By Greece Relief Team (Originally in English)
In a continuous effort to help the refugees and to spread the vegan news in Greece, some of our Association members traveled from Korea and the United Kingdom to Athens in July 2017, and joined the local team to partake in a variety of activities. With a total of EUR 18,172 from the remainder of our Athens refugee relief fund, from our Korean Association members and from our United Kingdom Association members, we participated in a Vegan Life Festival and brought assistance to those in need in Athens and the surrounding area, as well as those on Lesbos Island and Chios Island.
Vegan Life Festival – July 9, 2017
We were excited to participate in the second-ever Vegan Life Festival in Athens on July 9. The festival is the largest vegan event in Greece with the participation of a variety of vegan food, apparel and product companies. Patrik Baboumian, a vegan strongman athlete who holds the title of the Strongest Man in Germany, and who has set several world powerlifting records, was also at the event. We gave out Alternative Living flyers, “Be Vegan, Make Peace” brochures in Greek and English, and displayed Master’s books, banners and pictures. Many came to visit our booth and asked questions about Master and veganism. We stayed well into the night to talk with people and share the benefits of the plant-based diet, and about the cruelty of animal agriculture. We hope more people will get to know more about the compassionate lifestyle through events like this.
Assisting Refugees in Athens, Patras and Lavrio, Greece – July 8 to 11, 2017
On July 8, upon the arrival of our new relief team in Athens, we were asked to help Tent to Home and CRIBS (Care for Refugee Interim Baby Shelter) International in Athens, which are NGOs funded by donations from individuals and managed by volunteers. They both provide homes for vulnerable families who would otherwise be living in tents, and with the kind donations from individuals, they find them apartments in the city. CRIBS International does fundraising to provide accommodations for families with newborn babies as well as for women who are pregnant, so they can leave the camps and have a roof over their heads.
After shopping for fresh vegetables and fruit, dried vegan food and cleaning items in the morning, our team packed bags according to the size of each family. At 3 pm, we left with two vehicles and headed to Victoria Square to meet Florence from Tent to Home, and Saleem, a Syrian refugee who helps Tent to Home and CRIBS International. It took five hours to complete the distribution to 32 refugee families that were housed in different areas around Athens. We are so thankful to Master for arranging for us to meet such good people and for giving us the opportunity to deliver much-needed items to the families.
Although many families have now been moved from camps into apartments, the situation is still very hard for them. Despite being tired from the extreme heat and exhausted from their long ordeal, they still have smiles on their faces and are always so hospitable, many wanting to invite us for tea!
On July 10, continuing the refugee relief work in areas around Athens, our team drove to Patras, which is about 220 kilometers east of Athens.
In Patras, 200 male refugees stay in two abandoned warehouses near the port. The living conditions are difficult. Fortunately, the owners of the warehouse pay for the electric and water supply for the refugees. This kind gesture is very heartwarming in what looks like such a desperate situation for the men.
A group called foodKIND, which is made up of individual volunteers, works from an apartment in Patras, and they cook meals daily for the men who receive no financial assistance. We met with the volunteers who run foodKIND, and then we purchased sacks of chickpeas, lentils, basmati rice, approximately 500 flat breads, oil, canned tomatoes, beans, watermelons, fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and bananas, and delivered the supplies to the organization’s kitchen.
Later, we went to one of the warehouses to meet the young and old refugees staying there, and hopefully bring some comfort to them. Upon arriving at one of the warehouses, we saw how very tired most of the men were due to the very hot weather. We chatted for a few minutes and in time many had started playing volleyball with the balls we had purchased for them. The atmosphere changed completely, and there were smiles and conversations to relieve their boredom, if only briefly.
At the warehouses, we met a 17 year-old boy from Afghanistan who is hoping to go to France with his two brothers. He wants to continue studying when he meets his family there, although his mother is still in Afghanistan. We also met Abdullah, who talked with one of our team members about the importance of finding inner peace. He even said he could sometimes see the light around trees and plants, and around our team member. When the conversation was ending, his eyes were moist when we mentioned how the future will be very happy for all of us, and all will find peace, love and abundance when more people choose the compassionate way of life. Food and supplies are important, but giving hope to them at such difficult times is something they also need.
At Patras, the situation for the refugees was challenging. We came back to our flat hoping that while we are here in Greece we will be able to convey Master’s love where it is really needed. We appreciated a motto we heard from one of the volunteers for the refugees, even though what we do seems so little on the grand scale of things: “Do what you can, where you can, and when you can.”
On July 11, we visited a camp made up of small cabins on a vacant lot on the outskirts of the town of Lavrio, about an hour’s drive southeast of Athens. It receives some food assistance from the Red Cross. As we arrived, we were instantly welcomed with bright beaming smiles.
Earlier in the morning, part of our team in Athens went shopping, buying fresh produce like watermelons and tomatoes, as well as cooking oil, tea, coffee and sugar, which had all been requested by the people of the camp through an individual volunteer whom we had made contact with. We also purchased volleyballs, soccer balls and lots of blow bubbles for the children. In addition, we bought clothing items, including shorts, T-shirts, women’s tops and trousers and children’s clothes, for approximately 120 adults and children. We left all we had purchased in the trust of the head of the camp for fair distribution later to the families.
Lavrio camp is a Kurdish refugee camp, and although we did not speak the same language, the residents expressed their joy and gratitude at receiving fresh watermelons, especially given the very hot weather. There was such a happy atmosphere when the children all received the blow bubbles we had purchased, and soon many of the men and older boys started to play volleyball with some of our team. So many of the residents lovingly wanted to take photos of us with them. Their love, hospitality, purity and warmth touched us deeply. Apart from offering cold water they also made us coffee the way they have it in their country.
We shook hands and hugged when we were leaving, and some women who could speak limited English were saying “We love you.” They waved until the car was out of sight, and our hearts went out to them.
As we think of the traumatic ordeal these young children and families have experienced we feel immense gratitude for all we have and pray they will soon be relocated and can start a new life in a new country in peace and safety.
Our immense thanks and deep gratitude to Master for the opportunity to share Master’s unconditional love with those who need it most. Also, we are sincerely appreciative to the small independent groups of people who are striving to relieve the suffering of the refugees, especially during the extremely hot summer Greece is having. May God bring the refugees inner peace and comfort at this difficult time.
Returning to Lesbos Island and Chios Island to Assist Refugees, Greece – July 11 to 15, 2017
From July 11 to 14, four of our members spent time on Lesbos Island and coordinated the relief effort for the refugees at Pikpa camp, and also at the hotel supported by Caritas Internationalis, a Catholic relief and service organization. Our team also provided relief for the earthquake victims in the town of Vrisa.
Pikpa camp was well-organized, with 80 resident refugees, including 23 babies and children. Volunteer workers cook food at the camp for the families in need. They also organize social activities for refugees in a big dome-shaped tent especially built for such purposes. There were small pieces of land for cultivating vegetables and herbs. At our request, a volunteer listed a number of items they needed at the camp.
The town of Vrisa was seriously damaged by the earthquake that took place a month earlier. There were piles of rubble from collapsed buildings. Some houses were flattened to the ground, while others had the inner walls intact. There was no set date when the rebuilding of the village will start. Those who can make a living to support themselves are a little better off, while others who do not have jobs are much more desperate.
When we visited Caritas refugee hotel, Dmitris, the person in charge, gave us a thorough overview of the place. We learned that the hotel was funded by Caritas Greece and Caritas Switzerland, and only accepts families and women in need, including women who are pregnant. Currently, about 50 refugees are living there, most of whom are from various war-torn countries such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. The refugees are encouraged to take part in managing the place, and the kitchen is open for all to come and cook. In addition, there were classes in English and Greek for both the children and adults, and every week doctors come to give them checkups.
Before heading back, we handed out vegan chocolates and packs of juice we had prepared in advance for the children. We also arranged a local wholesale market to deliver fresh vegetables and fruits when they are available to Pipka, Vrisa, and the Caritas refugee hotel, and left EUR 4,076 for our local team member to pay for the food we ordered. From various local stores, we managed to procure some of the required supplies including medicines, swimsuits, flip flops, diapers, sunscreen, razors and some sweets, and dropped them off at Pikpa camp with our small vehicle.
On July 15, we traveled from Lesbos Island to Chios Island on a ferry and went straight to the The People’s Street Kitchen where our Association members had cooked for the refugees for almost a year. The current kitchen staff, four refugees and two volunteers, provide two meals a day to children going to a refugee school and serve tea in Souda camp every day. They also cook for a few vulnerable families who need special medical care. We were pleased to hear that the kitchen continues to serve vegan food, and we happily helped with dinner preparation for the day. We spent a couple of hours cleaning the kitchen thoroughly, and afterwards, we returned to Athens and joined part of our team members who had been there assisting refugees.
Providing Supplies for Refugees in Athens, Greece – July 14 to 17, 2017
On July 14, we met with two refugees in Athens and gave them three backpacks they had requested. Both of them will be relocated to Sweden soon. One is the father of four children who has known our group for many months, and named one of his children Mary Âu Lạc in honor of Master. (Supreme Master Ching Hai was born in Âu Lạc (Vietnam).) He is actively promoting the veg lifestyle among the refugees. The other is named Amjad, who left his home in Syria and traveled for three years through four countries before coming to Greece. He is recently married, and is keen on going to Sweden with his wife to start a new life.
Our next stop was the Khora Community Centre and two other refugee centers, where we shared more phrase books. These books are very popular among the refugees. One camp manager said they are very precious, like gold! Khora Community Centre is a well-equipped five-story building divided into different areas including cafés, dentists, doctors and surgery, schools and a ladies-only area. They also have special workshops like skateboarding for children and knitting for women. Three days later, we donated 96 pairs of men’s underwear to the Centre, which were accepted gratefully.
Our Athens relief team met Bilal, a Pakistani refugee who lived with his friends in an old building owned by a senior Greek man named Niko. The man kindly offered them lodging in exchange for cleaning and occasional other work, even though he was in a difficult financial condition. We gave them two used smartphones they requested, and some fruit. We talked with them about Islam and encouraged them to have faith despite the current situation.
Our relief team members are happy to have the chance to help the refugees in Greece and are grateful to all the volunteers and individuals who selflessly give their time and support. We have witnessed so many angels who try to share love with one person or one family at a time so that the refugees will not lose hope. Thanks to Master’s guidance and arrangement, we came to this place to meet these wonderful people and learn how to love.
Helping Refugees and Visiting Refugee Camps in Athens, Greece – July 18 to 23, 2017
Our Athens relief team again met with Bilal, a Pakistani refugee, and his friends. Based on their requests, on July 21, we bought various vegan food items, shampoo, razors, soap and other necessities. Bilal was delighted to see his favorite vegetable: okra. We feel thankful to be able to reach out to them and help them in a small way. Later, we went to a refugee center and delivered food and cleaning supplies that were needed for 50 children and their families. Seeing the happy smiles on the faces of the refugees, our hearts were warmed.
On July 23, after delivering cleaning supplies to another refugee center, we headed straight to Ritsona camp, about a one-hour drive north of Athens, and handed out some juice. The beautiful murals at the entrance painted by refugees and volunteers lightened up the atmosphere. There were about 750 refugees in the camp, with 90 percent of them being from Syria. They stay in prefabricated houses with air conditioning, kitchen and bathroom facilities donated by The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the United Arab Emirates. Many of them were waiting to go to other countries like Sweden. In the meantime, they live only partly on the UN-issued cash, which began working at the end of May, and really appreciated the additional help from volunteers. We were happy to hear that they welcomed the first baby in the camp just the day before our visit. We had the pleasure of meeting Carolynn, a volunteer who manages the Café Rits in the camp, which provides food for all the residents in the camp. She also manages a soccer team of about 20 young men, all of whom work in the Café. The leader of the soccer team was a national soccer player in Iraq. They often have matches with a Greek soccer team.
Next we visited Oinofyta camp, about 15 minutes away, where about 500 refugees were living in temporary housing in a warehouse. With most of the residents being from Afghanistan, the camp is mainly operated through the help of various NGOs. Some refugees did not have cash cards and were totally dependent on donations and help from individuals and NGOs. What is unique about Oinofyta camp is that they have a special sewing facility in which experienced refugee workers make colorful bags from clothing materials and torn tents. These bags are sold online, and the proceeds are used for refugees. Each bag is embossed with the names of the refugees who made them and is beautifully decorated with words about peace, love, and the symbol of Oinofyta camp. We shared a few copies of Master’s books and phrase books with the refugees in the camp.
We were deeply touched by the devotion and sacrifice of the volunteers we met. For example, Carolynn in Ritsona camp had injured one of her legs and was walking with crutches, and Lisa in Oinofyta looked very tired, but they looked after the refugees first and did not take time for themselves. We pray for the health and well-being of these lovely saints.
Visiting Lesbos Island, Greece – July 25 to 28, 2017
On July 25, when we again visited the earthquake stricken village of Vrisa, we learned that most residents now live in their relatives’ homes, or in empty houses in their villages or in their summer houses. We were surprised that as soon as we left the village and headed to our apartment, we received a phone call from the leader of the village who delivered the relief food we contributed earlier in the month. Every food item was well received, and were ample and of good quality, so the villagers were happy. We were so happy to hear that they distributed watermelons first and every villager enjoyed them very much.
On July 26, we visited the Moria and Kara Tepe refugee camps on Lesbos. We could not enter the camps without booking in advance. They were under the management and control of military units and policeman, and seemed well-managed.
We then revisited the Caritas refugee hotel. The children’s playroom there had chairs, a desk, paper for coloring, and markers. There was a broken plastic slide outdoors, but a staff woman said they could not afford a new one. We had some fun with children drawing pictures and coloring together. At first, the children were very shy, but they came over to play. We also played Arabic songs on YouTube, and children asked us to play them again and again. They happily sang along with the songs. We saw the bright smiles of the children, and we hoped to see their laughter continue.
We wanted to buy more things for children to draw pictures, and toys that they would enjoy, so the next day, we asked the camp staff what they needed, and they asked for a soccer ball, a volleyball, a thick marker pen, and non-toxic finger paint. We bought the items requested by the staff and bought a few more toys and play equipment that we thought the children would like.
Also, on July 27, we went to Pikpa camp to help the volunteers. Erica, a staff member, welcomed us and told us about the camp. The camp is managed by the NGO Lesbos Solidarity. The camp had a very stable, free and warm atmosphere. While many camps are far from the city and away from the traffic, Pikpa camp is located about 10 minutes by car from the city center of Mytilene and residential areas. It used to be a camping site, but Lesbos Solidarity made it as a refugee camp, so unlike other camps where refugees live in container houses, there were many refugees living in wooden cabins designed for camping. Still some refugees have lived in tents, but there are newly built wooden houses being constructed by a refugee carpenter from Pakistan and volunteers.
To help at the camp, we categorized clothes that were donated to the refugees. There is a “shopping room” under the office of Pikpa camp that is opened for an hour three times each week so that refugees can pick any clothes they want. Until some time ago, donated clothes and shoes were stacked in boxes with no arrangement. It was good to sort out by gender, age, and size, and hang them on hangers to make sure that the people could find the clothes they needed. The volunteers at the shop also recorded how many clothes and what kind of clothes the refugees had taken for each family to determine what clothes they needed.
We also helped install insulation in a newly built wooden house. The inside of the house was very hot. So we added an insulation panel to block the heat during the day and to prevent the cold at night. They did not have enough money at the camp, so they made their own insulation panel by attaching Styrofoam to plywood. We moved their insulation panel and attached it to the ceiling. It was done in the heat, but we did not take care about it, thinking of the refugees who would live in the house.
The Pakistani refugee in charge of building houses and furniture at the camp did carpentry jobs in his home country. He has suffered personal tragedies, including the death of his wife, and his health was not good. Even under such circumstances, we felt that his heartfelt service for other refugees was very beautiful. We sincerely prayed for a bright future for him with God’s blessings and protection. We live in the same world, but most times we live without knowing that there are so many people who suffer like him. Many of the refugees who met during the refugee relief activities showed their gratitude to God without losing hope. We could feel a lot in their smiles. We prayed and prayed again for peace in the hearts of the many suffering refugees.
On July 28, we went back to Pikpa camp and picked up trash throughout the camp, and helped construct a public table.
We heard the sad news that the Caritas refugee hotel would close in two months. That means that about 50 refugees who had been living a stable life here have to leave for a camp. We wished them good luck for their new living arrangement.
Delivering Food and Supplies for Refugees in the Athens Urban Area, Lavrio, Oinofyta and Ritsona, Greece – July 31 to August 5, 2017
After distributing the Greek version of Alternative Living leaflet in Piraeus and Glyfada in the Athens Urban Area on July 31, our relief team delivered vegan food and necessities to a refugee center the next day. In this center, refugees can enjoy coffee or tea while chatting, and request free hot meals. The volunteers there welcome all the refugees with open hearts, and their unconditional love creates a sense of home for these people during difficult times. Other activities organized by the center include distributing food, providing accommodations and offering legal service and cash transfers for the refugees.
During the next few days, we visited refugee camps in Lavrio, Oinofyta and Ritsona. Lavrio camp accommodates 180 people who are not officially considered as refugees, so they have received very limited financial support from outside. We came prepared with watermelons, needed supplies such as toothbrushes and toothpaste, shampoo, shower gel, and soap bars, medicines and language books, which were shared with refugees along with Alternative Living flyers in Turkish. We also purchased a baby stroller for a young mom.
Prior to visiting Oinofyta and Ritsona camps, we purchased soccer balls, volleyballs, basketballs, card games and coloring books for children of different age groups. On August 5, we stopped at a grocery store owned by Ansar, a refugee from Pakistan who offers the lowest price for the weekly order from Ritsona camp. To serve the refugees, and following the suggestion from the manager of Ritsona camp that we could contribute to their weekly food order, we paid EUR 501 for the eggplants and onions they ordered.
In Ritsona camp, we participated in their food distribution and provided massages and emotional comfort to improve the well-being of the refugees. On behalf of everyone, the manager of the camp, Carolyn, expressed sincere appreciation for the contribution from our Association during the past two years and invited us to watch a final soccer competition on August 7. We plan to prepare some traditional Asian-style vegan dishes, snacks and desserts to share with all the people at the party after the match.
At Oinofyta camp, we offered 150 kilograms of basmati rice, which is the favorite of the Syrians. We talked to the camp manager and the volunteers to find out the items needed by the refugees. We will bring vegan soya protein, men’s grooming tools, leggings for women, and children’s exercise shoes in the following visits.
We thank God for giving us the opportunity to serve the people most in need and we will pray for all refugees during our daily meditation. We hope our visits will bring Master’s love to them and brighten their lives.
Expenditures Thus Far by The Supreme Master Ching Hai International Association for Refugee Relief Work in Greece, July 8 to August 5, 2017
|Food, vegetables, fruits, Arabic bread, baby diapers, baby clothes, pants, tops, socks, underwear, sports items, donations to families, toys, financial assistance and relief team expenses (car rental, tolls, gas) in Athens||7,947.06||A|
|Medicines, clothes, food for Pikpa camp, fund for buying vegetables and fruits for earthquake victims and refugee camps, and relief team expenses (car rental, repair, gas and labor) on Lesbos Island||6,000.00||B|
|Food and underwear for refugees, backpacks, used smartphones and relief team expenses (car rental, gas) in Athens||2,517.75||C|
|Food, shoes, cleaning supplies, cash contribution, and relief team expenses (car fuel) in Athens||1,707.67||D|
|Total||EUR 18,172.48 (US$20,842.40)|
Receipts for relief work and relief team expenditures will be posted in the future.
Vegan Life Festival, Athens – July 9, 2017
Pikpa Camp, Caritas Internationalis Refugee Hotel and Earthquake-affected Town of Vrisa, Lesbos Island – July 12 to 13, 2017
Athens Refugee Relief Work – July 7 to 17, 2017
Athens Refugee Relief Work – July 18 to 23, 2017
Oinofyta Refugee Camp – July 23, 2017
Ritsona Refugee Camp – July 23, 2017
Pikpa Camp, Caritas Internationalis Refugee Hotel and Earthquake-affected Town of Vrisa, Lesbos Island – July 25 to 28, 2017
Pipka Refugee Camp, Lesbos Island – July 27 to 28, 2017
Caritas Refugee Hotel and Moria Refugee Camp, Lesbos Island – July 26, 2017
Vrisa, Lesbos Island – July 25, 2017
Piraeus and Glyfada in the Athens Urban Area – July 31 to August 1, 2017
Lavrio Refugee Camp – August 3, 2017
Ritsona Refugee Camp – August 5, 2017