My name is Sam, and I am a long term volunteer with CalAid in the Epirus region of Greece. I volunteered from the 26th September until the 17th December last year. Myself and some fellow long term volunteers have just driven back from England to Greece.
In Greece we have many jobs and roles, the main one being NFI ( Non- Food Items) distribution - primarily clothes and hygiene. We distribute across 13 sites in the region, using our “pop-up shop” system. This allows us to distribute in a way that is calm and dignified. We prioritise choice, so residents of sites can decide which clothes they like and want to take. This means we must take a lot of clothes to each distribution, ensuring everyone of every size has an equal choice of high quality clothes. This was always tricky when CalAid did not have its own car. This, and the cost of hiring a car indefinitely motivated myself and the other volunteers to source vehicles back in the UK. Our calls were answered by two incredibly kind supporters back in the UK which gave the go-ahead for a road trip back to Greece when we returned after Christmas.
We were donated a people carrier and a small van. This meant that as well as ourselves, we were also able to bring back sorted donations of items we were short of in Greece.
We set off from the UK on the morning of the 4th and reached Calais in the afternoon. The next day we volunteered at the Help Refugees warehouse in Calais, lending a hand wherever it was needed. For this, we were joined by two former CalAid volunteers who weren’t able to join the road trip, but wanted to help nonetheless. We were all very happy to be able to help in Calais, and it felt good to get back to volunteering.
On the 6th, we drove to Paris where we dropped off some things for the volunteers there that we had been given in Calais. We also picked up another volunteer who was joining us on the trip to Greece. We then drove on towards Stuttgart, where we spent the night. Despite the long drive and late arrival, spirits were high when we arrived; everyone was happy to be on the road and making some progress. It was uplifting to experience the generosity of our host in Stuttgart who, despite only knowing one of us, had allowed us all to spend the night at her house.
From Stuttgart, we set out to Lake Como in Northern Italy. This stage of the journey took us through the picturesque Swiss Alps; however we were aware that despite the cold and snow of the landscape we travelled through, it was mild compared to the severe weather front that is currently hitting mainland Greece and the islands. After spending the night at a B&B in Como, we continued south, driving to Rimini on the Italian coast. On the way, we stopped in San Marino to check out the incredible Mount Titano.
The next day started with a very cold swim in the Adriatic sea and finished with us boarding the overnight ferry from Brindisi, a port in Southern Italy. After a bit of an interrupted night on the choppy sea, we arrived in Igoumenitsa, Greece at 6:30am. From there, it was a short drive to the city of Ioannina, the capital of the Epirus region, where the CalAid flats are.
By the time we arrived, the drivers were tired after 2691.6 kilometres on the road, but we were all very happy to have arrived and excited to pick up where we left off and get to work.
The vehicles will be of immense use. They allow us to offer more choice to refugees at the camps we serve, some of which are over an hour and a half drive away. They also allow CalAid funds to be spent on other things; the money saved from no longer having to hire cars is equal to all the costs CalAid paid to build a camp’s school floor and provide hygiene to an entire camp for a month. Due to the ever changing situation on the ground, having our own vehicles allows CalAid to be flexible and respond to developments as they occur.
The next few months, with their harsh winter conditions and potential return of thousands of refugees to Greece will present a lot of challenges, but we are all looking forward to being able to help however we can, and make a difference.
Roll on the next few months!