My name is Sofia Lobo, I’m fifty years old, I’m an actress in the theater company A Escola da Noite, in Coimbra, Portugal. In theater, as in life, I have always been more interested in stories where the human being is reduced to his most intrinsic characteristics, stripped of the material possessions he has and that make life easier.
But life is harder than theater. When I began to watch the arrival in Europe of people fleeing from war and from unimaginable situations for people like me, who have always lived in peace, when images of boats overflowing with empty-handed people began to fill my thoughts and my nightmares, I thought it was time to do something, more than just getting angry.
I think most of us spend too much time saying badly, being against, criticizing this and that, people and situations. But we don’t do too much. Much less than what each of us could do. I’ve never been a militant, although I know what I stand for, I’ve never been at the front line for anything, when I go I stay at the back, hopefully in silence, I find it difficult to express articulated speeches. I do not like being like this but that’s how I am and I already realized that there are things in me that I will never change. So, in August 2016, surprised by how Greece, a country in crisis like Portugal, received thousands of refugees, I decided to volunteer myself to help in whatever I could. Help a little bit, that I could do. I could have chosen another country, in Europe or outside it, unfortunately countries with numerous war refugees are a lot in the world. Greece, where I had never been before, had the added appeal of the Theater.
To Athens I went then, for the first time I travelled alone to a country where I had never been before. I looked for the information I needed on the internet, I knew organizations, situations, I made my choices. I rented a small house, bought the trip, packed the bag, went. I volunteered with A Drop in the Ocean, a small Norwegian NGO which, like others, tries to fulfill needs that the big ones can not. It works essentially with women and young people, but not only. With A Drop in the Ocean I went to Skaramangas, the largest refugee camp in Greece: 3200 people, Syrian, Iraqi, Afghan. I worked mainly with children and young people, trying to occupy some of their free time, playing with them, sharing smiles and affections. In addition to day-to-day playing, we organized Skaramangas Olympic Games and Skaramangas Got Talent. Two very rich weeks, that I never forgot on each day of the four months I spent in Portugal.
When I had vacations again, I tried to stretch them and I came back. With the same organization. To the same place. Again, I could have gone somewhere else. It would have to be Greece again, because I fell in love with the country, its people, its warmth, its affection, its hospitality. It was to be Chios instead of Athens, but I had left my heart in the Camp, with some children who frequently continued to send me (via whatsapp or messenger) flowers and hearts, lacking the words in a common language. So Skaramangas was the place. Due to the cold (a lot) and the difficult living conditions, this time there were almost no activities for children. Most of the time I separated clothes and shoes at the warehouse that A Drop in the Ocean now has in Athens and took part in a mega-shoe distribution operation that gave a pair of boots, shoes or sneakers to about 65% of the residents in the Field. In six days, about twenty volunteers from this small organization distributed more than 2,300 pairs of shoes! Each resident could choose his or her pair and exchange it, if necessary, on the last day of the operations. It was a monumental job, in which I am very proud to have participated.
Working with volunteers is wonderful, they are good people with rich hearts, able to share what they have and what they do not have, with unequaled generosity and altruism. None of the people of my second stay were present in August, but the spirit was the same and so was the mutual trust and confidence. We know people very quickly, we have little time to know them and to tell them about us and if we start to like them we have to say goodbye and say hello to others. It is a rotation of people and emotions that I have not yet become used to and I cried in a few farewells. With refugees it’s even more difficult. I was received with open arms, I was invited to tea with Yazidis, to dinner with Syrians. It was very good to see and hug people that I met in August, it was sad to meet them again there, many with no prospects of date and / or place of destination, it was nice to meet other people, it was harder to come back home again. I can come and go. I have (sometimes) some money that I can spend as I want.
Those people are there. At least in Skaramangas they do not get hungry, although they do not like the food they’re given, but their lives are suspended. They spend much of the day in various queues, in which they must always identify themselves. By number, not by name. Children (most of them) don’t go to school, they are much more aggressive and impatient than they were four months ago, people do not work, they don’t feel useful, their families are in many different countries. I do not know how they endure. I do not know how do they not revolt themselves more. The politicians of the world, those who decide, those who in one way or another continue to feed the wars that proliferate around the world, treat them as numbers, not as people. I believe that if they had ever had the courage to look at one of these people directly in the eyes, the decisions would be faster, the suffering would be less.
It was snowing when I left Athens. There were many refugees living in occupied and unheated homes, there were many living in tents throughout Greece, suffering in tents. Some died of hypothermia. I got bronchitis, but I came to heal it at home. Many of those people, after losing everything, home, family, country, their dignity, were suffering in painful ice. The Europe they trusted and for which they gave everything they had treats them in a subhuman way.
Never in my life have I felt as useful and cherished as in Skaramangas!
If I intend to return? Yes. As soon as I can.
Sofia Lobo, actress, Portugal