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How (and why) to volunteer at refugee camps in Greece

April 10, 2016: Written after a month volunteering at Chios and Ritsona, working with refugees mostly coming in from Syria. Read about the experience here: http://meaninglite.tumblr.com/archive — first post is March 19.

Before I went to volunteer with the refugee crisis, I thought it would be a huge commitment to go and do. It’s not. I was amazed how easy it was to just show up, with no particular pre-planning, and participate.

I also found it really worthwhile to go- for my own edification as well as for the impact on site and at home that my work had.

If you want to come, here are some useful roles:

  • Teachers of English as a second language for adults and children- whether or not you have any particular certification
  • People who speak Arabic, Kurdish, or Faarsi
  • People who speak Greek
  • People who are good with kids
  • People who are construction savvy or otherwise handy
  • People willing to lend a hand with whatever is needed
  • Good listeners who can write

If you are creative, this work can use all of your skills.

Camps are mapped here, and there is typically an informative (if messy) Facebook group you can find for up to date information on each. Search the name of a given camp in Facebook and see what you find– groups are great for getting directions, ideas of what’s needed, finding other camps.

When you get to a camp, you can show up on site and just ask around or look around to find useful work.

It is common to come for just a week. This was a huge surprise to me. Longer is better, but a week is all that many people can manage away from their regular lives. One week in this job feels much longer than it is.

If you can cover the airfare, the rest can be pretty cheap. Specifically for Ritsona, you can get to Chalkida on a fast train from Athens and share rides to the camp with fellow volunteers. The hotel we went to, the nicest in town, had us for 35 a night with decent Wifi and a beautiful breakfast you could pack for lunch. Greece is in a recession, so groceries are inexpensive.

But why am I telling you this? Why encourage you to go? You might think it’s more effective to send money, since that’s a more efficient way to give humanitarian aid than sending people.

Money helps with the process of relief aid, but in this case, it’s more important to share awareness and understanding. The political problem is bigger than the physical one: the humanitarian problem would go away if the people in these camps had someplace to go.

Thus, I’d encourage you to go and meet these people, if you can, and try to get a grip on their situation. Feel the effect of politics, and spread their stories. When you’re there- help, of course. But when you get back, use the tools and connections they don’t have to seek change.


Originally published at meaninglite.tumblr.com.