Becoming a volunteer
Lesvos is a tiny island for the amount it appears in the media and is debated by our politicians. After following the refugee crisis since 2015 when I was working with Syrian children in Istanbul, I always felt I should go to Lesvos and offer my support in whatever way I could. In 2015/2016, I didn’t go and have regretted that choice ever since. So in November 2018 I feel blessed to have found A Drop in the Ocean to volunteer with on the island. Why did I choose this organisation when there are so many working on Lesvos? A Drop in the Ocean seemed to be filling in gaps, collaborating with other organisations and responding to the needs that arose on the island (which change almost day to day). I was drawn to this approach and particularly to what I saw as a focus on women and children.
Women and children
I am a social worker with a background working with refugee and migrant populations around the world. What I have seen is the need for programs and support for women and children, for child-friendly spaces and for an emphasis on education. When I started my work with A Drop in Ocean, I found that this is very much where they put their energy. There are also programs that provide safe spaces for men – Cafe and Handicrafts – but the women and children’s programs are where I fitted in and where my skills were most helpful. My main role during my month with the organisation was with the children’s program, a program designed to provided a group of kids from Moria Camp with a basic level of education, an introduction to schooling as it were. And what a truly amazing program it is. These children came to the Drop Centre every day where they were safe, warm and dry and where they could learn, interact with other children and ultimately, be children. It may not seem like “crisis” work but when it comes to children, that is exactly what an environment like this is. It is an opportunity for children (who may not otherwise have a safe space) to develop, grow and heal. They will take these memories, and no doubt all the songs we sang together, with them into adulthood. And I am so grateful to have been a part of it.
I was also often involved with Mini Drops, which is a program for women and children. The children can play while the women knit, paint their nails, make jewellery or have a hot drink and chat with their friends. I really enjoyed my evenings at Mini Drops, playing with the children, building lego, painting, and rediscovering the child in me. What I observed in this program was how valuable such a space is for these women and their children. The program was often full (except for when it was absolutely pouring with rain outside) which was a very clear message of the magic of the space. The most important and admirable quality of the work A Drop in the Ocean does is holding dignity at the heart of every one of their programs. Mini Drops is a program where women and children are safe, respected and free to be themselves. From the outside it is simple but the impact is far bigger than I think any of us can imagine. This is where communities are created, where people connect and support one another, all over a cup of coffee.
The need for education, child-friendly spaces and safe havens
The biggest lessons for me from my time in Lesvos? Firstly, children are amazing and resilient and, I believe more and more every day that they are the key to a big part of humanitarian work. When people think of humanitarian work, there is a real emphasis on crisis care, rescue, and emergency response. There are incredible organisations who do this essential work and strive for basic needs to be met. But there is another side to humanitarian work and that is the need for education, for child-friendly spaces and the need for safe havens where individuals’ dignity and humanity are protected. It may be less heroic, but I believe it is equally as important. This is something I was reminded of every day with A Drop in the Ocean.
Reflections after volunteering
Now that I am back home, I have time to really reflect on all those little moments at the Drop Centre. The time a 5 year old insisted on painting my fingernails bright pink at Mini Drops (and we were out of nail polish remover!). The time kids from the children’s program burst into If You’re Happy and You Know It after hearing the song only once (Oh the wonders of a child’s brain!). The smiles, the laughs, the tears. It wasn’t an easy month but it was one of the most rewarding months of my life. All the challenges now pale into insignificance because I am left with one overriding message, that for the children I spent my time with this past month, every drop counts. And every drop fills my cup and when my cup is full, so is my heart.