What has volunteering meant to me?

By Amy Arora

Three or four years ago, I watched a ‘One second everyday’ video made by Save the Children. It depicts what war does to children through a video showing one second of a child’s life every day over that year. Kudos to whoever came up with that advertising campaign, because it was moving and powerful and led me to setting up a monthly donation the very next day.

That video was made in 2014 and things have not improved much for children living through conflicts and then being displaced by those conflicts. We have seen boatloads of refugees from Syria and other war-torn places struggle to find peace and sanctuary in a Europe which seems to be building as many metaphorical walls as Trump. And it seems that the old rhetoric of ‘looking after our own’ is with us more and more.

So, this summer, I have opted to try to help the situation by volunteering with Lighthouse Relief, to help to offer psychosocial support to the children living in Ritsona Refugee Camp in Greece. Some disclaimers: I have only been able to offer three and a half weeks of my time, which is nothing really in the context of these children’s lives. I do not speak Arabic or Kurdish and the language barrier matters. However, I am a trained teacher and I find that somehow, I understand children — possibly because I am still a big kid myself. Lighthouse Relief’s Child Friendly Space at Ritsona offers a few hours each day of play, arts and crafts, games, yoga, songs and more to children aged 3 to 12. A programme for preteen girls has also been implemented in the last few weeks. Running this service takes effort, preparation and skill and could not work effectively without its facilitators, the indefatigable Keelin and Tracy, who are constants in a sea of frequently changing volunteers. Despite the setting, a refugee camp, the overwhelming feeling in the CFS is one of positivity and optimism. Keelin herself told me that she believes it is a privilege to be invited to work with these children, and I couldn’t agree more.

Despite my short stint, I have got to know many of the children and have had many hilarious and heartbreaking moments with them. Yesterday, I showed two of them how to make origami birds and was told that, “You, my friend, are very clever.” (Volunteers come and go, so most of the children refer to us as “my friend”. I prefer it to “Miss!”.) Yoga and ballet with three-year-olds is a particularly special experience, as the children squash any pretentiousness and ‘woof’ and ‘miaow’ in downward dog and cat-cow. With the preteen girls, we made galaxy jars and one week on, I am still washing glitter out of my hair. And, the songs. The songs. My favourite part of the day is when we gather into a circle and sing together about baby sharks, bananas, penguins, zooming to the moon and itsy-bitsy spiders. It seems that duck-duck-goose is an eternal favourite of children all over the world.

One girl was asked what her dream was and said that she wants to be a doctor. She is highly intelligent and I have no doubt that she will do it, but the obstacles in her way are high and hard to climb.

It is difficult to imagine what these children have been through and the fact that they have a place to play and express themselves makes a huge difference. As my time at Ritsona comes to an end, I feel overwhelmed by the good which can come out of such a difficult situation. And I feel honoured and proud to have helped even in a small way. I will be back, and in the meantime, I feel happy to know that the safe hands of Lighthouse Relief will be guiding the children on their way.