By Athens, Greece International Relief Team (Originally in English)
Click to reveal reports August 1 to 13th
Providing Needed Supplies for Refugees at Oinofyta Camp, Athens, Greece – August 1 to 3, 2016
As the refugee population of Oinofyta camp tripled to over 600 during the past week, on the night of August 1, our relief team in Athens started putting together 170 gift bags. The bags contained many useful items such as hats, scarfs, shampoo, razors, sandals, insect repellant and other personal household supplies. We will distribute them to the refugees later in the week when camp coordinators have agreed to a time and date.
Oinofyta camp, managed mostly by the refugees themselves, was in need of supplies for the school, library and garden center being set up. We scoured the city for a large collection of second hand books for the camp’s library. After many hours of searching we found a large supply of encyclopedias, reference books and learning books for them. We delivered four large suitcases filled with books to the school on August 3.
We also had the opportunity to deliver 150 kilograms of soy protein to the camp, as the refugees were in need of protein and nutritional food. We hope they enjoy the vegan nourishment. The refugees were delighted to help us unload the supply of soy protein.
In addition, we brought two pairs of glasses, one for nearsighted vision and one for farsighted vision, to an older gentleman at the camp who requested the glasses a couple of days prior. He told us life was difficult without the glasses, and he had not had any luck finding a replacement. The moment he put on the glasses, his face lit up and his smile was bright. He thanked our group tremendously and asked to take pictures with us. We were grateful to have this opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life.
The rest of day on August 3, was spent scouting for more items for Oniofyta’s kitchen. We were able to find a wholesale market that had the items we needed. We purchased, cooking pots, electric kettles, a large hot water thermos and serving trays for the camp. We will distribute the supplies at a later time after coordinating with camp managers. No matter how small or big the items requested by the refugees, we try our best to satisfy them, sharing love and kindness whenever we can.
Providing for More Refugees at Oinofyta Camp, and Meeting an Iraqi Artist at Ritsona Camp, Greece – August 5, 2016
On August 5, our relief team in Athens started the day with a coordinator’s meeting at Oinofyta camp. At the gathering, group leaders from different NGOs met to discuss current camp projects and conditions. Since the surge in population at the camp, all groups have been working overtime to better house all the newly arrived refugees. Current construction is underway for more water pumps, better bathrooms and an expanded kitchen in the camp. There are over 155 families here now, up from the original 50 families. Rice, cooking oil and more nutritional foods are always in high demand.
After the meeting, we went to Ritsona camp to deliver much-needed mosquito repellant coils and to pick up 400 kilograms of organic brown rice donated by Echo100Plus, an Austrian NGO, and bring it to camp Oinofyta. Our team was greeted with big beautiful smiles and we had many refugee volunteers to help unload the rice into a warehouse. This rice, along with the soy protein and gift bags, will be distributed Saturday afternoon with the rest of the camp distribution of daily necessities. Our friend Dr. Samir delivered a special message of thanks to beloved Supreme Master Ching Hai and Her Association.
On our way to camp Oinofyta, we made a stop at Ritsnoa camp and gave a special gift to an Iraqi artist of the Yazidis religion who was there with his 28 family members. They were at the camp because they were trying to escape violence against their people in a war-torn country. His art reflects the horrors of war, the sadness of lost innocence and the hope for peace. One of his big projects was a beautiful mural of Mother Earth crying over the state of the world. We also met local volunteers from I AM YOU, a Greek NGO, that are doing their part to make life a little better for the refugees. They have been taking different families to the beach to enjoy some time away from the camp.
At the end of the day, we meditated and soaked in the Mediterranean sun, air and sea. Greece is such a beautiful country and their people are very loving and friendly. We are lucky to have such a welcoming nation with big hearts to receive so many refugees. We pray that with God’s grace, everything will get better for Greece and her guests.
Special Delivery to Oinofyta Camp, Greece – August 6, 2016
It was a special delivery day for our Athens team. We normally do not do distribution on Saturdays, our weekly shopping days. However, we made an exception because the residents at Oinofyta camp were short on rice and supplies. Most of the residents were from Afghanistan and Pakistan, and had been recently relocated from Piraeus Port. We usually give all new families a welcome gift package for them to begin their new life at the camp. This time, the gift bags contained a mixture of summer clothing and daily necessities including fans, spray bottles, shampoo, hand sanitizer, razors, shaving cream, mosquito repellent incense, small balls for children, flashlights, combs, mirrors, nail clippers etc.
We spent the morning loading the 170 gift bags that were prepackaged earlier in the week into our little van, which we filled to capacity. We had to make two, one-hour trips since we needed to transport our six team members also.
Earlier in the week, we had delivered 400 kilograms of organic brown rice donated by the Austrian NGO Echo100Plus, and 150 kilograms of soy protein packed into 500 gram packages to the camp warehouse. We started our first trip to Oinofyta at 11:00 am and unloaded all the gift bags there. While waiting for all of us to arrive on the second trip, the refugee volunteer team separated the rice into portions of 2 kilograms. In addition to our supplies, the camp manager added a care package with basic necessities and cooking oil to the distribution kit.
By 3:30 pm, everything was ready for distribution. We worked with two United States-based NGOs, Do Your Part and JoinedHands, in order to complete the task of distributing all the items to 155 families, a total of approximately 750 residents, in a timely manner.
When the gift-giving event began, everyone got excited. Some of the refugees, especially the children, had already gathered in front of the warehouse door waiting for the surprises. Our team divided into small groups and started to deliver the gift bags, rice, oil and soy protein to all the families. We delivered directly to their tents or residing rooms. The residents rushed to us and offered their help. They eagerly removed the heavy load off our hands and helped carry the bags throughout the distribution. We handed out the gift bags to each and every family, saying: “Salam! (Greetings!) Welcome to Oinofyta camp. This is a gift bag from Supreme Master Ching Hai! We wish for you to have a better life soon!”
They were very grateful and repeatedly said: “Shukran!” (Thank you!). Some held the pendant with Master’s photo that one team member was wearing and told us to send their thanks to Master!
The atmosphere at the whole camp was joyous with kids playing with the water spraying bottles; it was cool and fun for such a hot summer day! Some women wearing brand new summer clothes and beautiful scarfs we had given them previously approached us to express their deep gratitude and gave us positive feedback. People were happy, satisfied and very thankful. They also told us their new wish lists for future distribution.
Dr. Nasar, the camp resident leader, thanked Master for Her infinite love and deep caring for all the residents. He said that we shared the same goal – to serve humanity! Another refugee friend of ours told us several times to convey his deep gratitude to Master for all Her great help and send his best wishes to Her!
Loving Contributions for the Newborns and the School at Oinofyta Camp, and Fresh Produce and Supplies for Ritsona Camp, Greece – August 9 to 13, 2016
On August 9, our Athens relief team started the week by traveling to Oinofyta camp, which had recently seen a surge in population from more than 100 residents to over 600 residents. Working with the other NGOs, we continued to support the camp in whatever way we could. We recently purchased a number of electric kettles and hot water thermoses for the camp for their upcoming café and tea area. We delivered the supplies on a beautiful Tuesday morning, went on our weekly tour of the camp, and talked to the local residents to see if they urgently required anything. As we spoke to many mothers with infants, there was a need for newborn baby supplies. We took note and planned to put together a care package for distribution later in the week.
On Thursday August 10, we went to Ritsona camp to delivery 600 shampoo bottles to Echo100Plus, an Austrian NGO that we work with that helps with Ritsona inventory. Shampoo is always a needed commodity at the camp. On our last visit, we noticed two goal nets and that the residents were starting up a football (soccer) team. We wanted to help in the enjoyment and team building spirit that sport brings to the camp, so we made a special donation of six new soccer balls, a ball carrying bag and a ball pump to the new aspiring team. It is a blessing to be able to enjoy oneself in times of difficulty.
Fridays are normally the busiest days for our team. We started August 10 with an 11 am meeting with camp team leaders of each NGO regarding recent updates and news about Oinofyta camp. There were talks about adding new facilities for the camp and to improve overall conditions at the camp for all the residents.
While some of our team members attended the meeting, a group of new members met with the local teacher of Oinofyta camp’s school to donate a laptop for the school and also six football (soccer) balls. Children’s play and learning are important factors in their growth. We were grateful to be able to have an opportunity to help the school in whatever they needed to help educate the children.
We previously reported helping a refugee with his eyeglasses last week. News of this gesture went around Oinofyta camp and we met another refugee who needed our help. We were also able to get him a new pair of reading glasses. He responded with a big smile and a loving and grateful heart. It is the little things that mean the most to these residents and we were sincerely thankful to have the opportunity to serve everyone here.
When our NGO meeting was over, our next task was to distribute the care packages that we put together based on the needs from earlier this week. With the help of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, a United States-based NGO that manages the health of Oinofyta camp, and the local camp teacher, we hand-delivered a care package to each mother with an infant child. The packages included much-needed items like baby powder, gripe water for upset stomach, baby wipes, infant clothes and baby shampoo. We were greeted with warm smiles and big thanks from each family. We know how hard it is to take care of young children in tough conditions. We could only hope that our small gestures helped make life a little more comfortable for our friends at the camp.
Our next mission was to head to Ritsona camp for our weekly vegetable distribution for the refugees. With more than 600 refugees at the camp, we provided much-needed fresh vegetables to help supplement their diet. We worked with the onsite United States-based NGO JoinedHands and local resident volunteers to carry out this task. With the vegetables delivered to the camp, our teams quickly assembled a line for packaging the produce. With smiles on their faces and vegetables in their hands, our new team members were happy to work in the summer heat. Once 150 packages of vegetables were packed, they were distributed to each family at their doorsteps, with lots of love and smiles.
Our last mission of the day was to pick up a special donation from Echo100Plus at Ritsona camp for Oniofyta camp. We were able to secure several boxes of toothbrushes, toothpaste, hand towels and soap that were not being used at Ritsona camp, but were much needed at Oniofyta camp. We made one last journey back to Oniofyta camp to deliver the goods. Once the supplies were delivered and safe, our team finished the day with big smiles, loose arms, sore legs and loving hearts. We were very grateful to be able to be of service and have this chance to help our brothers and sisters in a time of need. As we help them, we also realized that they help us develop more love and compassion.
Helping an Injured Cat Friend and Providing a Phrasebook for Refugees in Oinofyta and Ritsona Camps, Greece–August 12 to 20, 2016
Near the headquarters of our relief team in Athens, a lot of cats hang around. They are taken care of by the locals and are friendly. In the evening of August 12, we rescued a cat meowing in pain who appeared to have suffered an injury. The next morning, we took him to an animal hospital where the veterinarian inspected him and gave him treatment. Over the next three days, our team bathed him and administered his shots. After that, he was well enough to walk on his own, so we released him back to the neighborhood to let him be free among his friends. The neighbors saw what we did and thanked our team for taking care of him. We are happy to help out any living being in need.
Our week’s first distribution was on August 17 at Oinofyta camp. With over 500 new refugees, they were in need of a lot of daily necessities. We donated a van full of 600 shampoo bottles, 300 hats, and 5 boxes of children’s clothes. The items were greeted with cheers and smiles, and the inventory manager at the camp thanked us sincerely. We also gave out copies of a phrasebook that contains common phrases in English, Greek, Farsi, Kurdish, Urdu and Arabic. It will help people communicate better in a new land. We made these books by downloading a free-to-use phrasebook online and designing a new cover for it. All the refugees and the volunteers welcomed the phrasebook and thought it was a good idea. At the end of the day, we made a special coffee delivery upon the request from Ritsona camp, to the delight and joy of the residents there.
August 18 was a big delivery day for us. As it was a national Greek holiday, it was very difficult to get any kind of supplies needed for the camps. We had a special order of 800 kilograms of basmati rice for Oinofyta camp. We went to pick it up at our local wholesale supplier and drove an hour to deliver it to the camp. Our little van had never hauled that much weight before and we had to drive very carefully. The rice was much requested and much needed at the camp. This supply will help the camp for over a month. We were met with cheers and joy once again as we delivered the rice to the inventory dock. Volunteers were quick to assemble a working line to move the rice into storage.
On August 19, we distributed new plastic wash bins and serving trays to each family at the Oinofyta camp, 160 in total. We also donated EUR 500 to the camp school, upon their request, for purchasing fruit for the children, which will last them for the next three months.
Our next stop was Ritsona camp. Every week, with the help of the camp manager, we order over EUR 1,000 worth of fresh vegetables for the refugees. As usual, we worked closely with the volunteers and refugees and finished separating and packing the vegetables within a couple hours. Everyone working was in a cheerful mood and we had time to play with the children during break time. We brought our phrasebook and it was a hit with the children and volunteers once again. Everyone wanted to learn new words and phrases to better communicate with each other.
Our week and day concluded with happy faces after working hard together. We were grateful for everyone we met and interacted with during this short period of relief work.
Expenditures by The Supreme Master Ching Hai International Association for Refugee Relief Work in Athens, Greece, August 2016
Baby supplies, a laptop, eye glasses, kitchen supplies, soccer equipment, coffee, rice, vegetables, vitamins, printing books and transportation expenses for the refugees
Relief team expenses (food, transportation and communication)
Refugee relief work – August 14 to 20, 2016