By Singapore International Team (Originally in English)
With Master’s loving instruction to help the refugees, our Association members from Singapore and around the world set off to Athens, Greece where many are in dire need of assistance. Most of the refugees staying in Athens are in Greece with no place else to go due to border restrictions. As these refugees continue to arrive, there is a greater need for assistance in providing shelter, food and basic necessities.
Helping Refugees Move to a New Location in Athens, Greece – December 18, 2015
Our Singapore international relief team learned from Pamberaeki Support Initiative for Refugees and Immigrants (PSIRI) that the 2,000 refugees staying at the Tae-Kwon-Do stadium in Athens, Greece were being transferred to Elliniko, a suburb of Athens, at a former airport, where a new camp was being set up. We offered to help with the move on December 18.
We were fortunate to speak with the government official supervising the camp at Elliniko who informed us they have enough supplies and even toys for the children. She agreed to consider our suggestion of sharing small holiday gifts such as vegan chocolates, candy and cookies, to bring smiles to the faces of the refugees during the holiday season. She will get back to us in a few days.
Providing Vegan Food for Refugees Staying in Victoria Square in Athens, Greece – December 19, 2015
On December 19, our Singapore relief team in Greece distributed about 200 vegan food packages at Victoria Square in Athens. Many refugees rushed to our van for the food. Most of them are staying in Victoria Square due to the Balkan borders being closed to those from countries other than Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan, so they will have to either find somewhere else to go or apply for asylum in Greece.
While we were preparing packages in an apartment complex, many of the neighbors came to support us. One lovely lady brought us some fruit and dried figs as she was worried about us catching a cold. She told us how much she appreciated what we were doing and wishes she could be of more help. Another neighbor came with a bag of oranges and mandarins to be included the packages. When we were moving, the neighbors told us we were welcome any time to use the space downstairs for our relief work.
Assisting Refugees at Piraeus Port and Elliniko Camp, Athens, Greece – December 20 to 21, 2015
On the early morning of December 21, our Singapore relief team traveled to Piraeus port in Athens, Greece after preparing vegan food packs for refugees the night before. We distributed the food and copies of “Those Who Have Love Are Nearest to God” flyers with Master’s comforting words in Arabic and English, to the refugees disembarking from the boat.
We had a few food packs remaining, so we decided to go to the Elliniko to give them to the refugees outside the camp there. They were mostly from Morocco, Afghanistan and Iran. They told us they have nowhere else to go and were hoping to be let inside the camp. Some of the young men had been waiting there for about four days. Upon learning some of them needed sleeping bags for the cold nights, we immediately bought a few and gave them to the men in the evening. They were very grateful.
Bringing Aid to Refugees at Ellinko Camp and Omonoia Square in Athens, Greece – December 22, 2015
On December 22, our Singapore relief team volunteered to help at the Elliniko refugee camp in Athens, which currently houses about 450 refugees from various countries including Morocco, Iran, Yemen and Pakistan. We were teamed up with eight other refugees to clean up the inside and the outside of a building. When the cleaning was finished, we offered them each a vegan food pack. They were so happy to receive them that they asked to take a photo with us. We were given approval to distribute gifts in the camp for the holiday season, so we will begin preparing the gifts within the next two days.
On the same day, some of our team members embarked on a ferryboat to Lesbos Island to visit the Village of All Together at Pikpa camp for further relief efforts. Also, some of our team members who stayed in Athens distributed vegan food packs to the refugees at Omonoia Square that evening.
Visiting the Village of All Together, Lesbos Island, Greece– December 23, 2015
On December 23, 2015, several members of our Singapore relief team arrived in Mytilene, Lesbos Island’s capital. We visited the Village of All Together located at Pikpa camp, where one of our relief teams had earlier presented the gift of a van, which we had then been sharing with the organization to complete relief work. Today, we permanently turned over the van to the Village. Our team also organized a screening of Loving the Silent Tears, a musical based on Master’s poetry collection, for the refugees and volunteers there. One woman had a keen interest in Master’s teachings and spoke at length with our team about spiritual practice and meditation. She said she was not supposed to be at the camp today, however she ended up there, saying it was God’s arrangement to meet our Association members and be introduced to Master.
Delivering Gift Packs in Elliniko and Omonoia Square in Athens, Greece – December 25, 2015
On December 25, our relief team formed by our Association members from Singapore, Australia and the United States, returned to the camp in Elliniko, Athens, Greece, to distribute holiday gift packs to children and adults. The packs contained vegan food items such as bananas, mandarins, cookies, and juice packs. Many thanked us for the special treats. We also gave the gift packs to several Moroccan refugees who were camped outside the camp and those staying at Omonoia Square in downtown Athens. We wish all the refugees peace, safety and happiness during this holiday season. With Heaven’s grace, may each soon find rest and comfort in new homes in the coming year.
Visiting Pikpa and Villa Artemis Refugee Shelters on Leros Island, Greece – December 28 to 29, 2015
On the evening of December 28, six of our relief team members from Singapore, USA and Australia traveled to Leros island via a ferry from Athens. Upon arriving the following morning, we were received by representatives of Leros Solidarity Network who took us to visit two refugee shelters on the island.
We first visited a building being renovated for the refugees at Pikpa camp. There is also a Pikpa camp on Lesbos Island. The Pikpa camp on Leros island will be able to house up to 400 refugees when it is fully operational. A shipment of 2,016 pairs of undergarments and 798 pairs of shoes the relief team earlier prepared was delivered and unloaded from a truck for storage at Pikpa, ready to be given out immediately to new refugees.
Villa Artemis, the second refugee shelter we visited, is a shelter for approximately 30 mothers and their young children. During our stay, we cooked up a vegan meal of banana walnut cakes, curry puffs and lentil veggie soup, and served it to the greatly appreciative refugees and volunteers.
Further Relief Efforts in Athens, Greece – December 29 to 30, 2015
On the same day, December 29, our four remaining team members in Athens purchased relief items at various nearby supermarkets and prepared a total of 150 vegan food packs containing mineral water, sultanas, nuts, mandarins, bananas, crispy bread sticks, as well as the “Those Who Have Love Are Nearest to God” flyers. The next morning on December 30, these packages were distributed to refugees arriving at Piraeus port from islands situated in the Dodecanese region, near the southwestern coast of Turkey.
In the evening, our team went to Victoria Square to assist wherever there was a need. Two of our relief team members distributed more vegan food packs to refugees staying outside on the pavement, as they sadly lack the required documentation to either cross the border into another country or seek asylum in Greece.
We gave some emergency blankets to Smiling Helpers, a group of Hungarian medical volunteers who were offering free medical aid to the refugees.
For a couple of refugees in need of shoes and warm jackets, we walked to the nearest store and purchased the required items from a kind store owner who gave us a discount.
Concerned about the refugees staying overnight in the cold outside, we also set out to gather information to see if shelters could be found for them. A local volunteer told us that two new shelters were just opened by the City Council of Athens this morning for all refugees. Our team is planning to create information sheets that include the addresses and directions to the shelters, as well as handy emergency numbers, to be distributed at Victoria Square and Omonoia Square to refugees in need of a place to stay.
Bringing in the New Year with Refugees in Athens, Greece – December 31, 2015 to January 1, 2016
On New Year’s Eve, 2015, our relief team members in Athens continued relief efforts for the refugees staying in Victoria Square. We distributed leaflets containing information on how to find shelters for the refugees and also gave out 10 jackets to refugees there as it started snowing. Afterwards, we purchased required medicine as kindly requested by a group of Hungarian medical volunteers, Smiling Helpers.
Later, we returned to Victoria Square with two pots of steaming vegan minestrone soup to serve to the refugees. We hoped that the soup would warm both their bodies and hearts in the cold night as the new year approached.
On New Year’s Day, our relief team went to Katalipsi camp to deliver apples, bananas and tangerines for the refugees. We then went to Elliniko camp to check on those who were camping outside and found no one was there this time. Afterward, we came back to Victoria Square and served two more pots of hot vegan soup containing potatoes, tomatoes, tofu and mushrooms to the refugees.
Relief Efforts in Athens and Samos Island, Greece – January 2 to January 9, 2016
On the second day of the new year, our Greece relief team in Athens went to visit the area outside of the Elliniko camp and found several refugees were camping there. To help keep them dry and warm during the winter season, we gave them warm jackets, gloves, pants and shoes. In the evening, we also brought them hot vegan meals in addition to the meals we also provided to the refugees at Victoria Square. The next day, we welcomed the arrival of four team members from Mongolia and Singapore.
On January 6, four members of our relief team traveled to Samos Island, where we found out that two camps on the island were in much need of clothing items such as shoes, socks, gloves, undergarments and backpacks. Therefore, in the following two days, our team members in Athens shopped for all the required items in large quantities with the cost totaling EUR 16,341. A few shop owners were willing to go below their wholesale prices or break-even costs after learning that the items were for refugees.
On Samos island, our team members learned that two NGOs: Open Eyes and No Borders, were offering enough meals, so, our team decided to focus on helping with clothing distribution, as more volunteers were needed. On January 8, the team assisted in unloading about four truckloads of clothing items and blankets into a storage facility allocated by the Samos Municipality.
After meeting with Dr. Manos Logothetis from the Greek government organization HCDCP (Hellenic Centre for Disease Control and Prevention), our Samos team learned that more food was needed for the refugees traveling to Athens by ferry, as the journey could take up to 12 hours. On January 9, we spent most of the day preparing about 200 vegan food packs to be distributed the next day. Each pack contained bottled water, breadsticks or whole wheat rusks (twice-baked breads), canned beans with tomato sauce, a spoon, sultanas, bananas and oranges.
Our team will also look into the possibility of screening the musical Loving the Silent Tears on Samos island for the refugees, to lighten their mood and bring them hope during their time of hardship.
Sharing Vegan Food Packs and Fruit with the Help of Other Volunteers on Samos Island, Greece – January 10 to 12, 2016
On the morning of January 10, our relief team on Samos island, Greece, headed to the refugee camp next to the main port, where we were storing 200 vegan food packs prepared previously for the refugees. After finding out there were many newly arrived refugees at the camp, we shared the food packs with them in the main tents with the help of two other volunteers.
The next day, we purchased over 500 bananas and vegan chocolates and brought them to the same refugee camp. We handed out the food along with a group of volunteers from Open Eyes, a Swiss NGO, who were giving out hot black tea to the refugees. Four refugees also helped to organize the distribution, so the operation went smoothly. Volunteers from other NGOs like the Red Cross were happy to see us giving out bananas, because of its high nutritional value and it can also help with motion sickness for those traveling by boat.
Knowing that bananas were popular among the refugees, we returned to the camp on January 12 to distribute more bananas, again working together with our Swiss friends from Open Eyes. By the end of the day, noticing they were running low in paper cups for hot tea, we bought more for them after the distribution.
We also brought more boxes of bananas to the Afghan refugees staying at Samos’s main camp situated up the mountain. As some bananas were still green, we left them with a German-based NGO, No Borders, who have been serving vegan food to the refugees staying at this upper camp.
Relief Efforts at Several Camps on Samos and Lesbos Islands, Greece – January 14 to 16, 2016
On January 14, our relief team on Samos island received 46 cartons of supplies shipped by our relief team members in Athens, and spent the day sorting the items out in the warehouse. Earlier in the morning, on our way to pick up the supplies, we stopped by the upper camp and distributed the bananas left with the NGO, No Borders.
On January 15, we learned that while many refugees had left for Athens, 250 more were expected to arrive on the island, so we bought two more boxes of bananas and vegan chocolates and distributed them among the camps on Samos.
On the same day, our relief team members on Lesbos went to Pikpa camp in the island’s capital, Mytilene, to meet with the camp’s coordinator, Mr. Michael Aivaliotis, and follow up on the van that was donated to them previously. After learning that the camp were using a rented vehicle in the past couple of months in the meantime before receiving their van, we offered EUR 500 to pay for the two months of rental fee.
Mr. Aivaliotis gave us a tour of the grounds. We noticed many upgrades have taken place since our last visit. There were more huts and dome tents containing heating, refrigerators and beds. Every day, the camp’s chefs cook 500 to 1,000 servings of vegan or vegetarian meals for the guests. The storage area was also fully supplied and well organized, and they allocated an area for a garden. One thing they will likely need in the future are more wheelchairs to assist the refugees in need.
Later in the afternoon, we traveled to Kara Tepe camp close to Mytilene, where we helped distribute clothing supplies. We learned from volunteers from Volunteer Coordination Agency (VCA), that men’s shoes were requested for in particular, so we will ask our team in Athens to organize a delivery accordingly.
The next day, on January 16, we visited different camps around Lesbos to find out their immediate needs, including Mantamados camp, a new shelter set up by the non-profit organization Borderline-Europe, and the Skala Sikamineas camp at the northern shore of Lesbos. Pikpa’s driver, Mr. Vlasis Diamantidis kindly drove us around.
Assisting at Pikpa Camp on Lesbos Island, Greece – January 18, 2016
Mytilene Bus Lines have teamed up with the NGO Mercy Corps to provide free bus tickets to the refugees arriving on Lesbos Island. Several times a day, they transport the refugees from the port to two main camps, Moria and Kara Tepe. On January 18, our relief team met with the manager of the Mytilene Bus Lines, Mr. Paris Molyviatis, and offered to pay the monthly EUR 2,000 bus service cost for at least one month in support of their loving action.
Next, we went to Pikpa refugee camp and helped the camp coordinator, Mr. Michael Aivaliotis, and another volunteer to unload the 300 kilograms of bananas we purchased. These bananas will be distributed in the following days, as more refugees are expected to arrive. Tomorrow, we plan to travel with Mr. Diamantidis, Pikpa’s driver, to various camps, transit points and the reception point to distribute bananas.
At Pikpa, we met with Ms. Matina, who creates fashionable bags out of discarded life jackets. She has started this project at Pikpa camp, where refugees can be involved in making these bags and be paid, while all the profits will go back to helping the refugees. She has chosen the motto “Safe Passage” for the endeavor.
Later in the evening, we attended a meeting with various NGOs and volunteer groups, chaired by a UNHCR – The United Nations Refugee Agency representative. We were relieved to hear that both Human Appeal and the Red Cross have prepared dried food for the refugees, as we noted that previously, refugees made their long journey from the islands to Idomeni, at the border of Greece and Macedonia, without food. It was good to see so many organizations communicating and cooperating with each other to serve the refugees in such difficult circumstances.
Providing Fruit and Continued Relief Efforts at Several Camps on Lesbos Island, Greece – January 19, 2016
As planned, on January 19, our relief team visited different camps on Lesbos Island to distribute bananas with the help from Pikpa’s kind driver, Mr. Vlasis Diamantidis. Before setting out, Mr. Diamantidis gave a ride to a young man from Afghanistan to see his wife and their newborn son at the hospital. Their journey from Turkey had been traumatic. Thankfully, they made it to Lesbos shore, and are now safe. We gave him some bananas and expressed our best wishes for his family.
Afterwards, we stopped by Kara Tepe camp, Olive Grove camp and Moria camp, where we dropped off boxes of bananas to the volunteers for distribution.
We then continued to Skala Sikamineas, at the north shore of Lesbos. Here, the Platanos Refugee Solidarity volunteer team have set up a camp to receive the refugees arriving by boat, giving them hot tea, dry clothes and shoes upon arrival. There was also a tent reserved for mothers and babies. As soon as we finished unloading the bananas, we saw a group of new arrivals being guided towards the camp. Many were trembling from the cold, having wet shoes and clothes. Seeing that their kitchen had ran out of jam, we immediately purchased more from the local store. We also asked our team members in Athens to send over shoes and socks as soon as possible.
In the evening, we returned to the Moria camp and assisted the volunteers to serve vegan meals to gratefully receiving families. They expressed appreciation for the heated rooms with beds and blankets for them to rest comfortably in the camp.
Contributing to Refugee Bus and Laundry Services on Lesbos Island, Greece – January 21, 2016
On the morning of January 21, our relief team on Lesbos Island, Greece, went to Pikpa and handed over EUR 2,000 to cover a month of bus service provided by Mytilene Bus Lines that transports refugees to and from the camps.
We noticed that the volunteers and refugees are exploring more creative projects in an effort to recycle. They are using the rubber materials from the discarded boats and wood from freight pallets to create little greenhouses to grow plants. They’ve also created outdoor seating out of materials from boat refuse.
Pikpa’s driver, Mr. Diamantidis, who is keenly interested in Master’s spiritual teachings, again kindly offered to take us to our next stop. On the way to Olive Grove camp in Moria, we purchased some toothbrushes, razors and diapers. In addition to these supplies, we gave the volunteer group, Better Days for Moria, another EUR 2,000 to help cover the laundry service for the refugees in the camp.
Delivering Supplies and Assisting Relief Efforts for Newly Arriving Refugees on Lesbos Island, Greece – January 23 to 24, 2016
On January 23, our Athens relief team, including two of our Association members from Korea, purchased relief items for refugees on the islands of Chios and Lesbos. We bought urgently needed shoes, as well as other supplies including hats, 120 scarfs, 300 children’s jackets and 300 backpacks. Understanding the situation and our sincerity, the shop owner was very kind and supportive to us.
On January 24, our relief team on Lesbos Island, Greece, traveled to the Borderline-Europe refugee transit station near Skala Sikamineas, where many refugees land by boat, and delivered children’s socks to the coordinator, Julian. We assisted another volunteer in unloading a carload of clothes and shoes into the building. Julian expressed concern for the refugees, as the weather is getting much colder and the seas are rougher. We all pray for their safe passage.
We then headed to meet the Platanos Refugee Solidarity crew close by, and delivered boxes of bananas and bread for the refugees. We told Apostoli, one of the local crew members, that the shoes and socks we had promised are on their way from Athens and should reach Lesbos in a couple of days. While we were there, we saw that some newly arrived refugees were receiving supplies and food before being taken up to the registration camp.
Next, we went to Platanos Rescue and Relief station around the corner and met Jada, one of the organizers. We let her know we would bring more supplies once they arrive in Lesbos.
Bringing Shoes, Boots, Socks and Hats for Newly Arrived Refugees on Lesbos Island, Greece – January 25 to 26, 2016
The most needed items for newly arriving refugees are shoes and socks, as their feet become soaking wet from the boat journey. Knowing that more refugees would arrive in the comings days since the seas are calmer, we prepared socks, shoes and boots in various sizes for both men and women, as well as some knit hats.
All items were delivered to the Volunteer Coordination Agency (VCA) area in Kara Tepe refugee camp. Volunteers from Médecins du Monde (Doctors of the World) – Greece, located next to VCA’s area, noticed us unloading the supplies, and kindly came to help us. We were very grateful for their and the VCA’s assistance.
Delivering Clothing Items for Refugees to Volunteer Organizations on Lesbos Island, Greece – January 27, 2016
On January 27, sixty large cartons of relief items sent from Athens arrived at the port of Mytilene, Lesbos. Our relief team organized a transport truck to help deliver them to various camps, transit points and rescue stations according to their previous requests. The items included shoes, socks, gloves, belts, trousers, jackets, knit hats, and backpacks.
On our first trip, we delivered the items to the NGO Borderline-Europe in Klio, and the rescue and relief stations of Platanos Refugee Solidarity and Lighthouse Refugee Rescue. All were very thankful to receive the additional supplies, especially the socks and shoes, as they are always in high demand.
Then, we traveled to Moria, to the Better Days for Moria Olive Grove refugee camp and delivered shoes, boots, belts and jackets.
Our final stop was at the Kara Tepe camp where we contributed some extra shoes to the Humanitarian Support Agency (formerly the Volunteer Coordination Agency). They were all very grateful.
Heading to Chios Island to Continue Relief Efforts, Greece – January 28, 2016
On the early morning of January 28, our relief team took a ferryboat heading for Chios Island, two and half hours away from Lesbos Island, to pick up the supplies that arrived from Athens a few days ago. During our ferry journey, we met many friendly refugees and their children, who also kindly sang for our relief team. In Chios, 70 large packages were waiting in the storage facility containing shoes, underwear, socks, gloves, trousers and jackets.
The transport company and Ms. Maria Zoumidi, Volunteers Coordinator of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), helped us arrange two trucks to deliver our supplies to the Tabakika refugee registration center. Like other camps, the items most in demand for refugees are shoes, so the volunteers at the clothing distribution area were very grateful to us for replenishing their supplies. They distributed a few pairs to refugees while we were unloading the trucks.
Earlier, while we were waiting for the trucks, we went to visit The People’s Street Kitchen. Previously, two of our members worked with the lead cook, Mr. Ifty Patel, and made vegan meals for the refugees. At the Kitchen, a Bulgarian news crew happened to be there to film and interview. They also asked us about our organization and what we do. After that, one of our members stayed at the Kitchen to help with meal preparations.
Helping Prepare Vegan Meals for Refugees at The People’s Street Kitchen on Chios Island, Greece – January 29 to 30, 2016
With the ferryboats currently on strike, the number of refugees on Chios Island, Greece, has increased to about 2,500. The camps were not able to accommodate all, and some refugees now have to sleep outside near the port with blankets provided by UNHCR and other organizations.
On January 29, our relief team visited The People’s Street Kitchen Chios, where the organizer and head chef, Mr. Ifty Patel, told us that all meals are vegan. He expressed gratitude for our previous support. Showing concerns about the amount of cooking work needed for the large number of refugees on the island, we assured him that we would help as much as we could.
We spent most of the day chopping vegetables to help Mr. Patel make dinner for the refugees. Once ready, we went to serve hot soup and bread at Tabakika, Dipethe and Souda camps, and at the port.
At Souda camp, we met a 19-year-old volunteer from Germany named Jacob, whom we saw playing his ukulele and singing for the refugees. Everyone was enjoying the entertainment, dancing and laughing. It was a beautiful sight to see and experience.
The next day, we went back to the kitchen for another busy day of chopping vegetables and cutting bread. When the large pots of vegan soups were ready, we went to serve at the Dipethe camp. There, we were joined by three more of our Association members from the United States, who flew to the island from Athens. Later, we went back to the kitchen and prepared more food for those at Tabakika camp. Joined by the talented Jacob, we brought nutritious soup to the camp to serve. Once again, Jacob took out his ukulele and sang for the refugees, creating a joyous atmosphere.
Continued Work with The People’s Street Kitchen on Chios Island, Greece – January 31 to February 1, 2016
Our relief team on Chios Island continued to work with The People’s Street Kitchen to provide warm vegan meals to the refugees in Tabakika camp on January 31 and Souda camp on February 1. As the ferry strike ended, the number of refugee had decreased from over 2,500 to about 300 in two days. Our newly arrived team members bought some kitchen utensils, herbs and spices. We also helped to clean and organize the kitchen when it was less busy.
Mr. Ifty Patel, the coordinator and chef of the The People’s Street Kitchen, graciously let us continue to use the Kitchen for making meals for the refugees while he was away for over a week to raise funds for a mobile kitchen van to better serve the refugees on the island.
When we visited Ms. Maria Zoumidi from the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and Ms. Edith Chazelle, the Chios Camp Management Coordinator from NRC on February 1, both expressed their gratefulness for our timely delivery of the shoes and clothing, which helped to clothe many refugees on Chios Island during the weekend.
Expenditures by The Supreme Master Ching Hai International Association for Refugee Relief Work in Greece
|Food gift packs for the refugees (fruits, cookies, breadsticks, raisins, nuts and juice) and holiday bags||1,551.98||A|
|Supplies (undergarments and shoes), shipping fee and warm vegan meals for refugees on Leros island, Greece||7,141.00||B|
|Food (cookies, raisins, sultanas, fruits, breadsticks, nuts, mineral water, juice and vegetables), bags, spoons, cups, warm jackets, shoes and medicine for refugees in Athens and fruits for refugees in Katalipsi camp, Greece||2,502.36||C|
|Supplies (gloves, jackets, pants, shoes, socks, hats, undergarments, backpacks, scarves, cups and spoons) and food (breadsticks, bananas, oranges, sultanas, canned beans, chocolates and water) for refugees on Samos island, Greece||11,175.56||D|
|Supplies (kitchen utensils, socks, shoes, boots, diapers, razors and toothbrushes), food (bread, fruit, jam and vegan chocolates), laundry fee and transportation (vehicle rental and fuel ) for refugees on Lesbos Island and Chios Island, Greece||8,411.58||E|