By Athens, Greece Relief Team (Originally in English)
In response to Master’s loving instruction, our international Association members have traveled to different areas, bringing humanitarian aid where refugees are in need. One of those places is Athens, Greece, where over 10,000 refugees are currently staying, with most camps filled to maximum capacity. Since November of 2015, a team of our Association members has operated relief efforts for these refugees in Athens.
Sorting Clothing at Elliniko Warehouse for the Refugees, Athens, Greece – March 13, 2016
On March 13, our relief team in Athens went to a warehouse in Elliniko, a suburb of Athens, where campsites have been newly opened for refugees from Syria and Iraq. When we arrived, many volunteers were already there, busy sorting all kinds of goods contributed by people from around the world. Because it was a Sunday, many local Greek people came along with their children, and also many students were there to help out.
Our friend Fadi, who is in charge of management at the Elliniko warehouse, told us that the current refugee situation was in a state of emergency, so the warehouse is opening seven days a week from 10am to 8pm. We were assigned to sort clothing for children and women.
Meanwhile, we got a phone call from our Idomeni team requesting rain boots for the refugees there due to continuous rain at the border. After receiving permission from Fadi, we collected all the available boots from the warehouse and took them to our workplace near Piraeus Port with the help of a Greek volunteer driver. With 300 additional pairs purchased by us, we were able to deliver 400 pairs of rain boots to Idomeni today. Tomorrow we will collect 300 to 400 more pairs.
While working with the local volunteers, we were very moved by the warm and kind hearts of the Greek people, who have selflessly been helping the refugees in need. We send our gratitude and appreciation to all the people of Greece. May Heaven bless Greece!
Bringing Aid to Refugees at Piraeus Port, Athens, Greece – March 17 to 19, 2016
Currently at Piraeus Port in Athens, Greece, there are an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 refugees living in desperate conditions. Sixty percent of those seeking refuge in Greece and around Europe are women and children, primarily coming from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, according to The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Despite the Greece-Macedonia border closure, many refugees are still arriving at Piraeus Port and they plan on heading to Idomeni. Volunteers are making efforts to inform the new arrivals about the current situation.
From March 17 to 19, our relief team worked together with several humanitarian groups to provide the refugees with basic needs such as food, clothing and most of all, love. We have been helping with the distribution of vegan food and washing up at Gate 2 of Piraeus Port, where a kitchen has been set up by individual volunteers and refugees. The person currently in charge of the kitchen, Katrina, said they needed help as always, and confirmed that we could cook there. The system is very open, flexible and supportive.
We also helped sort items at the Elliniko warehouse, where contributions from all over Europe arrive every day. The manager of the warehouse, Fadi, expressed much appreciation for our team’s help. The atmosphere among all the volunteers was very loving, as we all aimed for the same purpose: to help the refugees in need.
We pray that the refugees can soon find a safe and peaceful home.
Screening Films for the Refugees at Elliniko Camp and Victoria Square, Athens, Greece – March 20 to 26, 2016
On March 20, we visited Elliniko camp where over 2,000 Afghan refugees were staying. Over the following two days, we screened movies for them to watch.
On March 23, we prepared packets containing a variety of nuts for the children and local people.
On the morning of March 26, we went to Victoria Square in Athens to distribute the packs of nuts, and also talked with the refugees. We encouraged them to wait patiently and think positively while governments were working to resolve the situation in the best way possible. In the afternoon, we entertained hundreds of children by making origami, and painting with them. We also played animated films, sharing happy moments with the refugees.
We thank the loving effort of the many volunteers from different organizations, who work tirelessly to bring aid to the thousands of refugees around Greece and elsewhere. With God’s grace, we pray that the refugees’ situation will improve.
Organizing Fun Programs for Children and Visiting a New Refugee Camp in Athens, Greece – March 31 to April 3, 2016
On March 31 and April 1, our relief team in Athens distributed a total of 250 insulating mats to the refugees who are living in tents at Piraeus Port. They were grateful for the assistance. The mats were acquired from a local store that kindly gave us a big discount. We organized fun, academic programs for the children at Elliniko camp, as they do not have the chance to go to school. In the evening, we watched movies with the refugees. We also distributed vegan snacks at Victoria Square.
On April 2, we visited a new refugee camp on the outskirts of Athens, where the refugees lovingly greeted us. A family explained to us how the new camp worked, and invited us to their tent for a delicious Syrian coffee with other volunteers. They told us about their hope to cross the border and join their relatives in Europe. We gave the children some drawing materials, and almost right away they gave us their artwork as gifts in return. Later, we went to the Elliniko warehouse to sort and pack donated clothes and footwear for the refugees.
The next morning, our relief team formed two groups. One group went to the new camp to bring the fun, academic program to the children, and the other group headed to Piraeus Port to distribute bags of nuts to hundreds of refugees. At the port, we met a retired doctor from Spain who came to Greece after seeing the refugee camps on television. She felt compelled to help. This is just one example of the hundreds of individual volunteers who are here to help on their own accord without being part of a NGO. In the evening, we returned to Piraeus Port for a new movie screening, sharing laughter and moments of happiness with the 200 participants. Many children greeted us with hugs and kisses, because for them we are not just volunteers, but friends.
Assisting Refugees and Offering Fun Activities for Children at Piraeus Port, Elliniko, and Ritsona Camps, Athens, Greece – April 5 to 8, 2016
On April 5, our relief team in Athens spent most of today at Piraeus Port camp, distributing packages of peanuts and raisins, talking with our refugee friends, and playing with the children. Noticing that these bright children love to learn, we offered them an English class. We brought colorful mats where the youngsters could comfortably sit, and laughed and sang together as the children learned the English alphabet. In the evening, we screened a popular cartoon movie with Arabic subtitles for the youngsters to enjoy. Some journalists from a Greek TV station interviewed us about our relief work and our Association.
We also met a kind and generous 71-year-old Syrian lady who had lived in Greece most of her life. Taking a 2-hour train ride each way, she comes every day to Piraeus Port to comfort and assist the refugees. Today, she had taken a refugee who needed medical attention to a Greek hospital, and waited for him while he received the necessary treatment. The refugees lovingly refer to her as “the Syrian Mother Teresa.”
The next day, we went to Elliniko camp and spent time with the children there. We gave them paper and crayons, and they began to express their emotions through their creative works. Several of them drew pictures of the homes they had left behind, some drew hearts that were bleeding, and others drew the refugee camps and the fences. We were deeply touched by their art. In the evening we screened a movie with Arabic subtitles, which both the children and the adults enjoyed.
On the morning of April 7, we returned to Elliniko camp to deliver a vanload of blankets, thermoses, baby bottles, tea and soy milk to the people who were living outside the main camp. The refugees there were very grateful to receive these much-needed items. They told us that some families did not even have tents, and were sleeping with their young children on the sidewalk. We promised to buy the needed supplies and come back with them as soon as we could.
In the afternoon, we went back to Piraeus Port camp where we offered a second English class for the children, played ball with them, and screened another cartoon movie. We also bought a new pair of glasses with the correct prescription for a young man. The ophthalmologist offered us a large discount. The young refugee was extremely grateful to be able to see clearly again.
On April 8, we traveled about 80 kilometers north of Athens to a camp in Ritsona where only Syrian refugees stay. We met many thoughtful people, both the refugees and the volunteers working there. Many men helped us distribute 1,000 packages of nuts and raisins tent by tent to everyone in the camp. We also played with the children and did artwork with them. We brought a new English dictionary to a 17-year-old boy who told us previously that he wanted to learn English so he could attend school and start a new life in a new country. He was very happy to receive the gift.
Providing Supplies at Elliniko and Ritsona Camps, Spending Time with Children at Elliniko, and Distributing Alternative Living Flyers in Central Athens, Greece – April 9 to 12, 2016
On April 9, our relief team in Athens delivered 900 pairs of new summer shoes desperately needed by the Syrian refugees in Ritsona camp, as many of them had only one pair that was badly worn and too hot for the Greek climate. The refugees were so happy and said that the supplies must have been sent by God. To help them safely build campfires for the evenings, we distributed metal saws, shovels, picks and empty bags for making sandbags. At the store in Athens where we purchased all the tools, the generous storekeeper offered us a big discount and told us that he wanted to help the refugees in any way he could.
The next day, some of us went to central Athens to distribute Alternative Living flyers. More than 2,000 people graciously accepted them, and many asked about our Association and the vegan lifestyle. One woman, a vegan for 12 years, asked for a large number of flyers to share with her friends and family. A Greek television station also interviewed us, asking about our Association and our relief activities.
Other team members distributed 25 packages to families staying outside of Elliniko camp. Each packaged contained a tent, a warm blanket, a sleeping mat, a thermos, and some black tea. These were the most-needed items based on a list provided by a 17-year-old Syrian boy who spoke English and was willing to help. In the evening, we spent time with the children, doing artwork and watching a cartoon with them.
On the morning of April 11, we purchased more tents and other basic supplies upon hearing more families were arriving at Elliniko. Afterwards, we spent more time with the children. At the end of the evening when we were leaving, a man showed us a kind message translated by his phone: “You are the people of your humanity. I love you from the bottom of my heart.” A 71-year-old lady gave us a box of delicious Syrian sweets that she had lovingly made especially for us. We were all touched and inspired by her thoughtfulness and purity.
On April 12, we delivered 21 more prepared packages to the newly arrived families in Elliniko. In addition, we provided diapers, baby bottles, as well as kettles for boiling water. We also had gifts for our young Syrian helper and his friend: new, warm jackets, a new set of clothing, and two pairs of new shoes. They were both very happy to receive the items. Late in the afternoon, we returned to do art with the young children. Many children enjoyed coloring and drawing colorful scenes, which they enthusiastically presented to us. A few of the children were remarkably artistic. One of our team members, an art teacher, presented each of these gifted artists with a beautiful new sketchbook and some markers. She also gave this small group a personalized art class.
Sharing Art Gift Packages with Refugee Children and Distributing Alternative Living Flyers in Athens, Greece – April 13 to 16, 2016
Upon learning that many children longed to have their own art and educational supplies, our relief team in Athens prepared 500 gift packages for them. Each gift contained a large pack of crayons, 24 colors of modeling clay, pencils, two notebooks, an advanced level coloring/learning book, two sketchbooks and some balloons. We distributed 160 gift packs in Ritsona camp, 160 in Malakasa camp and 180 at docks E1.5 and E2 at Piraeus Port. The children were very excited to receive these gifts and immediately began to use them with joyful smiles. In one area, we ran out of packages, but one of the children quickly began sharing his with others. We also brought along some string and beads, and showed the children how to make colorful bracelets. Some of them made us bracelets as thank you gifts.
Ritsona camp is in a wooded area in the countryside where there are a lot of mosquitoes. To make the refugees’ life more comfortable, we delivered 240 packages of mosquito repellent coils to the camp. The Chinese shop owner where we bought the mosquito coils gave us a very special discount. The camp volunteers asked us the name of the supplier, so they could order more in the future. We were pleased to see that the children at Ritsona cheerfully collect and dispose of all the garbage to keep the camp clean.
We continued to offer art classes to the children at Elliniko camp and dock E1, and to show them movies with Arabic and Farsi subtitles. One evening, we set up an impromptu outdoor theater and had great fun screening Loving the Silent Tears at the beautiful Elliniko beach seaside park. Many people came to enjoy this magnificent musical.
Over these four days, we have distributed almost 12,000 Alternative Living flyers in the Greek language to the lovely and kind people here. Many people gave us a thumbs-up and told us the vegan lifestyle is the best for our planet. We gave a flyer to one taxi driver who later made a special trip back to visit us and told us that what we are doing is very important and the message is absolutely true. We were also happily surprised when one vendor, upon receiving the flyer, excitedly asked us to give him two more.
We have also ordered more flyers in the Arabic language, which we will distribute to the refugees. On the way back, we stopped at Bamboo Vegan, a vegan grocery store in Athens. The owner told us that he has been in business for four years and, despite the difficult economy in Greece, his business is still doing well and that the number of vegan customers is growing. He was very excited to see our Alternative Living flyer, and happily accepted a large stack to share with his customers. He was delighted to see the international support for veganism from our Association members.
Providing Shoes, Clothing and More Art Packages for Children and Working with a Brave Syrian Boy, Athens, Greece – April 17 to 19, 2016
From April 17 to 19, our relief team in Athens continued helping refugees at Elliniko camp and at Port Piraeus. We distributed another 320 packages containing educational and art supplies to the children in both places. As we helped sort donated items at a big warehouse in Elliniko, we found several pairs of shoes for children. This made us happy because we noticed that before participating in our games many of the children had to remove their shoes that were far too big for them.
As more basic necessities were needed for the families living outside the main Elliniko camp, we purchased and distributed hot water thermoses, 50 bars of laundry soap and head shawls for the young girls. We also bought fleece neck warmers for the children because Elliniko is right by the ocean and it is very cold and windy at night. To thank our young Syrian friend who informed us of the required items, we brought him a new shirt, pants, and shoes.
We learned that REMAR, a Spanish NGO dedicated to improving the living conditions of those less fortunate, needed additional funds in order to purchase large tents to be used as a school and a distribution center for the new Malakasa camp. Thus, we contributed EUR 800 to them along with 100 kilograms of peanuts, several boxes of raisins and dates, and some colorful head shawls for the refugees they were serving.
We often offer English classes to the beautiful children at dock E1, and a 15-year-old Syrian boy has been enthusiastically interpreting the classes for us into Arabic. The boy told us that in Syria his family had been wealthy, but one day, both their big house and the factory his father managed were destroyed. In addition, their bank suddenly went bankrupt, leaving nothing except the money in their pockets at the time. Although this boy had been wearing the same shirt for many days, he assured us he was fine and needed nothing. We were deeply touched by his exemplary dignity, and bought him new clothing items.
At every opportunity, we continued to distribute Greek language Alternative Living flyers throughout Athens. We have now printed the Alternative Living flyer in Arabic and will distribute these around Port Piraeus over the next few days. We did a second screening of Loving the Silent Tears at Elliniko and screened a cartoon movie with Arabic and Farsi subtitles.
Saying Farewell to Part of Our Relief Team and Providing Toys for Refugee Children, Athens, Greece – April 20, 2016
On April 20, our relief team in Athens said a sad farewell to a large group of our Association members from Korea. Some had been team members here in Athens, while others had been on Chios Island, joining us for a day before returning home. Although they had worked tirelessly for many weeks, their faces looked radiant, relaxed, and peaceful. We wish them a safe journey home. We already miss them!
We then went out to buy a new supply of toys and games, and headed to Elliniko camp to share them with the children. How they loved the new art supplies, balloons and hula hoops! They particularly loved the big, bouncing balls. We were impressed how they stood patiently in a long line to wait their turn.
In the evening, we went to Dock E1 at Port Piraeus. Many children raced out to meet us, shouting happily and asking what cartoon we would show. Before the movie began, we distributed Arabic language Alternative Living flyers to the parents. We also brought some Arabic songs, and when we played them, the children began to dance with us in a big circle, clapping and cheering. They then enjoyed the movie. We were happy to see how many parents and teenage children also enjoyed the good time together.
Providing Cleaning Supplies for Ritsona Camp and Fun Activities for Children near Athens, Greece – April 21, 2016
On April 21, our entire relief team traveled to Ritsona camp, about 70 kilometers north of Athens. This camp now houses around 700 people in family-sized military-style tents. One issue at this site is that there is no well, so all water for drinking, cleaning, personal hygiene, and clothes washing must be brought in by truck. We brought some cleaning supplies for the residents, and gave them to the camp manager. The camp is located in a wooded area, and the people told us that there were many mosquitoes, so today we distributed mosquito repellent coils to each family. We had distributed summer shoes to them last week, and were happy to see that many people were wearing them.
In the afternoon, we spent time with the children, playing with the big bouncy balls, the beach balls and the hula hoops. Also, we provided art activities for some of the children, including face painting. We brought along a mirror so they could see themselves and laugh. In addition, we brought several bags of balloons, and the children lined up, patiently waiting while our team members inflated them.
Although basic food was being provided, the refugees longed to cook for themselves, and to enjoy healthier and more traditional dishes. There were two small gas burners at the camp, and today some of the women were cooking a meal of potatoes, onions and tomatoes. We learned that basic vegan foods such as rice, lentils, oil, and salt, would help them prepare simple meals. Also, we realized they would need some large pots, and additional burners. We told them we would do our best to provide these for them.
Food and Cooking Supplies for Ritsona Camp, and Spending Time with Children at Port Piraeus and Elliniko Camp, Athens, Greece – April 22, 2016
On April 22, a few of our relief team members in Athens spent the day purchasing food and cooking supplies for the families at Ritsona camp to enable them to cook their own food. We ordered hundreds of kilos of rice, lentils, bulgur, some salt, and 150 bottles of oil. We also ordered fresh tomatoes, onions and cucumbers, as well as pita bread. In addition, we bought a pot for each family at Ritsona. The vendor, upon learning that the purchase was for the refugees, gave us a generous discount. We bought five new gas burners and a metal stand on which the burners could sit. We have been making arrangements with the people at the camp to distribute these items early next week.
The rest of the team drove to Dock E1 at Port Piraeus and Elliniko camp to bring children supplies including bouncy balls, nail polish, hair brushes, coloring books, balloons, hair clips, new toys and other gifts. The children were delighted to see the new bouncy balls. We began to brush and “style” the hair for the little girls, put the new hair clips in their hair and painted their fingernails. What fun for all of us! Some of the mothers invited us to their tents, asking if we would also paint their fingernails. This we happily did, and were rewarded with their warm smiles.
We saw one refugee man breaking a loaf of bread into tiny pieces. He told us that he loved the birds, and tried to feed them with whatever bread was left over. Our hearts were deeply touched by his kindness and compassion. One refugee woman had a new baby, only 16 days old. We joined the parents in welcoming this new soul into the world.
Bringing Food Supplies to Refugees Living Independently, and Providing Fun Activities for Children, Athens, Greece – April 23 to 24, 2016
On April 23, our relief team in Athens continued to purchase cooking items for Ritsona camp, including 155 pots, a 25-kilogram bag of cumin, 150 wooden stirring spoons and several other items. These supplies will help enable the families there to begin to prepare some of their own food. We repackaged the cumin into bags, one for each of the 155 families.
In the afternoon, we received an emergency message from a group of refugees who lived in a formerly vacant school. They were independently taking care of themselves there, but had run short of many food items. Thus, we quickly purchased fresh tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, rice, lentils and chickpeas, and delivered them to the refugees at the school. We were happy to see how they had organized themselves, and how they were working diligently to create new, independent lives.
The next day, in the early morning, we visited the area near Dock E1 at Port Piraeus where additional tents had been setup to accommodate newly arrived refugees, and distributed bags of peanuts. We then went to spend time with the children in both the Dock E1 and Elliniko areas. They were, as always, very happy to see our van. In the evening, we showed the children a cartoon movie in Elliniko.
Five of our team members from Munich, Germany left for home and fortunately, two new members arrived from the United States. Another new team from Formosa arrived and spent the day with us in Athens before taking the ferry to Chios Island to help the refugees there. We are grateful for the enthusiasm, generosity, and the tireless efforts of all our relief team members from all over the world.
Bringing Fresh Vegetables and Cooking Supplies to Ritsona Camp, Athens, Greece – April 25 to 27, 2016
As many refugees in Ritsona camp told our relief team in Athens that they longed for fresh vegetables and to cook traditional dishes for themselves, we spent three days purchasing hundreds of kilos of fresh vegetables, seasonings, and cooking items for them. Then on April 26, we drove to Ritsona camp and distributed a total of 155 bags of food. Each tent was able to receive a bag filled with fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and onions. We were so glad to see that the children immediately started eating the fresh food and many families happily started cooking with the produce.
The next day, we returned to Ritsona camp with two vans fully loaded with another 155 big bags of gifts for the refugees. Each bag contained a new cooking pot, sponges for cleanup, fresh pita bread, salt, cumin, black pepper, several cucumbers, one liter of vegetable oil and two bags of peanuts and raisins. The refugees smiled as we arrived, and immediately began helping us to distribute the items. Many women thanked us for the gift and one Syrian man thanked us by singing a song, which said that all people on Earth are one family. Some of the families invited us into their tent for a visit. We were very happy to spend time with them and they seemed interested in learning about the vegan lifestyle.
In addition, we delivered five cases of fresh cucumbers, a bushel of fresh tomatoes, three bushels of onions, four large bottles of vegetable oil, and hundreds of kilograms of rice, lentils and bulgur to the 350 refugees who are living in a school building. They were very grateful to receive these much-needed items, and started preparing the fresh vegetables immediately.
Whenever we can, we continue to distribute Alternative Living flyers in the Greek language. The people here are very loving and receptive. One older couple, after reading about the vegan lifestyle, came back to thank us, saying that this message is very important for Greece. When another man read the flyer, he told our team member that she must be filled with love to spread this good news. When one man asked how to find vegan food, we pointed out our website, and also told him about an excellent raw vegan restaurant here in Athens.
Providing Fresh Produce for Refugees at Port Piraeus and Ritsona Camp, Athens, Greece – April 28 to 29, 2016
Many refugees have been living in an area between docks E1 and E2 at Port Piraeus. Their living conditions are difficult here, and they told us that one food item they longed for was fresh fruit. Thus, we purchased 74 kilograms of delicious apples and 133 kilograms or fresh bananas. We gave the cases of fruit to REMAR, a Spanish volunteer association that has been providing daily snacks for the refugees in this area. They were surprised and very happy to receive these items, and said they would quickly distribute them.
The Greek government has been encouraging all the refugees camped around Port Piraeus to move to new and better camps. We visited Skaramagas, one of the new camps, and were so glad to see that new mobile homes were being provided there for the refugees.
We then bought 92 kilograms of fresh green beans and 215 kilograms of fresh tomatoes for the refugees at Ritsona camp. We made up 155 gift bags, each containing a large bunch of fresh green beans, several tomatoes, four packages of peanuts and raisins, pita bread, and a large package of either bulgur or lentils. We took these gift bags to Ritsona camp, where the refugees were waiting to help with the distribution. Some families immediately began preparing the green beans and food in their new cooking pots. They invited us to sit with them, and thanked us many times for the supplies. The children also happily invited us to dance. We felt very uplifted on the journey home.
Providing Fun Activities for Children at Elliniko Camp and Dock E1 Camp at Port Piraeus, Athens, Greece – May 1, 2016
It was Easter weekend in Greece and most shops were closed during the holy days. Therefore, we took the opportunity over the past two days to pray and meditate for the well-being of both the refugees and the people of Greece, and for world peace.
In the morning, we went to Elliniko camp and spent a few hours with the children, painting their fingernails, brushing the girls’ hair, skipping, and playing with the bouncy balls. The children were delighted to see us, and asked us when we were coming back to show them an evening “cinema”.
In the evening, we went to dock E1 camp. Most of the refugees had been moved from other locations on Port Piraeus, but many still remained in the area between docks E1 and E2, with most of them still at E1. The children were delighted to see our van arrive. We showed them a movie and were happy to see that many parents and young adults also gathered around to watch. When the movie ended, some of the men provided us with traditional songs from their cell phones, which we were able to play for them through the loudspeakers. What fun we all had dancing together!
Bringing Supplies for Refugees at Ritsona and Elliniko Camps, Athens, Greece – May 3 to 4, 2016
On May 3, after a morning visit to the Central Market in Athens for fresh produce, our relief team packed 180 bags for families at Ritsona camp, which is situated one hour north of Athens on an old army base site. The bags each contained fresh tomatoes, zucchini, rice, peanuts and raisins, and a set of plastic knives and forks for the families. As the camp has a total of 45 pregnant women and mothers who are breastfeeding, larger bags were prepared providing them with the extra nutrition needed.
At Ritsona, the refugees enthusiastically helped us with the distribution, carrying the heavy bags of fresh produce, and ensuring we give extra to the right tents where the pregnant women and mothers who are breastfeeding live.
Most of the approximate 800 refugees live in canvas tents in a small woodland, which is no longer muddy thanks to the more pleasant weather conditions. We saw improvements each time we went to the camp, as the people there settle into being a community. Over our many visits, we have noticed the camp residents seem happier, and for the first time we saw many men playing football while the women prepared food for their families in the pots we had provided days before.
The next day, May 4, we shopped in Athens for some small items to put together a kit for many families. We purchased razors, mirrors, tweezers and combs, in addition to nail clippers and bottles of hand sanitizer we had already prepared. We also bought a professional hair clipper for a refugee who used to be a barber so that he could provide a service to other residents at his camp.
Later in the day, the team formed two groups: half going to the very large warehouse at Elliniko, which is situated at a former airport that was constructed for the 2004 Olympic Games here in Athens. Many different camps are within this complex and are home to at least 2,000 refugees living in the abandoned buildings. There we joined others volunteers sorting the huge amount of boxes containing clothes, food items etc., arriving daily from all over the world.
The other half of the team spent time with the children making friendship bracelets and teaching them to plait. Both boys and girls enjoyed the activity and the vegan chocolate treats we shared.
We were so grateful for the opportunity to share Master’s blessings with these lovely people!
Providing Bread and Supplies at Piraeus Port and a Movie at Elliniko Camp, Athens, Greece – May 6, 2016
On the morning of May 6, we went to Piraeus Port where approximately 2,000 refugees were either living in the two terminal buildings there or in nylon tents outside. We were sad to see the deteriorated conditions there since our last visit. We gave out some baby clothes and blankets to one family who needed them. We also distributed some flat bread which the refugees had requested, and they were very grateful.
One of us noticed a child with a disability who was in a pram rather than a wheelchair, and the family only had a blanket to cover the hard floor they slept on. With God’s blessing, we were able to locate a wheelchair for the boy amazingly quickly. His family was overjoyed! We also played skipping and football with the children for a while, and gave out chocolates to sweeten their day. We plan to return with sleeping bags and mats to give more comfort to those in need.
In the evening we went to Elliniko camp to show another movie. The children were very excited when they saw us arrive. They started chanting “cinema, cinema” and getting cardboard to put on the floor to sit on in front of the screen. Many adults enjoyed the film, too. Some people went out of their way to thank us after the showing.
Fresh Produce and Supplies for Refugees in Ritsona and Oinofyta Camps, Athens, Greece – May 6 to 8, 2016
May 6 was a big fresh produce shopping day for our relief team in Athens, which was followed by lots of packing for the refugees in Ritsona camp. We filled 160 large bags, one for every family tent. Each bag contained food items such as lentils, eggplants, apples, flatbread, tomatoes, and a hygiene pack including razors, a shaving mirror, tweezers, hand sanitizers, combs, nail clippers and sewing kits. The gift packs for children contained coloring books, pens, balloons, hair ties, and blowing bubble solution.
The next day, we went to Ritsona to distribute the bags. It was lovely to see the children running around with their balloons and calling us so we could see the big bubbles they had blown, which they were very proud of. Some of the women came to us to express their gratitude, and many of the families were soon enjoying the fresh produce we had delivered to them.
On the way to Ritsona, we visited a new camp nearby at Oinofyta where there were approximately 100 people, all from Afghanistan, living in 20 tents. We were pleased to be able to access the camp easily and was greeted by three teenage girls who spoke very good English. The kitchen they currently use is a small building covered with a tarpaulin. There are a few bricks against the wall where they light a fire with wood gathered from nearby. They told us they would like to have cooking pots, fresh food to cook for themselves, some kettles to make tea and daily necessities such as hair clips, ties, men’s hair clippers etc. These simple things make all the difference to them. One girl asked if we could take her coat to be washed in a machine, which we did.
On the following day, we quickly returned to Oinofyta camp with some of the requested items. The refugees were happy to see us. Every tent was given a large bag containing cooking oil, eggplants, peanuts, raisins, cucumbers, onions, cumin, black pepper, chocolates, apples, flatbreads and a large bag of tomatoes. Extra bags were also given to larger families and pregnant women. We will return in two days with cooking pots, some kettles and other food items that were requested.
We were invited to the tent of a family we had met the day before, and one of the young girls told us about her 5-month journey to Greece with her uncle. She had no idea where her parents and brothers or sisters were. It was heartbreaking to hear such a story from a lovely 13-year-old girl.
We made new friends in Oinofyta camp who were very thankful for our Association’s help, and we are very grateful for all the contributions and Master’s love that enables us to do this work.
Assisting Refugees at Piraeus Port, Ritsona Camp and Oinofyta Camp, Athens, Greece – May 10 to 18, 2016
From May 10 to 18, in addition to delivering large quantities of fresh produce, cooking supplies and hygiene items to the refugees in the remote camp in Oinofyta during our weekly trip there, our relief team in Athens visited Piraeus Port regularly to give out fruit at breakfast time. There were approximately 3,500 refugees living in terminal buildings, tents, or sleeping on the concrete floors at the port. Although the port authorities were trying to house them in camps, there was not yet sufficient space for all of them, nor was there enough food. Thus, we were supplementing what they receive with nutritious fruit, and love. We were glad to be assisted by three young and bright refugees who, since their arrival to Greece, have helped other refugees in any way they can.
On one of our trips to the Ritsona camp to distribute fresh produce, our Athens relief team learned that one of the refugees was a barber. We purchased a set of professional hair clippers for him so now he will be able to help give haircuts to those in his camp. He was so happy to receive the gift. We sincerely wish that soon he will be reunited with his beloved wife and child who have been in Germany for the past year. On another visit to Ritsona camp, we also distributed “Those Who Have Love Are Nearest to God” flyers.
We have developed a strong bond with the people in the small camp in Oinofyta, especially with the teenage girls who speak good English and were helpful with information and distribution. For example, Mahnaz is a beautiful, sixteen-year-old Afghan girl who was a wonderful organizer, knowing the needs of each person in the camp. She spoke perfect English, as do many of the refugees who are highly educated professionals such as university teachers, journalists, artists, physicians, technicians etc. We were discovering more and more the inner beauty of the Afghan people.
Those in Oinofyta camp received us like a part of their family. Their gratitude to Supreme Master Ching Hai was immense. All of them asked us to transmit their thanks and many stopped before Master’s photo in our van and said they would like so much to hug Her for all the help She is bringing to them. We gave a copy of each of Master’s books The Noble Wilds and The Birds in My Life to two young girls to share with the other children.
We are deeply grateful to Supreme Master Ching Hai for the opportunity to assist those in need. Also we thank God for all the people who help the refugees, including those who grow, harvest, transport and sell the vegetables.
Providing Water and Supplies and Meeting Many Wonderful Young Refugees in Camps Near Athens, Greece – May 19 to 26, 2016.
From May 19 to 26, our relief team in Athens had a very busy week with a variety of refugee relief work activities. We regularly distributed fruit for breakfast at Port Piraeaus, where there are two refugee camps with a total of more than 3,000 people living in tents on concrete. Our dentist went to dock E1.5 to offer his services to the refugees. We also took play equipment for the children, which they love: especially the space hoppers, balls and skipping ropes. When we play with the children we try to teach them the value of sharing.
Each week we also purchase and pack a large amount of fresh and packaged food to distribute at Oinofyta and Ritsona camps, which are a one-hour drive north of Athens. At the camps, a total of approximately 1,000 refugees, mostly Afghans, live in canvas army tents.
At Oinofyta camp, a water cooler was requested, as many at the camp will start fasting for Ramadan soon. We were blessed to have a short visit from one of our Association members who was able to quickly find a used water cooler and filter. He spent a day buying all the necessary parts and then installed the filter and a cool drinking water dispenser. He also installed a few gas stoves for cooking and three kitchen sinks. We hoped to provide many more items requested on their wish list over the next few weeks.
On Sundays, we go to Ritsona camp to distribute food and bring love to the refugees there. While we were setting up this week it started to rain a bit, so the other NGO volunteers and some refugees worked together to help us set up a couple of tents from which to distribute. Miraculously, the rain stopped after the tents were set up, so we were able to distribute smoothly and peacefully. We prepared packages of food for each family with love, and many refugees helped us with the distribution to make it dignified and safe.
Meanwhile, back in Athens, we were delighted to find a local bakery owner excited about making vegan breads and sweet treats. We are now regular customers.
We have felt very blessed and privileged to be able to work with the refugees and had great joy to meet many wonderful individuals. There were so many spiritual and talented young people in different camps. Many expressed interest in Master’s teachings. In fact, Eirini (from Greece) and Sorran (from Iraq) will soon be learning the Quan Yin Method of meditation. Eirini taught us the spiritual meaning behind the Pythagorean theorem, and Sorren joined us for a distribution of fruit at breakfast time at the port. He also helped with interpreting in a few different areas.
We met many young adults who were brilliant in mathematics. For example, 16-year-old Jawad was already teaching mathematics in his country and shared the beautiful message of peace to his young friends. Thirteen-year-old Abdoul from Syria was doing calculations all the time. On his notebook, he drew the symbols of Christianity and Islam next to each other and said that his wish is peace among all religions. He cherished Master’s book From Crisis to Peace – The Organic Vegan Way is the Answer, and knows that Her teachings represent all religions.
Our friend Nasraat, a refugee from Afghanistan and a first year journalism student, was so happy and thankful when we presented him with a book about the recent history of Europe. He was also very loving to the children, as they reminded him of his younger siblings in Afghanistan. It was uplifting to see such kindness in difficult situations.
There were so many other talented, young people we met eager to continue their studies, eager to help others and eager to bring peace, and to live in countries of freedom where they could realize their dreams. They were all dignified despite their suffering: they did not complain, but looked forward with hope. We felt deeply honored to be in their company.
May Heaven bless all refugees with a safe and settled future soon.
Distributing Vegan Food Packages and Talking with Refugees in Athens, Greece – May 29, 2016
On May 29, our relief team in Athens distributed fresh vegan food packages with love at the Ritsona refugee camp. We had lots of help from our friends Shahid, Noah, and Tariq. Everything went smoothly, and the refugees were in good spirits. A woman kindly offered us water while we were distributing and we were very touched by her consideration.
After distributing the food, we went to visit families and had in-depth conversations with them. We received feedback about what ingredients they most prefer, which will help us better serve them in future food packages. We met many adorable babies and shared our extra food with the families who needed it most.
On our way home, we gave two refugee brothers, both named Ahmad, a lift to Athens. We stopped by a place called 500 Miles for dinner where they recently started serving vegan food in the past several months. Our refugee brothers were delighted to try vegan pizza and vegan burgers for the first time. Our team also enjoyed the meal thoroughly. The staff was very appreciative of our support and took a photo of us.
During dinner, one of the Ahmads gave a bracelet he kept with him at all times to one of our team members. This bracelet reminded him to recite God’s name all the time. He said “I told my mother, ‘Do not be afraid, because Allah is with you.’ I recite God’s name all the time, so I am not afraid…no matter what happens to me, I know God is with me.” We were all inspired by his faith and mindfulness. In exchange, our team member gifted him a copy of Master’s book The Key of Immediate Enlightenment, which he accepted with absolute sincerity.
Purchasing Ramadan Gifts, and Providing Aid for Refugees at Docks E1 and E1.5 at Piraeus Port, Athens, Greece – May 30 to 31, 2016
On May 30, our relief team in Athens distributed fresh vegan food to the refugees at dock E1 at Piraeus Port and shared good cheer. Afterwards, we spent the morning engaging the children in play activities to help bring some healing to these traumatized young people. One of our team members reconnected with a family who she met in Idomeni previously. They were very happy to see each other again and exchanged hugs and kisses.
Later, we made a trip to town and purchased Ramadan gifts, including fans, shirts and pants, for the refugees. We also prepared several shoe samples for those in Oinofyta camp. Every shop owner we met tried their best to help us and gave us deep discounts. For example, a young couple found long sleeve blouses in their inventory for the Muslim women at the camps, which were difficult items to find in the hot summer. They sold us the whole stock at a very low price. One shoe shop merchant offered to sell us shoes at cost, resulting in no profit for her. Also, a grocery shop owner connected us to the food wholesaler from whom she gets her stock. We were so grateful to God for running into such kind and helpful people.
The next morning we brought fresh fruit to dock E1.5 where approximately 1,500 refugees were staying temporarily, waiting for relocation to refugee camps, for paperwork for going to other countries in Europe, or for other opportunities. Sean, one of the main volunteer organizers, and also a security man at the dock, told us that the refugees at dock E1.5 were quite malnourished, which negatively impacts their mood. They were lacking daily necessities and support, in comparison to those at the dock E1 site, so we decided to give extra attention to dock E1.5. To protect them from the summer heat, we decided to bring them hats and gift bags containing daily necessities. The owner of the hat shop we went to even offered to donate the hats for free!
Our team also went to look at potential properties for a future Loving Hut and met a Greek shop owner named Chris, who was very interested in supporting a future vegan restaurant. He said his spiritual adviser has been encouraging him to go vegan, and he also expressed an open heart about helping the refugees. We got his contact information and will be in touch with him for his support.
Helping Refugees Cope with the Hot Weather at Oinofyta Camp and Spending Time with Children at Port Piraeus, Athens, Greece – June 1 to 2, 2016
On June 1, our Athens relief team visited the Oinofyta refugee camp and distributed vegan food packages made with love. The hot weather in Greece has been a serious concern for refugees everywhere, as they are living in tents and are more exposed to the intense heat of the summer.
We brought a few eco-friendly straw hats to ask for the refugees’ feedback and we found that most of the children were delighted by them, and many teens and women loved them too! We plan to deliver gift packages next week with necessities like hats, fans, flashlights, and summer clothing, for our friends at Oinofyta in honor of Ramadan.
After distributing the food packages, we were invited to our two interpreters’ tents for tea with some other refugee brothers and sisters. They loved the gift samples we brought them and were particularly appreciative of thin summer scarves that will help reduce the effects of the heat during the day. We shared vegan cookies and explained to them why we are vegan– to create a more peaceful world. We told them that Supreme Master Ching Hai sent us to their camp to share peace and love. This resonated with the mother of one of our interpreters. She wanted us to tell Master that she is thankful and loves Her very much. Our friends were touched and inspired by the ideals of “world vegan, world peace.” We pray that more and more people will strive to achieve this ideal.
The next day, our team visited the refugees at dock E1 to distribute a vegan breakfast and play with the children. The breakfast distribution was received in good spirits.
The children had a variety of activities to choose from, between our team’s toys and The Schoolbox Project’s arts and crafts. The Schoolbox Project is Greece-based NGO that provides mobile, solar-powered schoolhouses fully stocked with supplies. We had a wonderful time sharing bouncing balls and jumping rope, and it was lovely to see the children expressing themselves through drawing and writing. The family we knew from Idomeni kindly invited us to their tent and offered us water. We gave apples to their children.
Our team is prioritizing finding ways to help the refugees find comfort from the heat. We purchased hats and fans in bulk for our refugee friends and have received a lot of support from the shop owners who were eager to give us immense discounts, and even sold items to us below their cost.
Continued Assistance for Refugees at Port Piraeus, Athens, Greece – June 3 to 4, 2016
On the morning of June 3, our Athens relief team went to dock E1.5 at Piraeus Port to distribute a vegan breakfast and bananas, which seemed to be a favorite fruit with everyone. In the evening, we returned to the dock to show a movie to the children to liven up their spirits. Many of them cheered at the end of the movie and upon their request, we returned the next evening to show them another movie. They were very happy and grateful.
We talked to our friend Sean, the security volunteer at this dock, and learned that because of the rising tensions over food, a meeting was called and five elders were appointed to be in charge of each of the Afghan tribes among the refugees. The elders assigned five security guards to help us keep the food distribution going smoothly and fairly. We pray for the peaceful partnership between the tribes in this stressful environment.
Sean also told us that in a week, the Greek government and the Port authorities want to move the refugees from the Port. Although approximately 3,500 refugees are living at the Port, the facilities are inadequate to serve their needs and the conditions are unsafe for children. The refugees have been encouraged to move to more organized, official camps with better facilities. We wish all our refugee friends a speedy amnesty process so that they may be relocated to begin their new lives in more suitable environments.
Some of our team members went to buy more summer clothing and other necessities for the refugees at the camps and the Port. The shop owners were supportive of our cause, and told us they were inspired by our love in action.
Distributing Vegan Food Packages at Ritsona Camp, Athens, Greece – June 5, 2016
On June 5, our team went to Ritsona refugee camp located north of Athens to distribute fresh and dry vegan food packages. The refugees were grateful to receive the items. With the assistance of some refugee volunteers, the distribution was smooth and orderly. Afterwards, to show our appreciation for their help, we brought a few of the refugees who helped us to the nearby beach for a swim. They were very happy.
Many of our relief team members are former refugees from Âu Lạc (Vietnam) and felt the desire to help the refugees as much as they could.
Special Ramadan Report, Athens, Greece – June 8, 2016
As summer is hot in southern Greece, especially in camps where refugees live in tents in open areas, summer clothing and related items are in high demand to survive the heat.
We got to know some of the refugees better who were living in Oinofyta camp, where about 120 people reside, and learned of items they wished to have. Thus, we compiled a wish list for them, with the help of our lovely refugee teenager friends, and began obtaining as many items as we could from a variety of sources.
Some of our team explored the Chinatown area of Athens, where we met many kindhearted Chinese business owners who supported our cause by offering useful information and large discounts on merchandise. One woman clerk at a hat and bag store sent messages to a group of Chinese business owners in Athens to help us look for a particular item. Many of them have donated merchandise and food to refugees before. The hat clerk and the owners of one shoe shop said that after seeing us coming from afar (Germany, United Kingdom, United States etc.) to give love to refugees, they were inspired to help more. The hat clerk offered incredible discounts on hats and other items.
In addition to offering us low prices, the shoe shop owners donated three boxes of fish-shaped slippers to express their good will to the refugees. (In Chinese, the character for fish, pronounced “yù,” means abundance and prosperity) The shoe shop owner personally walked in the hot sun and guided us to another shop and introduced us to the owner, who further helped us find needed items. While we were walking, he asked about Supreme Master Ching Hai and our Association, and repeatedly expressed his respect for Master’s ideal of world peace and love in action.
We were thrilled to find such wonderful sources to purchase items for refugees, considering the need of approximately 3,000 refugees in all the camps/sites we have been helping. Throughout the five trips to Chinatown, we were always trying to prioritize the items that would have the maximum benefit for the refugees. Our friend at dock E1.5 at Piraeus Port, Sean, an independent volunteer, shared with us valuable information on this aspect.
With the help from our Munich, Germany team, we have purchased a total of 1,700 hats for children and adults, 150 thin scarves for women, hundreds of pieces of summer clothing for women and men, razors and shaving cream for men, sport shoes for teenagers, slippers for all ages, sandals for children, 100 umbrellas, 200 fans, 300 spray bottles (for the children’s favorite summer game — playing with water), some toys for different age groups, beach balls, notepads, school and art supplies, flashlights and other daily necessities.
To fulfill the refugees’ wish lists, another part of our team went to shops selling pre-owned merchandise and got good bargains on toys, books, games, roller skates, baby strollers and a bike! We felt God’s blessings as we were able to find most of the items specifically requested by the refugees.
A salesperson in one of the shops explained that they were a charity group. All the profits went to help rehabilitate individuals addicted to drugs, and to support a 15-acre farm in the countryside where the recovering people could work at starting a new life. At the farm, they would receive training in practical skills like carpentry and gardening to improve their self-esteem and employment prospects. We felt a deep connection with this man and the generous work his group was doing to better the lives of many troubled souls in Athens.
After purchasing all the abovementioned items, we packed gift bags for 37 families, including six newly arrived families whom we had yet to meet. We specially prepared welcome gift bags for the new families. Each gift bag contained a cooking pot and utensils, a personal hygiene kit, (a shaving mirror, razors, tweezers, nail clippers, hand sanitizers etc.), hair bands for girls, a fan, a flashlight, other daily necessities, cool summer clothing, children’s toys, coloring books, colored pens and each family’s individual wish list items. The large gift bags for all these items were reusable, sturdy and fashionable, cotton tote bags.
Thus, after several weeks of effort, on June 8, the third day of Ramadan, we went to Oinofyta camp again to visit our refugee friends, and to deliver the gift bags along with our weekly food supplies and special Ramadan food. It was a unique visit because it was the beginning of Ramadan – a month-long observance of fasting, and focus on prayer and charity. Ramadan is one of the most important occasions in the Muslim community. We wished to make a special gift for the refugees to make them very happy, as fasting is difficult anywhere, but in these new surroundings in refugee camps even more difficult.
As always, we were very warmly received by everyone and immediately felt at home. Immersed in laughter and hugs, we enjoyed distributing the gift bags that we prepared with love.
Among the many gifts were the history and literature books in English which an Afghan journalist had been dreaming about, the mathematical study books for a highly talented teenager eager to continue his studies, and the drawing books and colored pencils for passionate refugee artists.
We also brought many others gifts for each refugee in the camp, and especially for the children. The women happily tried on the beautiful clothes that we carefully chose for them. Children immediately played with the toys and tried on the new shoes. The teenage girls were overwhelmed because they now finally have their own bike and pairs of roller skates to share with each other, which they had begged us for at every visit. (The boys had boys’ bikes already). Women were joyfully sharing cooking utensils at the public kitchen.
To show their gratitude, the refugees warmly invited us to their tents to share their Ramadan meals. A man from one of the new families said that it was his first night at the camp, and the gifts were such a surprise to him that he thanked us repeatedly for bringing them to his family. Upon learning that it was Master who sent us to help them, he immediately asked about Master and wished Her a long life with deep gratitude! Some babies saw a pendant of Master’s photo and kissed it.
We also went to the camp in the evening at the end of fasting time, and surprised the refugees with the special food bags we brought for the Ramadan celebration. Apart from the usual fresh vegetables and fruits they love, we brought each family at least one kilo of dried raisins, one kilo of delicious dates, a half kilo of peanuts, a half kilo of special chickpeas and a half kilo of regular chickpeas. The larger families received more portions accordingly. Our refugee friends, after a full day fasting, were very glad to receive their food bags, and eagerly returned to their tents to prepare their Ramadan meal with the ingredients we brought.
We spent the Ramadan evening with our refugee friends in Oinofyta camp surrounded by cheerful children extending their arms to us. We bathed together in God’s love and felt very honored to become part of their family for a few hours. This experience will forever remain in our memories.
In the camp, we were very touched to see many refugees praying solemnly and wholeheartedly. Millions of Muslims worldwide are fasting and praying deeply during Ramadan month; also we sincerely pray that peace will soon be with everyone on this planet.
Assisting Refugees at Piraeus Port and Meeting Many Wonderful Young People, Athens, Greece – June 11 to 14, 2016
During the second week of June, our relief team went to Piraeus Port almost every day. Our distribution schedule was changed due to Ramadan, and we went more often to docks E1 and E1.5 to bring additional needed items as well as the fresh fruit that we routinely offer. As the weather conditions were growing much warmer, we went to the Piraeus Port again on June 11 with over 500 hats and water spray bottles, which the children loved so much! Everyone was happy and many expressed their deep gratitude to our Beloved Master. The children began to play with the spray water bottles and we could hear the laughter everywhere. Afterwards, we spent time speaking with our refugee friends, listening to their stories and needs, and playing with children. We had the pleasure to be surrounded by wonderful people with a good sense of humor despite their sufferings.
We were very touched by many children who are willing to share what they had in such unfavorable conditions. One girl rushed to us, hugged one of our team members and gave her a handcrafted fan and an orange as gifts. Another time, one boy came to us with a pack of cookies in order to thank us for a little favor we did for him.
We also have met many talented young people. One teenage boy spoke English well and was a skillful basketball player. We offered him a vegan chocolate, but he said that he was still doing Ramadan fasting. One wonderful girl sang especially for us and introduced us to her parents. The family hugged us warmly and wished to share their Ramadan food.
Surrounded by children and their grateful parents, we left Piraeus Port late with our hearts full of the love we received so abundantly from our refugee friends. We thank God for the opportunity to serve and learn from these wonderful and beautiful people.
Showing Loving the Silent Tears and the Supreme Master Ching Hai 2012 New Year Teleconference at Piraeus Port, Athens, Greece – June 18 and June 23, 2016
On June 18, our relief team in Athens organized another movie night for our refugee friends at dock E1 at Piraeus Port to watch the Loving the Silent Tears musical. Coincidently, an exciting football game also started showing right after the musical screening started, but both were viewed harmoniously by different groups. Loving the Silent Tears attracted many volunteer and refugee women as well as the children. It was a reward to see that the musical audience kept their interest till the end. Since we played both part 1 and part 2 on the same evening, it was almost midnight by the time we completed our movie night, yet the audience still stayed awake enjoying the musical. It was such a reward to see that our little effort could bring such joy to others, especially the children!
On June 23, we decided to show the 2012 New Year videoconference with Supreme Master Ching Hai and the Supreme Master TV (www.SupremeMasterTV.com) staff. The response from the audience was totally unexpected, as they continued clapping after listening to the New Year wishes and loving advice from Master. A wise, elderly Pakistan man commented, “This Master is very enlightened, I like her peaceful message a lot.” A Greek security guard said, “What a nice offering. Thanks so much for showing this!”
One Syrian gentleman especially expressed his deep appreciation and interest in Master’s teachings. He told us how much he liked the short videoconference, and how miraculous it was that he just decided to quit smoking on the same night! The next night we brought him The Key of Immediate Enlightenment Sample Booklet. With deep gratitude, he said, “I’ll keep this booklet and treasure it as long as I live!” We thank God and all those involved in spreading this ever-increasing loving spirit!
Arranging New Distribution Plans at Oinofyta and Ritsona Camps, Athens, Greece – June 20, 2016
Since March 2016, our relief team in Athens has been supplying fresh vegetables and dry, nutritious vegan foods to over 1,000 refugees in Oinofyta and Ritsona camps on a weekly basis in ever-increasing amounts. We have seen many positive changes in these two camps. Upon hearing that there are other refugee camps with more urgent needs, we began to reevaluate our resources to see how we can best help. After some email contacts, one of our members went to meetings with some of the people who manage Oinofyta and Ritsona camps to discuss possibilities of changing our distribution process so we can help more camps.
At the Oinofyta camp meeting, we were delighted to learn that they had received funding of EUR 3,000 a week for the next six months, and made a commitment to supply the same sort of nutritious foods that we have been providing. We were very relieved and thank God for this outcome. Ms. Lisa Campbell, the coordinator at Oinofyta camp posted some pictures on Facebook of their first distribution without our assistance. She said the refugees took care of the distribution and were very happy to see the food!
At the second camp, Ritsona, which is much larger with over 700 people, we agreed to try a joint effort where we contribute EUR 1,000 a week to purchase vegan food, which we will help distribute. Several refugees have helped us regularly with previous distributions and can now manage it with the help of other NGO volunteers. We hope to be able to have a smooth distribution next Friday in this new collaborative way!
Working to Bring Solar-Powered Phone Charging Units to Ritsona Camp, Athens, Greece – June 21, 2016
The Ritsona camp has very limited electricity supplies, and the refugees have difficulty charging their phones with only a few electric power outlets available. Thus, we were excited when we read about Elpis, a project for solar-powered phone charging units that are being made by students from the United Kingdom. We contacted them and were pleased to find that they were currently in Athens for a few days and willing to come with us to Ritsona to look at the possibility of installing a unit at the camp. We quickly organized to meet with one of the students, Adi, and brought him to Ritsona camp where we spent half a day surveying the site and talking to the refugees about the best location and various concerns about the safety of the equipment etc. The next day, we drove Adi back to Athens for his flight home to the United Kingdom. He will discuss the feasibility with his group, and if they agree, they will organize the making of the unit and installation at Ritsona.
Celebrating a Vegan Eid al-Fitr at Ritsona Camp, Athens, Greece – July 6 to July 9, 2016
Eid al-Fitr, also known as the Feast of Fast-Breaking, is one of the biggest religious festivals for Muslim society worldwide. It marks the end of Ramadan and the beginning of a joyous three-day celebration with the underlying purpose of praising God and giving thanks. To celebrate this important holiday, a special party was held in Ritsona camp in Greece on July 9, 2016. It was an unforgettable experience for our relief team members in Athens.
Our team was invited by Ms. Carolynn, the camp manager, to be a partner of the celebration and provide vegan foods for the dinner. We were excited about participating and using the opportunity to encourage veganism and its benefits. Though our five-member team had never cooked for 700 people before, we sincerely wished our refugee friends at Ritsona would enjoy a delicious and healthy alternative to meat, and prayed that miracles would happen so that we could prepare the vegan meal successfully.
Originally, the party was scheduled on July 7, but unexpectedly UNHCR – The United Nations Refugee Agency began the refugee preregistration process on the same day, thus the celebration was postponed until July 9, giving us two more days for preparation. Moreover, two Chios Island relief team members joined us on their way home and shared with us their experience and advice, which helped us develop six dishes suitable for the occasion. Then another miracle happened – five Association members flew in from France just in time, and among them was an experienced chef! Thus after a week of intensive preparations, we had scrumptious vegan dishes ready by the morning of July 9.
Traveling with a car and two vans loaded with delicious vegan food prepared meticulously with love, our tiredness was soon replaced by excitement when we approached the camp. The refugees happily welcomed us. Many of them began to help decorate the dining area at the camp. Soon, the place was transformed into a festive venue with Master’s songs circulating in the air and seven serving tables covered with elegant embroidered cloths. We also posted Alternative Living posters in Arabic, Kurdish, Farsi, Greek and English, and displayed flyers in Arabic and Kurdish, with Ms. Carolynn’s approval.
Under the shimmering golden letters “Eid Mubarak” (Blessed Eid) suspended from the ceiling, many refugees began to dance to lovely Arabic music. Their sheer enjoyment was contagious, and their love of life and longing for a new beginning touched everyone’s hearts. In front of our eyes there were no more refugees worrying about their future, suffering from all types of physical and emotional hardships. What emitted from this amazing circle of dancers was pure joy, love, beauty, and nobility beyond description.
In this very cheerful atmosphere, the food preparations went smoothly with the assistance of the volunteers from the Greek NGO I AM YOU and a few refugees. Our Pakistan refugee friend, Shahid, prepared a vegan chickpea dish in the Mosque where he frequents, with the full support from the Mosque elders from the Pakistani community. Soon, all six dishes were well arranged on our tables along with a colorful menu in both English and Arabic. The menu included: Ramadan Joy, Chickpea Delight, Rainbow Salad, Socrates Spanakopita, Fabulous Falafel, and Golden Donut. The ingredients were also listed.
Our Muslim friends were delighted and satisfied with all the vegan food we served. Some came back for more and some showed interest in the vegan protein. To our great joy, at the end of the feast, we heard some refugees say that they would never eat meat again! We also distributed Alternative Living flyers, which were gratefully accepted. While talking to other volunteers, we explained to them that vegan diet can eradicate violence from the root, thus no more war. They agreed strongly with the idea. Some of them were vegetarians themselves!
At this Eid al-Fitr celebration, we spent one of the most memorable days of our lives. We felt love from everyone. Dancing among the joyful Muslim refugees and bathing in beautiful Arabic music worshipping Allah, we felt we were all one!
We were very honored to work with organizations such as the Swedish NGO, Lighthouse Relief; I AM YOU; and the Austria-based NGOs, Echo100Plus and RED NOSES Clowndoctors International (RNI); and the United States-based NGO, JoinedHands who were all doing their noble work in serving many aspects of refugees’ lives, and entertaining children and adults alike. We thank Ms. Carolynn deeply for her understanding and support. It was with her loving cooperation that we were able to accomplish this vegan Eid al-Fitr.
Master says: “The more people know God, the more people contact God directly and become happier, the more peaceful the world will be, the less war there will be, and the more we can bring Heaven onto Earth.” We witnessed this happening in the Muslim community on this vegan Eid al-Fitr celebration. Together we pray for total peace on Earth!
Giving Gifts to New Moms and Newborn Babies, Athens, Greece – July 22, 2016 (1)
On July 22, our relief team in Athens went to Oinofyta camp and Ritsona camp and revisited the five families with newborn babies and one woman who will deliver her baby in two days. To each family, we gave a gift bag containing mini electric fans with rechargeable batteries, hand sanitizer, shampoo and baby clothes. For one particular new mom who is an artist, and looked depressed last time we visited her, we specially prepared some art supplies to cheer her up. In addition we bought medicines that her husband requested for their newborn baby.
The recipients were very grateful, especially for the electric fans in this very warm weather, and invited us for tea in their tents. It was very nice to see that they were wearing the summer scarves and blouses we gave them as Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr gifts. We thank God for arranging an English-speaking refugee to help us find these families and interpret for us.
The camp leader Dr. Nasar, a refugee himself, also expressed appreciation. He confirmed once again that soy protein is urgently needed for the entire camp, as most people suffer from malnutrition after staying there for five to six months. He also requested electric kettles for making boiling water, which is very important for the health of all the residents. We will look into possibilities to help. We were pleased to see improvement every time we visit them. We thank Heaven for taking care of them!
Cooking Vegan Food at Ritsona Camp, Athens, Greece – July 22, 2016 (2)
Also on July 22, upon the invitation of Ms. Carolynn, the Ritsona camp manager, our relief team in Athens joined the team of the Rits Café (the camp’s café) and cooked vegan food for 600 residents there. Volunteers from the United States NGO, JoinedHands, prepared vegetables before we arrived. The camp chef, Talal, a refugee himself, and his team cooked delicious vegan dishes with okra and lentils, and vegan desserts with Arabic dates. We cooked two vegan dishes, cumin potato and kung pao mix with soy protein and veggies. Some residents of the camp came to learn vegan cooking with us. We also distributed Alternative Living flyers in Arabic.
Together with the camp residents, we served the all vegan dinner for everyone! Many children and adults came and enjoyed all the dishes. A lot of children helped us clean up the venue and pick up garbage around the camp. We also gave two packs of gifts including a fan, a beautiful summer scarf, and trousers to two women who missed out in our previous distribution. They were very happy and grateful.
Volunteers from other international NGOs at the camp also enjoyed the vegan food. They said they would like to team up with us to better help the Ritsona camp residents. The new coordinator of the Austria NGO, ECHO100Plus, Jacob from the United States, fully agreed with the ideas in Master’s book From Crisis To Peace-The Organic Vegan Way is the Answer. A JoinedHands volunteer, Anna from Spain, was especially touched by Master’s words about Her dream of a peaceful and loving world on the banner we had displayed. She said that Master speaks of something that is inside everyone. She admires Master and Her humanitarian work. Some children and women showed interest in Master’s photos and Her designed jewelry we wore. We wish that despite the unfavorable situations, the children will grow up with positive outlook on life, develop noble qualities and become good world citizens.
After the dinner, we still had some extra vegan food, so we called Oinofyta camp leader, Dr. Nasar, to see if they needed it. He said that it was perfect timing since many people really wanted nutritious food. When we delivered the food, we saw there were 300 new refugees at the camp, recently relocated from Piraeus Port. We are touched by Dr. Nasar’s selfless service to run the camp with hundreds of details to handle, and felt that he is one of our brothers. We thank Allah for the opportunity to serve Allah’s children in need. We are truly happy that many have begun to embrace the vegan diet, the diet for peace!
Distributing Sun Hats at Piraeus Port, Athens, Greece – July 23, 2016
Earlier in July, our Athens relief team went to check the situation at Piraeus Port and was about to reorder bananas for distribution to the refugees there. News came that two days after our visit, the Stone Warehouse, where most residents at E1.5 stayed, was closed. Residents were evicted and some relocated. We were both sad and relieved because when we visited Oinofyta camp later, we met some of them there; and they recognized us immediately.
Thus, we decided to give those remaining at the port more sun hats since now they do not have any roof except under the highway bridge. On July 23, we brought our entire stock of hats in different colors and styles, for children, women and men. There we saw that the children have new mini-football gates for playing football. We gave about 100 hats in a short period of time. Everyone was happy and grateful. The refugees requested fresh fruit. We will visit them again!
Community Spirit at Ritsona and Oinofyta Camps, Athens, Greece – July 29, 2016
On July 29, our relief team in Athens formed two groups, with one group going to refugee camps to help with supply distribution, and the other staying at home to clean and receive a shipment of 120 kilograms of soy protein and pack them into 240 individual bags.
At Ritsona camp, we first distributed 560 personal shampoo bottles with the help from volunteers from ECHO100Plus, an Austrian NGO. Then, after preparing 165 packs of rice, we transported them to Oinofyta camp, which recently had an increase of over 600 residents, resulting in a population of 750. Maria, the Oinofyta camp manager, expressed sincere appreciation for all of the help. Next, we returned to Ritsona to wait for a shipment of fresh vegetables and cooking oil, which was purchased by Rits Café (Ritsona camp’s café) using our weekly contribution to them of EUR1,000. The shipped items were later packed and distributed to the 150 families at the Ritsona camp, with the assistance from refugee volunteers. The refugees loved the vegetables since they desperately needed fresh produce to prepare traditional meals.
While touring Ritsona camp with our new team member from California, USA, we saw children playing with each other and families gathering in the shaded areas to avoid the heat. Some NGOs set up children zones to teach the children English and Greek. We agreed that besides contributing food and basic necessities, it is very important to provide love and education for these children. The ECHO100Plus coordinator was glad for our relief team’s and Rits Café’s assistance in solving the Oinofyta food emergency two days ago by providing nutritious, delicious vegan dishes for 750 hungry residents there. ECHO100Plus is now teaming up with all the NGOs serving at both camps to facilitate efforts to better help the residents. We are happy to see a true community spirit thriving among the refugee camps, NGOs and local residents alike.
Expenditures by The Supreme Master Ching Hai International Association for Refugee Relief Work in Athens, Greece, March to July 2016
|Cooking supplies, fresh produce, rice, seasonings, toys, art supplies, clothes, cleaning supplies, other gifts and transportation for the refugees; relief team expenses (food, phone card and apartment rental, etc.)||13,184.05||A|
|Cooking supplies, fresh produce, rice, chickpeas, lentils, flour, seasonings, toys, art supplies, summer clothes, sun hats and other gifts, kitchen equipment, a water cooler and filter, sinks and gas burners for the refugees; relief team expenses (apartment rental, vehicle rental, food, phone credits and utility bills, etc.)||16,926.00||B|
|Cooking supplies, kitchen equipment, fresh produce, rice, chickpeas, lentils, flour, seasonings, dates, cookies, candy, toys, tote bags, spray bottles, sun hats, fans, clothes, water cooler parts, filter, shampoo, school supplies, shoes and medicines for refugees, cash assistance to Ritsona camp for weekly fresh produce; relief team expenses (apartment rental, utility bills, food, decoration, transportation, phone charges and translation fee)||36,529.00||C|
|Total|| EUR 66,639.05