driessen, which is also referred to as ”The brain of the Drop App”, explains how it all began: ”The idea of the Market started with a discussion about organizing distribution of clothes in the best way possible. In a dignified way, without people queuing up. Guaranteeing that there is enough for everybody and even more: that everybody has something to choose from. The outcome was a market, where the residents of Nea Kavala could ‘buy’ clothes, with Drops, a currency that we periodically provide”.
The Drop App was born
In the weeks prior to the opening of the market the volunteers thought about so many things says Bart. ”How much drops to give out, what the prices are, how much of everything we would need, how to keep track of the drops spent, how to organize the warehouse and so much more”. Bart Driessen and his friend Maarten Hunink who was in Nea Kavala before him started to discuss to make something to keep track of the drops spent. And with that, the development of the drop currency The Drop App had begun. As they further developed the app they added the QR-code system to work with the boxes in the warehouses. This system keeps track of all the clothing that they have in stock, where it is, and how much they have of each product. This system made it easier for the volunteers working in the camp. Read more about the Drop App here.
Building trust with the residents
On daily basis the role of volunteers working in the Drop shop is very important. Asking Bart about the role of the volunteers he emphasises that lots of volunteers start their ‘career’ in the market. “It’s a nice place to start”, he says, “because you are in a bigger team there are always people there to help you. And it’s a nice way to meet residents. We have a check-in area, where we check appointments and a check-out area where we keep track of what people have chosen and some people on the floor to assist the residents visiting.” The residents of the camp work side by side with the volunteers, and it gives them something useful to do while waiting for a country to accept them. To ensure that everything runs smoothly they also have a market manager, which is a long term volunteer. That person works closely with the warehouse coordinator to make sure that everything comes in to restock the market.”
In one year the Drop Market has become much more than a fair and dignified distribution, Bart says: ”For me it’s amazing to see how the markets have become one of the trademarks of A Drop in the Ocean and for a reason. I see that we have built up quite some trust with the residents.” In the future Bart is sure of one thing: ”We heavily lean on donations to stock up the market. Lots come in directly to us, but also lots come in through Help Refugees, they are a big hub to get donated clothes distributed among the organizations in Northern Greece.”
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Expanding, inspiring and future plans
Driessen and Hunink have inspired other teams in Chios (Drops were still there back then) and Skaramangas to do similar projects on a smaller scale. Later in 2017 both markets opened. Read more about the opening in Skaramangas here. Other organizations in refugee aid have also visiting them to see how they created the market and developed the app.
A few weeks ago Bart was at the Techfugees conference to talk about the future of the Drop App. And when I ask him about his future plans for the app he answers: ”as long as Drops work in refugee camps, we should keep these markets open. The big improvement for me personally would be if lots of other organizations would start similar projects and I would love to encourage them to use our knowledge and tools.”
And if you want to experience the market or to learn more about their innovations, Bart is welcoming you to come over for a visit.