I have had the most incredible and enlightening time volunteering with Bridge2Refugees in Greece. These past two weeks flew by fast--from food distributions at two different camps and supermarket days, to endlessly sorting clothes and setting up a clothes shop for the adults, to endless kids activities, and so, so much more. But I can easily say I have never cherished time more. Thank you Sarah Griffith and Sam James for all you have done in Veria and will continue to do elsewhere in the world the rest of your lives. I feel so honored to have been on your team.
Sarah, at dinner you once mentioned a TEDTalk on the refugee crisis: I looked it up and here are a few quotes that stood out to me: "Don't ever think people are beneath you or you have nothing to learn from others." and "Don't feel sorry for them, believe in them."
I truly hope the people at this camp, some who have come from horrendous situations, are able to keep up hope and find the peace they deserve.
In July 2017, I volunteered with Bridge2 for 3 weeks. I had no real expectations as it was my first overseas volunteering experience. Upon arrival, I was pleasantly surprised to find a camp that had a sense of normality to it. Children were still playing on a playground, learning how to ride a bike, and having movie days. All thanks to the efforts of Bridge2. It was also very well organised and distributions were very fairly structured.
My daily tasks varied and included watering the community garden, renting out bikes to the residents, restocking, sorting, and packing for the supermarket, shoe and clothing store. In between the hard work, there was always room for play. Expect a lot of laughter and some music, art, sports and any other activity you can bring to the camp!
Some days were fun and easy, other days were challenging and long. Being able to speak Arabic put me in situations that were sometimes difficult, but other times, incredible. I was able to communicate with residents who shared their long journeys, stories of home, and their aspirations for their new lives. This really gave me a new perspective and insight on how real this refugee crisis was.
I thoroughly enjoyed volunteering with Bridge2. This organisation is run by two very humble people who genuinely care for the residents of all camps they visit. During my time in Veria, Sarah heard about a nearby camp that was abandoned and wasn't receiving the assistance it's residents required. She was quick to act. Within a day, we had a van organised, and food and other necessities packed and ready to go out for distributions.
Sarah taught me a valuable lesson during my time with Bridge2. Giving someone something that degrades them as a human being isn't better than nothing. Everything had a standard. From fruit to clothes. No moulds or stains are allowed. Sarah really lived by this and always ensured that residents were receiving the best possible assistance and necessities the organisation can provide, with dignity and respect. I cannot put into words how much I admire and respect the love you have put into what you do.
I am very fortunate to have been a part of the Bridge2 team. Thank you Sarah, Sam and all the volunteers I had the pleasure of working with for making my experience a memorable one.
I volunteered with Bridge2 for three weeks at the refugee camp in Veria in July, and it has been one of the most significant experiences in my life. I feel privileged to have worked with the other wonderful volunteers in the team and to have helped out with the operations of such a well-run charity.
Having previously volunteered in the Calais jungle, where Sarah and Bridge2 have been set up before, and which were mostly populated by adult men, I was told that Camp Veria was a ‘vulnerable camp’ consisting of many families. In the three weeks, I saw how Bridge2 helped those families to feel hope as they sought to relocate or reunify with family elsewhere. Sarah always treated everyone like family and spoke of giving them the sense of dignity that they had lost, and Sam was a respected friend to everyone especially the children.
The residents also treated us like family as we tried to do the same. When one young man (who was like an elder brother to the children on camp) and his mother received the good news that they were successful in their reunification application, we could feel their unbridled joy, shared their tearful smiles, and even had a meal together in their dorm in celebration. I feel that the supermarket and clothes shops, other than their original purpose of providing basic necessities to the once malnourished and impoverished camp, also gave the residents the positivity and hope that was once taken away.
Bridge2 operations were very flexible and volunteers did different things when they were needed, as well as during special occasions. I arrived near the end of Ramadan and we threw an Eid party for the residents, with a barbecue and song and dance performances. Sometimes we did door-to-door distributions, or gave out snacks and ice-cream on hot days, and filled up paddling pools for the younger kids which they loved. The children also loved the art and sports sessions whenever we brought out the paints and ball games. Our resident musician and fellow volunteer Erin also did singing sessions with the kids and taught the guitar. When there was a problem in the camp with water contamination, Bridge2 stepped up the quickest in distributing bottled water to all the residents.
Sarah and Sam have done a lot for the residents in the camp beyond the weekly supermarket and the clothes shops. The former military camp offices were repurposed for a communal kitchen, a women’s space, a men’s room, a stage area with a ping pong table, and even a bicycle shed made possible by generous donors. Sam also built some picnic tables, where some residents would sit around in the mornings when we arrived in camp and said hi.
Another of Bridge2’s projects in Veria was the community garden, in which the residents could plant their own vegetables and herbs. It was built by Sam’s team and the resources and effort that were used to construct the four magnificent enclosures must have been immense. I watered the garden every day and saw the little saplings turn into juicy aubergines, tomatoes, peppers that looked almost as good as those in the supermarket!
It was sad to leave as not only was it nice to have interacted with many of the residents, I also learnt that key Bridge2 people were moving on: volunteer Waeel who had to leave his family in Syria but became a wonderful and important member of the team, as well as Sam. As operations in Veria will be handed over, with volunteers providing education tools and materials, donations and money, or just time and effort, I’m sure the good work will continue and wherever Sarah decides to set up the next Bridge2 operation, it will be a success and a huge inspiration to others.
When there is a global crisis as huge as the displacement of over 20 million refugees, it is easy to think..."this issue too big, too many are affected, there's no way I could make a difference." But, I'm writing to encourage you. If you're telling yourself you can't, please trust me...you CAN make an impact. Especially if you support and work with an organization as honest and efficient as Bridge 2 Refugees.
I just returned home to the U.S. after spending two weeks volunteering on Camp Veria with Bridge 2. As I write this, I have tears in my eyes; partly because of jet lag (HA!), but mostly because of the depth of this experience. Bridge 2 is an organization with a heart for selfless service. In fact, they teach you a different way to serve...with every ounce of you...even in 100 degree heat, when the water on camp is contaminated...to put yourself aside and serve fully and with urgency. After my time on the camp I'll never view service the same way, and for that I am eternally grateful. Sarah and Sam of Bridge 2 have years of experience working with people in crisis all over the world, and it shows. They've created an environment on Camp Veria that feels as "normal" as it can for the residents (refugees) living there. Here are a few highlights of what Bridge 2 provides:
- A clothing shop where families and individuals can select and try on clothes with dignity, in a respectful environment; including a small dressing room with the words "you are beautiful" written on the mirror.
- A supermarket providing basic nutritional and personal items for each family/individual. They've thought of everything...fresh local produce (supporting the local economy), milk, rice, quinoa, tea and coffee, toiletries, contraception, and more.
- A bicycle shop where residents can "rent" a bike for a day. A line forms before the garage door is even opened; residents want to ride the bikes off of the camp, into the town of Veria, to have an adventure and feel a sense of freedom.
- A sustainable garden with herbs and veggies...it's just starting out but is sure to be a success.
- A welcoming committee -- Bridge 2 greets every new family as they arrive, even if it's in the middle of the night, in an attempt to make them feel comfortable after hours of travel and often experiencing trauma that is too heartbreaking to imagine. They bring them a package of produce, plates, tea kettles, and other basic needs.
If you volunteer with Bridge 2 you can expect to work hard, and it will be worth every minute. Also, whatever gift or talent you have inside of you, however big or small, Sam and Sarah will find a way to use it for good. I am a musician, so we had community music days and jam sessions while I was on the camp. We also raised funds before we got to the camp, and we watched Bridge 2 use them to provide water, food, clothes, and more; this organization is 100% transparent.
I could tell you a million stories of seeing pain and suffering turn into hope and joy...but you should come to Veria and experience it for yourself. We all deserve love, health, peace, and freedom; Bridge 2 is helping to provide these things. After all, we are all human beings. This could be me, or you, or our mothers...fathers...children...this crisis is not ending anytime soon. So, this work will always be necessary. I am thankful to be part of the Bridge 2 family for life; and, if you are reading this, I hope you will join us. Sending love and light to you and yours!
Working at Bridge 2 gave me an invaluable insight into the struggle of refugees and how amazing small organisations like Bridge 2 try to support them. Aside from providing the essentials – food and clothing – Bridge 2 aims to bring a sense of normality back to the lives of the refugees by running activities and distributing food and clothing in a more day-to-day way, i.e. the residents can choose and try on the clothes rather than being given what they get. I could see straight away that this was empowering for the residents.
I’d also like to mention Waeel, a resident at the camp who became an official volunteer for Bridge 2. He’s just been placed in Sweden and working with him on a day to day basis I know that he’ll be a great asset to any employer or educational institution. He’s a great guy.
Overall an eye-opening experience at a great organisation with amazing people.
Two weeks ago I was a part of your team. The four weeks have gone by as well and so fast.
It was a varied time with wonderful moments which I will never forget. For example the visit of the clowns, or the party before Ramadan with all the inhabitants of the camp. There was so much joy in the camp, happy children and unworried parents.
But there were also moments of hopelessness, despair and sadness. Both for me, as well as for the refugees. In those moments, you were always there for me as a contact andcaught me if I didn't know any further.
It was an unforgettable time for me with all the people there.
Bridge2 with Sarah and Sam was the perfect companion, and Veria the perfect place for my first trip to Greece and my first volunteering experience.
And maybe you will not be at the camp in a year, I hope it's because all the lost souls have a new, beautiful and safe home.
Thank you for helping the lost souls in Veria and that you always have been there for them!
With all my heart, I wish you plenty of energy to continue to be there for these wonderful people and many supporters (financial or as volunteers in the camp) without it this work is not possible.
I would like to record my appreciation for giving us the opportunity to be part of Bridge2 even for a short while. Thank you. It’s been a wonderful experience and something I would definitely treasure. Personally it was not something that I had in mind, but it was indeed a wonderful experience. I miss the kids and of course the amazing people I met and made friends there in Veria.
I adore how passionate both of you are in giving the best for these people and hope that you will keep on inspiring others to do the same. You are doing an amazing things not many can do.
It was a privilege to volunteer for Bridge 2. My admiration goes out to Sarah and Sam. Expect to work hard doing an amazing variety of jobs. In my month on the camp a typical day might have me watering the garden in the morning, then bagging up spices. Sending kids and their parents off on bikes before lunch and sorting out bowling with the younger kids in the afternoon. What makes Bridge 2 unique is that they insist on doing what is right rather than what is expedient or personally advantageous.
19 May 2017
We spent three weeks at the refugee camp in Veria, Greece working with Bridge2. We can’t thank Sarah and Sam enough for having us. Also, a large shout out to our fellow volunteers Ulrike, Theresa, Louise, Nina, Simon, Ann Marie, and Hannah. Thanks to all being such great and loving people! To our Syrian friends “Salam alaykum” and “Inshallah” may your future bring you happiness.
This was our first experience with this kind of volunteering and we could not have had a better experience. Bridge2’s efforts focused on bringing a sense of normalcy and dignity to the camp residents. It was great to see an organization so committed to this and to be a part of it. The benefits to the camp’s residents were readily apparent and their gratitude palpable. Our only regret was that we could not stay longer.
Steve and Diane Schrader
I have just spent 2 months working as a volunteer with the Bridge 2Charity. Bridge 2 runs a tight ship, and delivers everything that they state they will in the paperwork. Many other volunteergroups are less organised, and much less sincere in how they treat volunteers and camp residents.
My time with Bridge 2 provided the following experiences and opportunities;
I stayed in a beautiful city full of history, charm and wonderfully friendly locals.
I worked with a team of enthusiastic, entertaining and supportive people. They were people of all ages, and many different countries. We worked, ate, laughed, lived and explored together.
I saw expressions change from sad to happy; from exhaustion to hope.
I built relationships with people from different creeds, colours, backgrounds and experiences. We shared and celebrated our similarities. We danced, hugged, cooked, laughed and cried together, and it felt beautiful to refuse to believe the hype surrounding the whole refugee crisis.
All this, and so much more I could write about has left me feeling a stronger, more knowledgeable and experienced person. My entire experience was a total pleasure, and I would not hesitate to go back. My advice to you would be, if you are thinking about volunteering and looking for a similar experience, don’t think about it....just DO IT xx.
I spent 10 x nights at Veria Camp volunteering with Bridge2 and this was the first trip of this kind I’d ever done.
I can genuinely say I couldn’t have picked a better organisation to volunteer with.
As a solo traveller I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous when I boarded my flight to Thessaloniki, but after the first day my nerves were quickly put to bed.
Sarah and Sam were utterly fantastic from the moment I arrived at the Camp. Sarah took time to talk through Bridge2’s work and how various parts of the camp ran on a daily basis and from then on, I was part of the team! And what a team is it!
It was truly wonderful to see the direct benefit Bridge2’s presence has for the residents of Veria Camp and their gratitude was so humbling. Sarah and Sam’s devoted commitment in providing normality and dignity to the lives of those residents is what puts Bridge2 in a league of their own.
Everything they manage is run fairly, with money being spent wisely and with the best interests of the residents at the forefront every time.
I’m sure everyone says this, but it’s the utter truth – my only regret was not being able to stay longer.
Love to all on Veria Camp!
I had an amazing and insightful experience whilst volunteering with Bridge2 at Camp Veria.
Both Sarah and Sam have worked incredibly hard to create a calm and welcoming atmosphere for all of the refugees residing at the camp.
Everybody's trust in the organisation is clear and it is easy to see why. Sarah continuously fights to ensure that each individual has access to all their needs and rights. People turn to both Sarah and Sam as they know they will support them and their needs.
During the month I spent at Camp Veria, I learnt so much from having the opportunity to be a part of Bridge 2, and engage with all the people at the camp.
I hope to return I'm the future or join Bridge 2 on one of their other great and valuable projects.
My experience in Veria with Bridge2
Last April I went to Veria as a volunteer with Bridge2.
The experience has been much better than I expected. Moreover, it helped me on my personal growth and I cannot forget the great group of volunteers that I met.
Veria is a superbly organised camp. The work that Sarah and Sam have done, and still do, is incredible. The peace and the harmony between the refugees are possible thanks to the role that “Mama Sarah” - as the refugees call her - and Sam have in the camp. Everything is developed with absolute respect to the population that is forced to remain in Veria for a long time, due to the fact that Europe does not want to open borders.
Being in Veria is living in a village in which the inhabitants are refugees, to whom you can greet or talk about their experiences in English or in their language, always with a smile in their faces.
While I was in the camp, some new refugees arrived, with faces of fear and anxiety, unknowing what they would find. I am sure now these faces have changed because, despite the awful situation they lived, they are in the place of respect and dignity that Bridge2 makes.
The work that Bridge2 does is essential to create this climate. Thanks to them, the refugees can have clothes, shoes and the kind of food that they do not receive from the army. And the kids have a playground and enjoy with the volunteers that prepare activities for them.
One can hear plenty of times in the news that there is violence, thefts, tension between different collectives..., in the camps. However, I can assure that in Veria none of this happens. For example, one day eighty new refugees of Chios arrived in the camp and all the residents of Veria waited for them with open arms.
Do not hesitate: Veria is a good camp to start helping the refugees in their terrible story, which will continue as long as Europe keeps raising borders, being increasingly hard to pass.
I do not want to finish this testimonial without showing my gratitude for the lovely atmosphere that Sarah, Sam and all the volunteers created. I will always consider them as “my friends”.
ANTONI NAVARRO ROBLEDO
For 2 weeks I was part of the Bridge 2 family at Veria Camp.
What Bridge 2 has set up is very special. They give back a piece of humanity to the refugees staying at the camp.
The free 'supermarket' where residents can choose what they want and do not want. The 'clothing store' and 'shoeshop' where people can choose what they like. It sounds so ordinary for many people, but choosing again is so important.
In addition to all these basic issues, there is room for activities with the children, women and men. So I gave Zumba to a group of women and it was so fun! Just no worries and stress for a hour, just dance and laugh.
In addition, we made photo frames with the children, where they then received a polaroid image of themselves to put into the frames. A beautiful memory of themself because they often have no more pictures.
And how cool it is to have the vegetable garden started. So that the residents have something to do during the day, be responsible for something and can eat from their own garden.
Sarah and Sam make THE difference for so many people on the run with their work on Veria Camp. Thank you that I could be part of the Bridge 2 family! (I hope to be back soon )
Sanne De Bree Florijn
This April I did volunteering in a refugee camp for the first time in my life. And I am glad that I did this in the Camp Veria.
Because I always felt safe, comfortable and my expectations were more than met.
The Greek military has labelled the camp as the "best balanced camp in Northern Greece". This can be traced back to the great effort Sarah Griffith and Sam James from Bridge2Refugees have put into the camp. The two enjoy a close and heartwarming relationship to the refugees. Their overall aim is to improve the refugees’ life circumstances and to allow refugees to live with dignity. They do so by running a shoe and clothing shop as well as a supermarket. Sometimes the kids even get toys; and sometimes, they can even organise some nice activities for the kids, like some sport games or handicrafts.
But on what does their service depend on?
It all depends on the numbers of volunteers they have. The more volunteers there are, the more they can offer. I noticed that the camp has a great equipment when it comes to toys, craft materials etc. However, the kids can only make use of it, when there is a volunteer supervising the situation. This is why I consider manpower as the most needed thing in the camp right now.
When I was there, we were lucky, because we were a bunch of volunteers. Thus, it was possible to offer lots of leisure activities and games. The kids loved hula hoop, diabolo and balancing plates as well as ball games, especially football. They really inspired me with their creativity; I loved doing handicrafts with them. We produced loads of bracelets, chains and hair accessories. Besides, we build a big stage from old euro pallets. Also, we created a photo wall out of an old door.
My personal highlight was a big party that we organised for the refugees. Decoration was provided by the kids, who had made pennant chains. The women prepared the food the whole day long. In the evening, we had a big barbecue together with loud music and fancy light, embedded in a cheerful atmosphere. People enjoyed dancing, singing and laughing. At the same evening, we did face painting, which was lovely, because the kids were so proud! Those kids in the camp are fabulous. So easy to enthuse and so thankful for what they get. Some of them are just really sad and traumatised. I will never forget their empty eyes when they start dreaming. But once you catch their attention, their eyes light up and they can't get enough. I could have done this forever.
Overall, I can only recommend volunteers to help in camp Veria. After all, with Sarah and Sam you always have well experience people looking after you. They try to explain a lot and try to make you sensitive to the topic. Each morning there is a team meeting, in which the day is organised. Besides, you can always incorporate your own ideas. I definitely want to help in the camp again in future time.
I recently spent 2 weeks working as a volunteer with Guernsey Charity “Bridge2” in a Refugee camp near Veria, Northern Greece. This camp has a fluctuating population of about 200 refugees, mostly from Syria, who are housed in 4 blocks of adapted “barracks” in an old army camp. The camp is in a pleasant position in the foothills of some mountains and overlooking a lake, certainly a big improvement on the first camps they have come from in Southern Greece where most of them arrived via the overcrowded unseaworthy boats from Syria and Turkey, but nevertheless, not where they want to be as they strive to find asylum in a chosen European country.
Bridge2 is one of several agencies working alongside the army in the camp who provide a basic diet for the refugees, and seeks to meet needs of the camp residents which would otherwise not be met, to show respect, understanding and maintain the dignity of the camp residents, and to provide activities and facilities for the residents while they wait for the necessary papers and formalities which will allow their onward journeys, a process which can take up to a year!
Bridge2’s founder, Sarah Griffith and her son Sam run their project in a highly organised manner and aim to treat all the refugees fairly and show no favouritism. A large part of their work is providing nutritional supplements in the form of milk, eggs, yoghurt, fresh fruit and vegetables which are distributed along with other foodstuffs such as rice, beans and oil, through “shops” held twice a week. They also provide clothing and shoes through other “shops” and occasionally have other distributions such as toys and special treats. During the time the charity has been involved with the camp, separate men’s and women’s spaces have been created where residents can meet socially and carry out hairdressing etc; specially donated new football strip has been presented to the camp’s football team; a community kitchen has been fitted out for the residents to do some cooking together; some large raised beds have been constructed so that fresh vegetables and herbs can be grown, and just recently some good quality outdoor playground equipment has been installed for the children to play on.
A team of volunteers is needed in camp all the time to do the many behind the scenes jobs necessary for the smooth running of the charity’s work. Donated goods need to be sorted, foodstuffs decanted from large containers into smaller ones, shops set up, and shops dismantled, work and recreational spaces have to be tidied and cleaned. Many of the jobs aren’t particularly glamourous but are all very necessary. Activities are also provided for the residents when time and opportunity allows – crafts, outdoor play, cinema for the children (“Frozen” in Arabic was interesting!) Plans are never made too far ahead as one never knows what is going to crop up. While I was there, 2 busloads of 70 new refugees arrived form Chios and we had to prepare large bags of basic foodstuffs and toiletries to give out, and do our best to make them feel welcome and comfortable in their new surroundings. The difference between the new arrivals and those who had been living in camp Veria for several months was very apparent. They were very tired, gaunt and visibly distressed. One man I gauged to be in his sixties turned out to be 42! The contrast was very obvious and hopefully demonstrated what a difference the nutrition supplements and other things provided by Bridge2 make.
I felt humbled and privileged to be a small part of this operation for a very short time. I will certainly return if the opportunity arises. It was great to be part of a team with shared aims but from diverse backgrounds. I worked alongside volunteers from England, Jersey, Spain, Germany, The Netherlands, and Peru while I was there and it was interesting to learn a little about their backgrounds and experiences.
If you are looking for an opportunity to work as a volunteer on a humanitarian project I have no hesitation in recommending Bridge2 to you. If you are willing to tackle any job however mundane, work well in a team and have a sense of humour, you will probably fit the bill.
If you are unable to volunteer, you can still help by sending a donation to help the work to continue – all monies received go directly to the projects/purchase of foodstuffs etc. There are no salaries paid or administrative costs. All volunteers are foodstuffs etc. There are no salaries paid or administrative costs. All volunteers are self-funded.
Tuesday 25th April
Last Monday I came back to Spain, after an intense week. Working in the camp in the old military base of Veria with Guernsey Charity Bridgre2 has been a great experience at all levels. It was my first time volunteering for refugees, an experience I was looking for since 2015 refugee crisis became ‘refugee crisis’. It is difficult to find time or money but its worth not only for the people but also for self, or in the other way around: not for you, but for the people.
I remember the first day I arrived with my other two colleges. Sarah informed and warned us about a few things. I’ll highlight the one that made me think a lot and made me a bit nervous the next morning. “The most important things girls is that these people need love”. It was really challenging because knowing that they went through really tough stuff disturb me. Looking at them with innocence and a big loving smile is not easy, at least for me. But I made it! And I can see they appreciate it.
Working at the camp was constant and sometimes exhausting. The German team was there and they had a long to-do list for the week: football games, bbq party -and many other things related to setting up a party like this. We also unloaded and sorted out a big truck with lots of food, clothes, machines, computers, etc; doing some gardening, and so on. On the other hand, also two Dutch girls had plans for the week, activities for the kids, decoration labels for the rooms, activities for the woman, or helping a young engaged couple to get married. What you all did was great!!
The two long-term (three months) volunteers are really helpful because they really know how things work and what to do in some cases. Having seniors make the shifts between short-term volunteers more fluid. What they do is make things run smoothly as I said; they take charge of the ‘shop’ and ‘supermarket’ (its all donations so no money is required of course, but naming it like this makes their lives less weird) so everybody can get clothes and food two times a week (Greek military deliver food every day).
Moreover, I find it really good that the ones carrying the every day and direct contact refugee aid in the camp are a mother and the son. Sara Griffith or ‘mama Sarah’ for refugees is the one leading experience and organization, and Sam James (Follow him on Instagram (@semajmas), his pictures are f* great!) is the one bringing freshness and motivation on building up - he is also the love of all kids. I think this family character makes everybody - refugees and volunteers - less far from home.
Also, refugees are a great help, every moment we need them they were there, helping in all what they could. They live in this limbo since a year or more, no job, no school until last month, no choices. They have nothing to do with their lives but to wait.
To wait for our European values and agreements to be fulfilled. It is important to keep our unity and not to let pass with the hypocrisy of our politicians. If for example Spain still has to achieve in 2017 95% of the 19.219 quota we agreed to have, imagine how much more work we still have to do. Although I view the breach of my country as all other members except Germany are the same, with better and worst achievements.
So as one can perceive, refugees are for the moment safe and living with dignity thanks to a great job of Bridge2 and all the volunteers and the organizations collaborating with them. But help and support must go on!
I had to write my feedback one week later to have some distance from sentimentalism. One can go there, spend full time with the people and get to love them. But I won't get myself distanced from the issue. There are community houses for refugees in every big city, where anybody can collaborate and create consciousness; there is a lot but not enough.
One thought It has been coming back to me with much more strength since I left the camp last Monday is the consciousness of our privileged way of life.
Long live to Guernsey!
Working on Camp Veria...
I have been wanting to do something to help with the refugee crisis for a long time, but until now had not found the means or the way to do it.
My three weeks at Camp Veria with Bridge2 was a wonderful, emotional and unforgettable experience that I am so grateful for. It is without doubt that I would like to return and volunteer again as soon as possible.
The camp itself is located in one of the most beautiful settings, surrounded by trees, a lake below and mountains all around. The refugees, of which there were about 200 whilst I was there, are housed in four large building blocks and there is a community room and a couple of other buildings used by the military. Bridge2 has a separate, small, block of rooms that is extremely well organised and utilised.
The free supermarket, opening twice a week for all residents, provides all the basic components for a healthy diet and more, which supplements the military’s meagre and insufficient daily supplies. A free clothes and shoe shop are set up to provide everyone with what they need, switching continuously with the weather and between children and adults' clothing. A private women’s space and private men’s space, a new kitchen fully-fitted to encourage and facilitate a community-based cooking area with new raised beds for growing vegetables and herbs nearby, and now a brand new playground for the children to be able to just be children. It truly is amazing to see what Sarah and her son, Sam, have achieved and created in an incredibly short period of time, all through irrefutable hard work, perseverance, love and outstanding leadership.
There are a couple of other NGOs onsite who, from what I saw and experienced, sadly have very little impact on the well-being and comfort of the refugees in comparison to the work of Bridge2. There are newborn babies, children of all ages and adults with various problems who, without Bridge2’s heart-felt touch and thoughtful insight, would be missing the much needed dietary needs, clothing, blankets, hygiene and toiletry products, and everything in between; but perhaps most importantly, an ear to really listen when something’s not right, a smile and a hand to help wherever possible, and the means to convey and voice their needs with the governmental NGOs who otherwise seem to shy away from any perceived problems and certainly do not offer solutions.
During my three weeks I met some incredible people, both volunteers and residents alike. I was very lucky to work with lots of lovely people from all over the world, always working together with smiles and laughter even in busy times. The work was a diverse yet constant flow of stocking shelves, organising boxes, sorting through new food deliveries, moving and shifting clothes, toys, shoes and all sorts in between. It was always fun, sometimes a little physical, but very satisfying and energising work in which the hours flew by in such good company.
In my last week we saw 79 new people arriving to the camp from the islands, weary after a long 20 hour journey and wary of what to expect from their new surroundings. Bridge2 were there ready with water, hot food, snacks, and a bag packed to the brim full of fresh fruit, veggies, toiletries, towels, pillows, blankets, electric cookers, and a smile.
We met so many beautiful, creative, smiley and playful children, and they really made each and every day so special. Thinking up different activities to keep them occupied and busy as much as possible was always on the cards, and was especially needed when the playground was being built! Face-painting by one of the volunteers went down an absolute treat and pretty much every child got involved.
What these people have gone through and are still going through is truly devastating. We heard from those who have been on this camp for over a year, waiting and waiting for news of their new destined country. Many have family, a husband or wife, parents, children, or brothers and sisters, split between several countries and are desperate to be reunited with their loved ones. They have lost everything and are still waiting to find out when, where and how they can start to rebuild their lives.
It is hard when sat at home, far away, to know what you can do to help the millions of people who have been through so much devastation and loss, and how you, just one person, can show your support. Bridge2’s support on this camp really has made a huge difference, especially the relationships that Sarah and Sam have built with all the people and children on the camp, the respect, friendship and love that they give to all. This is what counts, and so if you are unsure how best to help as I was, I can promise you that either volunteering or donating to Bridge2 will definitely go a very long way.
This really is a special charity, acting wholeheartedly in line with what a charity should be, and more. Every volunteer is of enormous help no matter what skills they may or may not have. There is always work to be done and the continued success of Bridge2 on this camp relies on a steady flow of volunteers to be able to keep up its wonderful work. I have learned so much and would not change it for the world.
Thank you so much, Sarah and Sam.
TWO WEEKS IN VERIA'S CAMP DOING VOLUNTEERING WITH BRIDGE2. I decided to join Bridge2, after some experiences on the Aegean island of Chios helping in the landings and in other camps in mainland, when I’ve seen on internet their call for volunteers. Was really quick and easy, contacted Sarah and immediately decided to book a flight. Then my older daughter, she’s only 20, would like to come with me to volunteer for her first time, and Sarah let us to do it together in spite of the rules said it’s necessary to be 21.
The Veria camp is a former Greek military base where about 300 residents, Syrian refugees and Iraqis are currently accommodated. Most families with children, vulnerable cases, disabled and elderly. Compared to other realities I have volunteered in Greece over the past 18 months, since the crisis has grown, it is a fairly beautiful camp. If it is good to say in a camp, residents, it is right to call them so, landed on the Aegean islands and many of them were, after the Balkans were closed, to Idomeni. The camp is in an area at the foot of the mountains of Greek Macedonia, a very large place, with trees full of areas and 4 large buildings, former military rooms, where families and individuals today reside. Close to a lake, a nice place, but... but... It is a camp where people live every day of what is being given to them. The food comes cooked by the military a few days ago and honestly, it sucks. Yes. Fortunately Bridge2 has been working on the field since October, Sarah Griffith and her son Sam James have set up something great.
In the old military warehouses there are:
• A grocery store for bi-weekly fruit and vegetable distribution and other kinds of primary necessities;
• A shoe store (used but only in very good condition) and new;
• A shop for clothing, which rotates for clothing for children, women and men;
• A beauty box ... special area only for women> 16 years where you can make hair, nails and there is a dedicated and reserved very nice space;
• A place for men to play backgammon, drink coffee and there is the barber in the field;
• A warehouse for all stocks;
• An office;
• A room for volunteers and the storage of fresh raw materials coming in.
I worked two weeks at the camp, in each one of these rooms there is a level of cleanliness, organization and attention so high that I was amazed. When fresh vegetables arrive twice a week, in addition to unloading them, they must be extracted from the cassettes and placed in small baskets to make them usable in the store during distribution. Yogurt in the fridge. They are fresh vegetables and fruits from local producers, honey of local produce. Dresses arriving by international donations and delivery directly from local Greeks arriving at the camp are very selective: only those in perfect condition are kept in transparent boxes with covers tagged by gender, age, type and size. The others, if in good condition destined for Greek charities and those dirty, broken or grossly thrown. Here is the best thing I enjoyed in the field, a 4 star treatment for the dignity with which the choices are made. In two weeks I was able to meet volunteers from many parts of the world, who at first experience those who were very navigated, with them we shared the apartment for the volunteers and this experience, and in each of them I could see the same feeling ... The attention and dedication reserved for each small business is very high. I moved huge quantities of boxes with winter clothes, picked up and prepared the shop for the little ones, and then cleaned up everything and prepared with the immense help of my daughter Brigitta, her first volunteer experience, the shop for women; And archived for the coming winter all the heavy clothing. Who knows what will happen next winter.
Volunteer activities are so many, organize the distribution of fresh foods to the extent that they are provided, come with the shopping bag and twice a week are provided eggs, yogurt, bananas, oranges, lemon, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, zucchini and Aubergines, tuna and spices. What it takes to have a more balanced and healthy diet. And a special addition to pregnant women and nursing: olive oil, dates and extra eggs and yogurt. It's a lot, only the supplies of fruit and vegetables cost 1000 € per week. And every three weeks 1 kilo of honey for every family. And then there are free choice shelves with shampoo, deodorant, rice that are available. It is all done according to well-defined rules, according to the composition of the family and the number of children and adults there is a table for the delivery of vegetables and the quantities of fresh food, the area of free choice is used with great discretion and respect. The climate that is created is that of great serenity, no one takes advantage of what is available for the awareness of being able to dispose of it in the following days. During the day there are times when it is easy to socialize with the locals, in the case of extra distributions as we did for new stockings, bath sponges, chocolate and chips and social moments ... on Saturday afternoon there is activity Recreational for the little ones. Absolutely fun, we created carnival masks and the little ones had glue colors and shapes to fit the masks to customize them with whiskers ears and caps. I was impressed by the fact that children of 4,5, 6 years have no ability to properly use the colors. Lack of schooling is causing incredible damage to these children, having difficulty in coloring the shapes is due to the lack of daily practice with bouquet and colors. Shivering. Every day at 5 o'clock there is a football match between great boys and adult men, and it is great to watch on the benches at the edge of the field with women and girls who are a big fan of either team. To show our attention also to this, we have selected in stock clothing t-shirts and sweatshirts, shoes, shorts and sports socks and we have arranged them for size and color in the men's area. One by one they came to choose and unfortunately for some people lacked the sizes, especially the shoes. That afternoon it was wonderful to see them play, with more lust and charge, suitably dressed. The game ended 7 to 8 and it was a chance to stay a bit chatting, with 4 Arabic words, a bit of English and the language that works the most, smiles and empathy!
I travelled to Camp Veria with two artists friends to work with the residents as part of an art project, culminating with an exhibition as part of Refugee Week in Jersey in June 2017.
The time we had on Camp was agonisingly short, but in those 3 full days we were made to feel welcome by residents and volunteers alike.
Sarah Griffith from Bridge2 facilitated our trip there and supported us with our group art sessions in every possible way. She is doing fantastic things there which are making a real difference to people's lives.
Some of the children were challenging to work with, but this was very much part of the learning process we had to go through as part of the project.
In the end it was our interaction with the children which made the visit both immensely rewarding and heart wrenchingly sad, as we dipped in and out of their lives and their traumas touched our hearts.
Going to the Camp in Veria with Bridge2 was a great experience. It is so important to bring back normality and work and exchange together at eye level. Therefore the work as a volunteer is to keep the stability so the Supermarket, Clothes shop and Shoe shop are running regularly. The work is very well delegated but if you have any kind of ideas for activities or other suggestions they are welcome too.
The volunteers were a colourful mixture of lovely people, and I am happy that I met them and became part of the team. To meet and talk with the residents was for me personally, the most inspiring part about the work at the Camp. To see people fighting and struggling for a better life and just elementary things was really impressive and there is still a long way to go against inhumanity and helping hands are needed.
If you want to do something I can just highly recommend to join Bridge2 as a volunteer.
I had an amazing experience, joining my daughter who was spending a month at Bridge2 at Camp Veria, as a volunteer. I went for two weeks and honestly am looking forward to returning. The work was varied, we sorted clothes, ran a Supermarket, sanded and vanished wood.
My favourite was spending time with the Refugees, they were so interesting to talk to and there was lots of that, including organising arts and craft for the adorable children and teens.
We felt part of a team and truly valued by all. It certainly took me outside my comfort zone, I learnt so much and it has definitely had a positive impact on how I think, and who I am.
I have known Sarah for over 10 years as I have volunteered in Sri Lanka with Bridge2 so when I was thinking of volunteering abroad I had no hesitation in contacting Sarah to help out in Greece.
I volunteered at Camp Veria for 2 weeks in February/March. The camp is very well organised which gives structure for the residents. The work is physical but very rewarding. There are lots of jobs to do 'behind the scenes' so there is always something to be done.
There is a Supermarket, Clothing Store and Shoe Store for the residents of the Camp and volunteers help to sort the donated clothing/shoes and keep the supermarket stocked.
I also met the families on Camp when we distributed items 'door to door' or when I walked around the camp. All the families are extremely grateful for the work being undertaken by Bridge2 and the volunteers.
I really enjoyed my time in Greece and felt I helped in a very small way. Volunteers are always needed on Camp. I would recommend Bridge2 if you are thinking of volunteering. You will be rewarded in many ways. You will also be very looked after by Sarah and her son Sam.
I volunteered at camp Veria in northern Greece for two weeks in February 2017. It was an experience which I loved every minute of and I cannot recommend highly enough to anyone thinking of going.
The work was physical, with lots of lifting and shifting, such as stocking of the free supermarket and sorting donated clothing. However, my two weeks left me feeling energised and uplifted.
The facilities which Bridge 2 provide at camp Veria are very well organised and established but there's no doubt that the charity needs a constant supply of 'boots on the ground' in order to continue to run the supermarket and clothing shop.
Over the 2 weeks I also met a great many of the camp's residents as they came to collect their fresh fruit and vegetables and clothing for themselves and their families. Language was no barrier to communicating and making friends with the residents, and I have taken away many precious memories of the strength and courage of the people I met there.
Bridge 2 run their operations at camp Veria with a focus on dignity, humanity and fairness for all of the camp's residents. It really shows in the morale of the camp that this is so important for these people who, through no fault of their own, have lost so much.
Volunteering with Bridge 2 is a valuable and life-enriching experience, and being on the front line guarantees that every everything you do while you are there makes a difference.
"I had such a lovely time volunteering with Bridge2 at camp Veria. I was only there 5 days but wished it could have been longer and felt quite sad to leave. It was a great place for a first time volunteer, like myself. Sarah runs Bridge2 with an emphasis on kindness and respect, and genuine compassion. I loved the diverse range of jobs that needed to be done and the busy days. You come away knowing that you have done something useful each day. Thank you Sarah for having me at camp Veria, I really hope I can afford to come back soon "
Working with Sarah from Bridge2 at Camp Veria was an absolute pleasure. It was a challenging week but I wouldn’t change a thing.
I was part of a volunteer team of nutritionists/naturopaths who were aiming to improve the nutritional intake of pregnant and breastfeeding women. This however, only made up a small percentage of our week.
It was incredibly humbling to be invited into these families homes and ask them numerous questions about their diet and if they were willing to take supplements, which they all were!
Aside from visiting rooms we assisted Sarah and her other 2 volunteers with the running of the free supermarket, including the unpacking of the vegetable delivery, which provides extra fruit and vegetables on top of their food allocation and cash card allowance.
We also assisted in the running of the clothes shop where we helped the customers choose some items of clothing, clearing out and then organizing the storerooms. This was both challenging and fun, especially when you come across new clothes that you knew someone in the camp would love!
Even though it was busy week, it was incredibly energizing as you are inspired by the energy of others around you. “Mamma Sarah” has done such a fantastic job of creating a sense of community in the camp and it has earnt her an incredible amount of respect among the refugees.
I would definitely recommend Camp Veria to anyone wishing to volunteer. It would be useful to spend longer than 2 weeks to really get a feel for the place and establish a rapport with the people and families, however I think Sarah appreciates whatever people can offer as long as they are willing to jump in and do what they can. I will definitely be back in future. Thank you Sarah!
I volunteered for Bridge2 for the month of February this year, when Veria was still in the midst of winter. Helping with the refugee situation was something I’d been meaning to do for a while and this experience certainly gave me an opportunity to do just that.
I was attracted to volunteer for Bridge2 because its mother and son team sounded more personable than any other NGO that runs on a larger scale. And I was pleased with my decision - right from my initial contacts with Bridge2, I was communicating with its founder Sarah, and her son, Sam.
Sarah has mastered the art of disaster relief having dedicated herself to attend to those in need following tsunamis, earthquakes and now, the Syrian refugees in Greece. Once there on camp, the personal aspect continued where all communication and face-to-face work are alongside one or other of them.
Sarah and Sam operate from their hearts. Kindness, goodwill, tenacity and patience are of paramount importance for this kind of work and these human qualities emanate from them both. Their sense of presence and order in the camp provides a consistency in the lives of refugees where personal and collective loss prevails.
Fresh fruit and vegetables, groceries, toiletries, shoes and clothes are distributed through ‘shops’ - shops by name only as there is no requirement for money. It is Sarah’s method of distributing donated goods. In time, I could see the fine motive behind her careful planning where creating opportunities to ‘shop’ provides individual refugees with dignity and choice, offering them perhaps a reminder of better days.
This camp is a great place to volunteer and I can highly recommend Bridge2 as the charity to volunteer for. It was my impression that Bridge2 has helped to create an environment of peace and settledness for refugees who are living with so much uncertainty in their lives. Sarah and Sam also look after you as a person who has come to volunteer in Greece, which could be far away from your home.
14th February 2017
Why volunteering for Bridge2Refugees - again!?......
So, why am I sitting here in Denmark, planning on volunteering for Bridge2Refugees, now for the fourth time???...
Well, first and foremost, people like you and me, who have fled their home, fled from war, violence and torture, need our help! These people are stranded around Europe - feeling lonely and desperate to find just somewhere safe to call their new home.
I keep reminding myself, this could have been me - if I had been born in a country less peaceful than Denmark. It could have been ME, who had left everything I knew, with no idea of where to end... It could have been me, being stranded in a camp - or on the streets - being the one to look after my old father and my sisters children for example and at the same time missing everyone else I used to have around me in my life...
Had it been me, I know, I would have been very grateful for whatever any stranger, would have done to help me....
It’s not easy - well at least not for me - to sit at home, and figure out, how to reach out and help these people in need....
BUT I have been lucky to meet Sarah Griffith in the Philippines some years ago, where we both were helping out after the typhoon, Hayan. When the present refugee crisis grew bigger and bigger in Europe in 2015, I saw, how Sarah started working in the refugee camp “The Jungle” in Calais, France. I got in touch with her and was very soon after, in France to work with Sarah and her lovely sons plus a small group of fantastic volunteers.
Working with Bridgde2Refugees in France twice, made it very easy for me to decide to go help them again in Greece in October. Sarah and her son, Sam James, are an amazing team. They work very hard and very long days, but still they manage to keep a smile on their faces, make everyone around them smile and somehow - still haven’t figured out how!? - keep holding their heads up high in the middle of all the misery, they see everyday. Simply very inspiring too look at a mother-son-team, who manage this well - and spreads out all the good energy to everyone around them. They had, at that time, been working in Greece for months and were just starting up their project in Camp Veria, Northern Greece.
I spent 2 weeks working with the two of them along with a big group of German volunteers. Within these 2 weeks we moved tons and tons of rice, water, clothes, hygiene products, emptied a huge lorry of aid, and we transformed dark dusty, rotten, rat filled, disgusting rooms into a clothes “shop” a “supermarket”, a shoe “shop”, a fresh food store, an office and a storage room for dry-storage.
I remember entering one of the totally-stuffed rooms one morning, with a new but lovely volunteer, who said “No way, we can move all of this!”... A second later, Sarah came in and said: “So, where do we start!?”... She grabbed the first bag of rice, handed it to me, who handed it to the new volunteer... and a chain was ongoing.... Residents of the camp joined in - and a couple of hours later, the room was empty... and ready for cleaning, painting - and restoring!
When working with people who are the first to show the way, anything is possible!
Most days we worked 10-12 hours, and in every single situation, whether busy, tired or frustrated, Sam and Sarah met everyone with dignity and respect! - This includes all residents of the camp, every military man, from the camp, all volunteers and whoever came to camp with aid - or to ask for help or aid. No-one feels forgotten or overheard - no problem is too small or too personal to be dealt with - and all suggestions or ideas to, how to solve a problem - is being listened to! This, to me, also is why I can only recommend for new volunteers, to try work with Bridge2Refugees as it’s a very safe environment to try this for the first time.
.... This is why I am - right these days - planning to go back to Greece in March, to once again, work alongside these wonderful selfless people - to help Bridge2Refugees helping the residents of Camp Veria. This work includes everything from supplying them with clothes, shoes, medicine, healthy and needed food to making activities for the children and the adults during the days, to make their waiting time in camp - a waiting time, that for many of them has now been one year!!!.. - just a little bit easier. Same time, volunteering with Bridge2Refugees makes it possible for me to “just work extra hours for a couple of months, to be able to take time off, buy the ticket and pay for my food and accommodation, while in Greece”... and then travel back home to my safe and warm home.. All planning, has been done by Sarah and Sam - and I trust them 100% to put me to hard work, where most needed, when I get there... and then I just really look forward to seeing them both again :-)
If it doesn’t make sense, why to go volunteer for Bridge2Refugees for my fourth time...then try to read this again ;-)
See you in Greece??? :-)
Over the Christmas holidays, I volunteered with Bridge 2 in Veria camp, Northern Greece.
It was a very rewarding experience that gave me the opportunity to witness the current situation in Northern Greece with my own eyes and help those that are left behind by European politics. As a Bridge2 volunteer, you are responsible for food, clothes and shoe distribution, as well as other activities that randomly pop up (think of soccer practices, organising thematical parties, hosting movie nights etc.). While fulfilling your tasks as a volunteer, you get the chance to interact with wonderful people: very kind refugees that are into a casual conversation and other likeminded volunteers who share similar ideals and driving forces.
What is most important is that you can bring a smile to one's face. And Bridge2 has the appropriate basis in the Veria camp to make that happen. Sarah and Sam are great people who instantly make you feel comfortable in your position and are great people to work with.
I look back at a wonderful time with Bridge 2 and I cannot wait to work with them again.
"Thanks Sarah and Sam for your needed work in Veria! I’ve just came back from my volunteering with Bridge2 and its project with refugees as a volunteer. I could see, every day, how that two amazing people work hard and intensely for the refugees.
They are every single day in the camp to run all the facilities properly, from vegetables, fruits and warm clothes for this hard winter, to toys, activities for children and properly private spaces for men and women. I could see also, how is difficult to them to keep all the activities run because it needs funds to be possible. For that reason, I did a Crowd Funding campaign and with my friend’s support we raised nearly 1,500€! When you know where the money goes because you are there and you can explain to your friends in first person how Bridge2 care the funds and use it in a efficient and properly way, is easy that people trust in you and support the cause.
Bridge2 takes care the volunteers with their good organisation. I knew always what was my job and, the most important thing, I could see in every moment how my work with Bridge2 made the difference in the lives of every refugee. I booked the accommodation in their volunteer’s apartment and it was very good because I could to be in touch with other volunteers and talk every evening about our experiences in the day and about our feelings.
The refugees are very kind, grateful and amazing people who from we have a lot of to learn. So, I encourage you to join in that awesome organisation if you really want to make the difference.”
Carolina Pau Suriol
Hi there – please read to the end, despite some initial meanderings
When I read the other testimonials here I wholeheartedly agreed with their sentiment and marvelled at the eloquent way they were written. Not wanting to obviously plagiarize (uh oh!) this may not be overtly fluid or fluent, however it is certainly heartfelt – and maybe more importantly true!
So in the style of a certain ‘vintage’ fizzy beverage advert (please don’t consider that any sort of free advertising!) – here goes…
Bridge 2 are: dynamic, efficient, caring, forward thinking, inclusive, forward planning, quick to respond and galvanise, proactive, organized, empowering and provide support with dignity and compassion.
Sam and Sarah are: hardworking (beyond belief), selfless, quick witted (in both senses of the word), jolly, focused, organised, realistic, compassionate, fair, transparent, humane (never mundane!), excellent leaders (by example always!) and have an amazing zest for life and sense of humour.
I could go on and on – Duracell bunny style…
To conclude on a more serious note I’ve volunteered alongside them and then with them on five occasions and am planning a 6th.. In doing so I’ve met and worked alongside some incredible compassionate volunteers from all over the world. We’ve shared the immensely rewarding (sometimes challenging) experience and compared notes on how tired we sometimes were at the end of the day. Come prepared to work hard where necessary! I’ve volunteered alongside a couple of other charities and Bridge 2 are in a league of their own. Don’t delay – volunteer today. You won’t regret it!
P.S. Thanks for reading to the end!
January 15 2017
Some eighteen months ago, when the refugee crisis in Europe was escalating, I 'met' Sarah Griffith in the virtual world.
Within days of seeing a desperate need for help supporting refugees arriving in Calais, she had a team of self- funded volunteers, vans of top quality aid and had co-ordinated with a Spanish medical team to arrive at the same time.
What Sarah and Bridge2 were able to achieve in those ten days was outstanding and set the level in professional response to an unfolding crisis that took the Jungle from a few thousand inhabitants to more than 10,000 residents.
Not only did she keep her volunteers safe, she looked after refugees caught up in the police brutality while maintaining her team's access to the camp.
This was just the start of her support of Jungle residents that went on until the dismantling of the camp. During this time, they built and secured a kitchen serving thousands of meals a day, delivered aid, and throughout supported refugees in a professional and humane way.
Between trips to Nepal and Haiti, Sarah found the time to serve tea and flapjacks to refugees on the streets of Paris before briefing the British Embassy on the situation.
She then moved onto Greece where she has supported two camps, improving the daily life of their residents in practical and effective ways.
I have since met Sarah in real life. Her sense of humanity, her desire to improve the life of others, and her sheer determination in the face of seemingly unsurmountable challenges shines through.
However, she also sees the bigger picture and is clear on the overall aims, carefully building and communicating her strategy - undoubtedly, these skills are key to her success. And, most importantly, no matter what she is facing, her smile and sense of humour never falter.
Donations to Bridge2 are not spent of administration, instead they go directly to the project specified.
By self-funding herself and her volunteers, there is no blurred line or spiralling administration costs and the impact of this should not be under-estimated.
Throughout the current crisis, most NGOs have been slow to act and vast sums of money have been spent away from refugees. This is not the case with Bridge2. I would urge anyone reading this to support Sarah Griffith and Bridge2 - a beacon of hope to many facing hopeless situations.
January 14, 2017
I am writing today to tell you about an extraordinary friendship- a friendship that benefits others even more so than the two people I write about here, myself, and Sarah Griffith of Bridge2.... I leave the place off the end of that name, as I have needed Sarah in places like Haiti, Sri Lanka, France, Greece, and the subject of my story today - Nepal.
Less than 2 weeks after the earthquake struck Nepal in April of 2015, I became aware of a children's home that had collapsed in a very remote area in a National Park on the outskirts of Kathmandu. Crowd sourcing had revealed the general location of this home but there were no coordinates, and the roads were verging on impassable from the account we had. It looked bleak. No shelter, no medical attention, food was running out- and no one seemed able to get to them.
I sent out a broadcast plea for help with every contact I had in the humanitarian sector. Sarah hadn't even left Guernsey yet and was scheduled to leave the next day for Kathmandu. Knowing how busy her first days would be arriving on the scene - I was astonished when she contacted me saying she and her team had made it up the mountain to the Mountain Children's Home Dadagaun. She confirmed everything we had feared. Extensive damage. No doctors. Little food. Only one other group had been there and they could not raise the resources fast enough to help such a large project.
In typical Sarah Griffith preparedness - her team had arrived not only with the funds raised prior to departure to buy food supplies (in mere days I might add) but she brought along a medical team from Spain and had on her team a structural engineer and architect.
Her note that came less than 48 hours after my plea literally reduced me to tears.
Sarah's team decided on that first day after reaching the home that they would dig in and help these people to rebuild lives- literally. Today, when I am forwarded pictures from the home, it is nearly impossible to think that less than 2 years ago, these people, most of them children, were stranded in the mountains of Nepal with nearly everything in their possession in a layer of rubble.
Sarah Griffith and Bridge2 follow through. I know as long as she can get there, she will use every resource she has to make the difference.
Sarah's current crisis with the refugees is enormous. It's a problem that so many NGOs are looking at and simply saying "It's too big".
Sarah will never see it that way.
She will get in there and change the lives for those she can reach - and every bit of support and help she has will motivate her forward. For those that she embraces, it will mean everything.
I urge you to help Sarah with her life's work - in doing so you will help many people across the globe that you will never even meet. But you will know you enriched their lives through Bridge2.
Kristin Smith Morrow, Ohio USA
I met Sarah Griffith in November 2015. We were both staying at the youth hostel in Calais while working in the Calais “Jungle” camp. It was my first foray into the world of aid work, but I’d felt compelled to take action, as did many others, appalled by the lack of response to the crisis from either the French or British governments, and the hostile tone from much of the mainstream media.
Sarah was in Calais with her charity Bridge2, engaged in constructing a “field kitchen” within the Jungle. I visited the site and was impressed by the high level of organisation and efficiency. Although I was working with a different charity, Sarah and I often sat together at breakfast in the hostel (both being “mature” in a predominantly youthful environment). She explained the origins of Bridge2 and her approach to delivering aid in various crisis-hit parts of the world. I was taken with Sarah’s combination of vision, tenacity and focus. It was clear to me that, in the midst of the chaos of the Jungle and the plethora of agencies and micro-charities, Sarah had identified a specific need and then developed and executed a practical, deliverable solution.
I decided to return to the Jungle in early December and had no hesitation in contacting Sarah to offer my services. Sarah had a project for me that made excellent use of my skill set (building an extension to the kitchen) and had funds in place for materials. When I heard that Sarah would be in Calais over Christmas, I jumped at the chance to be part of her team, with more construction work to do. Over the six days I spent alongside her, I learned much more about the operation of Bridge2, and in particular just how much energy, thought and love Sarah puts into running it. And, in the midst of the hard work in difficult conditions, the laughter and esprit de corps made it a Christmas never to forget.
One year on, and Bridge2 is the heart of a refugee camp in Northern Greece. over 300 people, mostly Syrian families are subsisting in a disused Greek army base. Bridge2 is providing food to supplement the meagre rations provided by the authorities, clothes and shoes. But this is not the most important thing that Bridge2 provides. In conditions that could so easily de-humanise and add to the trauma these people have already experienced, Sarah and her team offer dignity, kindness and some kind of hope.
I worked with Sarah and Sam (her son, who has given up his life in London to work full-time in the camp) over Christmas 2016, and once more felt privileged to be a part of such important work - humanitarian in the best sense of the word. Nothing exemplifies this better than having Santa visit the camp (yes, it was me inside the red suit) and, On Christmas Day, calling on each family to hand out bags of “stocking-fillers”, lovingly and carefully selected.
After a long day’s work in the camp, I was content to relax. Not so Sarah and Sam. They would be ordering things by phone, posting on Facebook to keep Bridge2 at the forefront of people’s attention, contacting donors of good and funds.
I was there for nine days, and I found it tough going. How Sarah sustains it for weeks on end is a mystery to me.
Many people I talk to admit to a sense of helplessness in the face of the sheer scale of the global refuge crisis. “But what can I do to make a difference?” is a common question. My answer is simple - do whatever you can.
If you have a little, or a lot of money to spare, donate to Bridge2.
If you have time, find a local group or charity that is working to help refugees.
If you have the time and energy, volunteer with Bridge2.
A little girl walks along a beach. Her father, some way behind, sees her pick something up, carry it to the water’s edge and drop it in. As he approaches, He sees hundreds of starfish stranded on the beach. As his daughter picks up another, he tells her “You can’t save all these starfish.” “No,” she replies “but I can save this one.”
In January of 2013 I decided that I wanted to go to Haiti to work with children. I had never been to Haiti, but I knew I wanted to go on my own. I was not interested in going on a “mission” trip or with any of the organizations that I was able to find online. Through my internet searches, I did however find a place to stay in Port au Prince. I reached out to them to tell them my plans and asked if they could put me in touch with some people that may be helpful. I really wanted to pick people’s brains before I got there. One of the names that they gave me was for a woman that had been working in Haiti since the devastating earthquake struck the country in 2010.
That woman was Sarah Griffith.
Sarah and I began corresponding via email, then Skype, and she answered any and all questions that I had and even some that I hadn’t even thought of! She was always available and was a wealth of information for someone starting out. We became fast friends. Meeting her for the first time in Port au Prince and working alongside her was amazing. I had been following all of posts on Facebook up until that point, but actually seeing her in action was amazing! She is like the Energizer bunny; she keeps going, and going, and going. I have had the privilege of accompanying her to a school in Cite Soleil, an orphanage in Port au Prince, and another school in the mountains above Port au Prince.
I have also watched in awe as she heads off to Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Calais, and now Greece. She has touched the lives of so many people all around the world - and not just the people that she is helping, the volunteers as well. There are hundreds and hundreds of people that would support Sarah till the end of time because she is the real deal. She is so selfless, inspiring, honest, and caring that I often joke with her that I want to be her when I grow up! If I could be half of the woman that she is, I would consider it an honour.
One of the many things that I learned from working in Port au Prince is that there are a lot of people out there that may claim to be doing good, but very few who are genuinely doing it. Sarah is one of those few. I am proud that 4 years later I can call her my friend.
Out of the comfort zone – that was a really important experience for me.
From 28.12.2016 until 04.01.2017 I worked in the Camp Veria. It was my first time in a camp outside Germany and I was very excited about my visit there.
The first day at the camp we have met Sarah and it was amazing what she and Sam already had done for the residents there.
At this time three shops for running and they just implemented the Men’s Space and the Beauty Box for the women.
I recognized that Sarah talked very respectful about and with the residents and it is very important for her that they can keep their dignity.
This is also the concept for the three shops in the camp. Every family can go the shops and have time there to get the things they need. So that was my task for the days there: to fill up the shop for the adults, sort the clothes and to help every person to get good clothes in the shop.
It was amazing for me to get in touch with the people there.
Thank you, Sarah and Sam for this opportunity. It was great to help in the camp and I will come back soon.
So I can recommend every volunteer to work with Sarah and Sam.
They are very powerful and lovely people and what is also important: very professional.