09 May 2016
Trust your own instincts, go inside, follow your heart. Right from the start. Go ahead and stand up for what you believe in. Lesley Ann Warren
These words are with me now, and feel so very relevant.
I followed my heart last year when I decided to help Refugees from countries that were spewing bombs and hatred at them causing them to flee for their lives - tumbling into Europe running, dashing, not knowing what darkness lay ahead. Following my heart which was beating faster and faster - led to some of the biggest mental challenges of my life, as hatred for both me and my work came thick and fast from a very few people living close by. I faced it head on, it was hard but with the support of my many lovely friends and family, I managed to forge ahead and ignore the haters - you see I was following my heart...
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Martin Luther King, Jr.
There are still those that do not agree helping is the right way forward - however, I disagree, but am totally accepting of that difference of opinion. Some of us have more choices than others.
The subject has raised blood pressures around the world more than many other contentious subjects I could mention. There has been misinformation, hysteria and some genuine people showing genuine fear of the unknown. But what has become clear to me now is that the only way to curb fear is to try and search for the truth and not rely on others ill informed un-researched information.
John had contacted me a while before about the possibility of us both creating a mobile kitchen somewhere in Greece - I liked the idea and he set of for Europe on an exploratory trip to have a reckie. I got a call to say that he had ended up in a dis-used Army Camp that was being set up as a small receiving camp. There were derelict buildings and a space for tents and the potential to create storage/kitchen/school and other spaces for the Refugees too. John soon built up a valuable relationship with the army who would be in charge of this place which is very close to their Helicopter Base.
John and Paul were there but would both have to go back to the UK soon for a while, so I got sucked into going there and working with them! What a surprise!! Luckily I had Zoe Warlow call me to volunteer with me for 2 weeks. Bingo! Supporters donated both money and ‘things’ from the Amazon wish list in true Bridge2 style!
How hard could this be?
We booked Easy Jet and packed our bags - all 5 of them! Zoe and I took off.
John was there at the airport to collect us and we zoomed over to Alexandriea about an hour from Thessaloniki airport. Straight onto the camp to meet lots of new faces - some from the army some volunteers and of course the camp residents. There was work to be done!
The next 4 weeks went in a whirlwind of working to get the ‘free shop’ flowing smoothly - sorting out clothing and shoes, introducing food to supplement what the army provide, and generally working on systems for the residents to feel like they had a little reason to carry on - some of them have suffered and survived the most unimaginable events.
The medical issues on camp are ongoing - many and varied - the whole range of problems you would expect with nearly 800 people living in such close proximity to one another. From epilepsy to hair nits, from broken limbs to bloodied noses. Everything under the sun and everyday produced another drama.
We faced dramatic flooding of the tents, upset and angry people, intense heat, we faced love, deep sadness, despair and drama full on, we had a visit from Clowns without Borders who really lifted spirits right when it was needed, and did our best to cope with it all with love and kindness.
There are pregnant women - tiny babies - old men and women and children - lots of children.
John Sloan needed a rest and needed to go home so I was going to be there to hold the fort until Paul Hutchings returned. I actually extended my stay because of a change of plan so there was continuity. Paul arrived the day before I left and I could feel a sense of impending gloom - I love my home and Island - but this place had got under my skin......
I am a control freak - what about my shop - what about the systems - what about - what about what about whatabout...........of course it would all carry on without me but did I want to carry on with out it, was more the question.... I nearly changed the flight again - but thought better of it. In fact it will be good for me to be out of the way and then Paul can change things to his way without me breathing down his neck!
The compassion and humility of the people on camp really got to me - I managed to, I hope, start to build some trust and make the people realise we are there to help and support - from a little suspicion at the start I think we have managed to to gain at least a little respect for the work done by the volunteers to try and make things a little tiny bit more bearable in traumatised lives.
We had the army personnel bringing us donations from their families....
The stories are heartbreaking..........from the lady who told me her nephew had been killed just the day before, in an airstrike in Damascus, she wept in my arms and showed me his picture - the man who told me he came over in a boat so full he was amazed they did not sink - another who saw dead babies on the shore line - the young man who wept when telling me he missed his mother, the man who has shrapnel in his eye, the lady who fears she will never see her husband again, from the amounts the smugglers took from defenceless people and told them a pack of lies about what they could do once in mainland Europe, from the little boy of just 6 who has half a head of hair and skin disfigurement because his house was bombed - BUT he survived just....... and so it goes on.....and on...
Greece has opened its heart to both the Refugees and us - I have never in my life seen such generosity - both practically and spiritually. From Anna at the Hotel Manthos who surprised me everyday with her open and warm heart,
and Tassos who made me laugh so much, to our local Yoghurt supplier George, the shop in town that supplies many of the items we stock in the shop and gives us donations on a regular basis, to the restaurants who treat us like royalty, the local chemist who gave generous supplies - to the Army in charge of the space in Camp I can honestly say many like Petros Charizopoulos have become friends and respected workmates - we are in this together. And I cannot forget one of the biggest personalities and a huge part of our lives in Camp Alexandriea, Nikos Lioliopoulos, a special man with a huge and open heart - he visits us most days and gets his hands dirty with trips of sick people to the Health Centre, runs to the chemist for drugs and most importantly for all, the arranging of football matches and training for the residents - the article about a match he arranged with a close by town, appeared in one of the most respected papers in Greece - he is a local hero!
The volunteers I met and worked with while on camp have my deep respect and thanks for being willing to work with me as part of an important team - and being tolerant of my demanding and bossy nature! Dee Kaur, Naseem Sarwar, Sofia Goncalves, David Barham, Corry Aarnoutse, Katina, Pelle Chan and the latest volunteer Anna the nearly Dr. And to the other organisations, namely UNHCR and Mohamed H Othman, who is doing an incredible job not only with Alexandriea but many other places too - never have I met a man who has a coffee cup glued to one hand and a phone to his ear permanently - but he gets stuff DONE! amazing - the girls from UNHCR and the girls from IRC what a total pleasure to work with them all - so dedicated and professional at all times. And the medics on camp too they are SO needed
So to the people who think John Paul and I should not spend time on this - we cannot and will not close our hearts and we do not apologise for that - and to those of you who support us in our work thank you from the bottom of our hearts to the bottom of yours - words cannot convey how grateful we are to you listening to us harping on and somehow you keep digging deep in your pockets for us too! On behalf of those we are helping our deepest admiration and thanks.
And then I arrive home to a wonderful note from an elderly gentleman who wanted to donate as he too was a Refugee. It reads “Thank you for the work you are doing for the Refugees in Europe, I was an Evacuee in June 1940”
That my friends is what it is all about!
So if you would like to donate a little or even a lot - please help us to help them lead a more dignified and comfortable time in Greece. www.bridge2.gg
To John and Paul, 2 special men now ensconsed in my life,
these next 2 items are my favourite quote and little story of all.... and they keep me going when times seem tough
and now I dedicate them to YOU both: