Two months ago me and my partner decided to go and volunteer in Greece to help with the stream of refugees arriving to Europe. We didn't know where to start so we posted on /r/greece asking for help.

/u/systemg7 replied saying he could put us in contact with someone that was on the ground. He delivered and a few weeks after we were off to Lesbos to volunteer with the Doctors of the World Greece.

We mainly worked at Moria Refugee Camp distributing clothes, baby milk, nappies, shoes and hygiene kits. We also had a chance to go and observe the boats situation and spent a lot of time in Mytilini at the port where refugees await for the ferry to Athens.

We have just returned after 5 weeks there and I would love to answer any questions that people may have regarding this experience and hopefully encourage some other people to do the same.

I kept a blog documenting my days. You're welcome to read it for further hindsight into what we did.

I hope that the questions I answer will help more people make an informed decision about volunteering their time to help the refugees.

My Proof: I sent more proof by pm to the mods, I am waiting for a reply confirming it's enough. But here's a blog entry with my photo and here's me

EDIT: Thank you for all the great questions! I will try and come back if I get new questions that ask about something I haven't talked yet. If you are thinking about volunteering, please research well before you depart and make sure you are doing responsible volunteering. Good luck!

Comments: 83 • Responses: 31  • Date: 

farting_in_the_bath36 karma

How have the Lesbians handled the influx of predominantly male migrants?

salmeida12 karma

Do you mean specifically the LGBT community that often visits Lesbos or the local people of Lesvos?

farting_in_the_bath2 karma

Curses, I've been foiled! The people of Lesovos. I hear a lot of negative commentary coming from citizens of other European nations; do the locals predominantly share the same discontent, or are they happy to assist in the situation?

salmeida9 karma

Here's something I said in another reply:

I personally only met one person that didn't agree with the refugees arriving. But I didn't meet a single person that opposed to the refugees being helped. I saw a lot of kindness from the locals towards the refugees and there's even an organised group of locals with a rota so they can cover all hours and days.

I do know there's a political group in Lesvos that openly talks about being against refugees arriving to the island. There was one small protest while we were there, organised by that group. But the majority of the people are understanding and really help the refugees as much as they can!!

GhostOfWhatsIAName12 karma

Recently more and more people around me (in Germany) tell of rude and demeaning behaviour esp. towards women among groups of refugees here. Being a male I haven't made any such experiences and still keep to my opinion such are more exceptions than anything. So, what was your experience in terms of mindsets of people, attitudes of men towards women, the general stance towards the European culture of human rights? (Please understand this as an open question, I have an impression of what Europe has achieved in that area and what may be the culture in the countries refugees come from, but I may be all wrong. Thus I'd like to hear some first hand accounts on this.)

salmeida17 karma

I completely understand your question. I was worried about this too. I cannot confirm that I was treated differently or was expected to behave in a different way. All the people I met were respectful of my ways and attitudes. I thought about this issue before I started volunteering but once there, it completely vanished. I didn't think about this a single time while in Greece. People always made a point of thanking me for my help, I made many male friends and female ones too. The man trusted me and always spoke to me respectfully. Honestly... I didn't have a single problem with any refugee while in greece. I probably had more problems with the Greek police being disrespectful of me though.

Stiffori2 karma

What kind disrespect by the greek police? Can you give an example?

salmeida7 karma

Oh boy... I have many stories. Perhaps I can tell you the most striking one:

One day tempers were running high, temperature was high, the number of refugees waiting in line were in the thousands (probably 5 000) and the police was trying to control the crowd. Then I see a policeman spitting at one of the refugees and my partner , who is a photographer, gets his camera and photographs the policeman's face. He wanted the police to know that someone was watching what he was doing and it wasn't right! Next thing I know the police is grabbing my partner and dragging him to the coordinator of our team, demanding the photo to be deleted and going on about this place being a military site and photos are not allowed. My partner uses film cameras so he had to take the film and hand it in to the police who proceeded to destroy it.

A few minutes after I convince my partner to go and talk to the police. We don't need more wars. They talk and both apologise. The police apologises for spitting. He says " I don't want you to think I'm an animal. I'm not. I'm human. My parents were refugees too. I understand these people. But there's so many and it's out of control. What are we supposed to do when 6 000 people arrive in one day? I understand them. I'm ashamed of what I did but I lost control. I'm sorry too"

Regarding disrespect towards me: some policeman would laugh at me answering the questions of refugees or making signs explaining the process to get the papers. As if they were too dumb to understand.

redcoatwright1 karma

I'm curious about this as well

salmeida2 karma

posted a reply just now.

designer_farts8 karma

What was your daily routine?

Were the locals welcoming towards the refugees?

Once the refugees reach Greece, what happens?

Heres some reddit fools gold for your service­čîč

salmeida10 karma

What was your daily routine?

Me and my partner would wake up around 11am, he would head off to the Mytilini port to take photos (he is a photographer) and I would stay at the BnB and sort out internet stuff. I had fundraised and there's a lot involved to it like send receipts to the donors, send photos, post updates. I would usually do that in the morning. Around 2:30 pm we would be picked up by someone from the Doctors of the World team to go to Moria camp. It's around 10km from Mytilini.

From then on anything could happen. Everything influenced the mood at the camp. The weather was the biggest one though. If it was bad weather on the previous day you could expect not many refugees to be in the queue for registration. If the weather was glorious and the sea was calm, you could expect thousands of people waiting. If it was really sunny and hot, you could expect many people fainting. If it was raining, everyone would be impatient, completely wet and desperate. Depending on what was happening that day at the camp, our routine would change. But let's pretend that when we arrived there was a medium amount of people, the weather was dry and there were no major issues: We would head to the medical point at the "non syrians" area and check if the doctors needed some help. If they didn't we would go to the supplies room, tidy up a little bit and get ready to start working. That involved standing outside of the room and evaluating people as they walked past. If we say babies we would make a bag with nappies, milk, wet wipes, tooth paste and tooth brushes for the family. If a kid didn't have shoes we would get some. If people were wet we would give them new clothes. But we also took people in that were brought to us by other organisations or the police and that needed some supplies. This was our main job. We also received boxes of donations and organised them. We would finish working around 9:30pm and usually be back in Mytilini around 10:30pm.

Were the locals welcoming towards the refugees?

I personally only met one person that didn't agree with the refugees arriving. But I didn't meet a single person that opposed to the refugees being helped. I saw a lot of kindness from the locals towards the refugees and there's even an organised group of locals with a rota so they can cover all hours and days.

Once the refugees reach Greece, what happens?

Once they reach the beach, if they are "lucky" to arrive to a place where there's volunteers, they are usually medically assessed, they are given a tea and a sandwich and then they need to go to Moria camp to register. But they can arrive to somewhere that is 50km from Moria and most of the times they have to walk that distance. sometimes there are buses that bring the people to Moria. But only sometimes.

designer_farts4 karma

Thanks for answering my question. I have one more though.

How do they arrive? Is there a service that takes them there?

Sorry for being so misinformed

salmeida7 karma

Do you mean arrive from Turkey to Greece? (Don't say sorry! You are trying to get informed!)

designer_farts2 karma

Yes.

salmeida10 karma

This is something that makes me very angry. No, there isn't a "service" at least not a real one.

Refugees travel to Turkey where they meet smugglers. The smugglers take them to the forest where they have to wait for as long as the smuggler decides to. When the smuggler decides that the refugees need to get on the boat, the refugees have to do so. We have heard stories about the people being threatened with a gun because they refused to get on the boat because the weather was bad. I know of someone that was made to go on a different boat from his family and now he doesn't know where the family is. He fears the boat turned and they died. But he doesn't even know.

Sometimes they will come on a plastic boat. Other times (less often) on a wooden fishing boat. But everytime it is filled to capacity. When I first saw a boat arriving I couldn't believe it. It's so full that the rim is pretty much touching the water. The people were soaked from the trip and not from getting off the boat like I originally thought. Often they have chemical burns from the kerosine from the engine mixing with the water inside the boat.

And you know what... It would cost me 20 EUROS to get a return ticket from Turkey to Greece. For the refugees it costs somewhere between 1500 and 2500 euros for this hell trip. When the weather is bad the smugglers drop the prices because there's more chances something will go wrong.

designer_farts5 karma

Oh man, what can I do to help. Im willing to donate.

salmeida2 karma

Please read here : http://www.pescadacozida.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/sara-how-can-i-help.html

If you want help deciding who to donate to, contact me by pm.

ElvishCopter8 karma

I read your post in /r/europe when you posted it, it's nice that you managed to keep your promise and even better to lend some of your time :)

The reality in Lesbos is bleak and your blog rightly talk about your and the refugee's struggles.

Did you experience anything that you could describe as funny?

salmeida8 karma

I had a lot of fun sometimes. But I was always brought back to reality and I felt guilty about laughing and thinking everything was ok. The things I had most fun about was the language barrier. In situations where people were trying to explain to me what they needed and I didn't know what they were on about. Specially women, they would be very expressive and would use their hands and facial expressions to explain it to me but I wouldn't get there. At some point the whole queue of people would be repeating the same gesture as the person asking for the thing, hoping that if more of them did it I would understand it :) (note: we are talking about simple things. Not me laughing at someone who is obviously distressed.) It would usually be someone that needs a sleeping bag (they would all do this hand gesture where they would put their finger tips together on top of their heads, looking like a tent. For some reason I came to understand that's a sleeping bag.

ksanthra2 karma

I love the way you answered this as your problem with language, not theirs.

You're awesome.

salmeida2 karma

I'm standing here trying to make a reply to acknowledge your kind comment and I can't get one. Thanks, I guess.

shivan217 karma

Are migrants informed about the capacities running out in their destination countries?

salmeida11 karma

Most of them comment on how they saw Merkel on TV saying migrants are welcome and that's why they head there. Sometimes you hear people saying they will go to Switzerland, Norway or Sweden... But I don't think they have properly researched these places. It's like they are aiming at that place but will kinda take anywhere that will welcome them. I don't think they have any idea about how Germany is tightening the process or.

salmeida6 karma

NOTE: I just re read your question when I was about to post a reply and I realised I read it wrong. I will post the reply anyway and answer the real question afterwards. I read it as:

Are migrants informed about the capacities/ infrastructures in their destination countries?

From what I gathered , no :( Many of them don't even know what happens when they arrive to Greece. It's such a long journey... I think they all go with the mindset "one worry at the time". When they arrive to Greece people explain what the steps are for them to leave the island and they do them and only then to they worry about the next steps.

sierramaster5 karma

Thank you so much for doing this AMA, right on time, i'm from Portugal too (Azores) and i will be 18 by next summer and would really like to help out by going to greece, italy or wherever for a few weeks but every resource i find is really confusing and doesn't really halp, so... how can i help out? What org do i talk to, etc?

salmeida6 karma

You should do a lot of research and ask yourself many questions before you head off or even start planning:

  • what skills do you have
  • can you support yourself
  • how long can you go for? Any amount of time is good but it's always best to aim at over 10 days so you can really get used to the place and make an impact
  • is the organisation you are planning on going with recommended by other volunteers?
  • do I think I can cope with what I will find?

I know may people don't agree with me but I try and do volunteering with an established NGO whenever I can. That way I know they have a long term plan that will continue after I leave. They have the expertise and they will help me. I volunteered with the Doctors of the World Greece and I 100% recommend them!

matiac4 karma

How well do you think migrants will adapt to their new place of residence?

Edit: some of the pictures of your earlier articles on the blog appear to have been taken down, just a heads up ( Day 2).

salmeida16 karma

How well do you think migrants will adapt to their new place of residence?

I don't know. We met many people that I remember thinking "he will be just fine!" But we often wonder if we thought that simply because the person spoke english very well. We met so many nice people whose wish was simply to be somewhere safe. I don't have a real answer to your question because all these people are different from each other. I met people who were educated, with Master degrees and that looked very european, but I also met a woman who was 105 yo. What will be of the old people? Will they be ok? I imagine their family will simply take care of them and they are happy to just be here with them. But who knows? I met a man who was around 80 and he was trying to speak to me in Farsi and I didn't get a word. I got someone to translate and it turns out he was asking me for help because he lost his backpack with all his money and documents. I looked around and there were THOUSANDS of people. No real light so we could see the floor, and there were countless other bags and rubbish. It would be impossible to find his bag (imagine a festival at night). I didn't know what to tell him. He was very calm and said "Just ask the police if someone found it and handed it in". How would I explain this man that the police couldn't care less about his bag? What would be of him? I gave him a big jacket, a tooth brush, tooth paste, toilet roll, a soap and a towel. In that moment, that's all that man had in the world. That was it. How is that supposed to help? I don't know. What happened to him afterwards? I don't know. How well will he adapt to the new place of residence? I don't even know how he will leave this place. I'm sorry if I'm all over the place... I honestly don't know.

(ps: Thank you! Will look into the photos.)

GIdata3 karma

How did you find the place to volunteer ? Found privately or by an organisation (whitch one?) Thanks :)

salmeida1 karma

It's in the description of the AMA :)

BoredSausage3 karma

Have you faced any negativity when you were there? I was on Kos, another Greek Island only a few kilometres from the Turkish mainland somewhere in May when the first refugees arrived and especially the British tourists had the most disgusting of reactions to them being around.

salmeida2 karma

I personally didn't experience any negativity.

Here's another reply I did about the subject: https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/3s1fy7/iama_volunteer_who_just_returned_from_lesbos/cwt98d7

When we flew to Lesbos the plane had many british tourists on their way to their holiday. During our stay we also saw many beaches filled with tourists. As far as I know there wasn't any problem between tourists and refugees. I did see a few messages from tourists that wanted to help :)

BoredSausage2 karma

That sounds alright because I think a lot more people are seeing how serious the situation is. Back in May the refugee crisis was nowhere near as big and people were kind of being caught off guard because there were a lot of people arriving in rubber boats on the shore all of a sudden.

It really did make me feel bad being on a vacation and going out every night and then being faced by a massive group of people in front of the police station, who just like me just had a few things with them, but they wouldn't be going back home in a week's time.

salmeida4 karma

I don't think there was anything wrong with the tourists that were enjoying their vacation, as long as, just like you, they were aware of what was happening. It took me two weeks to feel comfortable to go to the beach and swim. I thought it would be disrespectful to swim in a sea where so many tragedies had happened. I decided to do it when I realised that me thinking about this meant that I was being respectful. Does this make sense?

tugasnake-13 karma

I personally didn't experience any negativity.

Let me help you with that then. Going to Greece to help people is a waste of resources since you can easily find plenty of people to help in Portugal.

Not to mention that, you know, here you have your own people, not a bunch of outsiders who look different, speak another language and worship a different God. Altruism is only an evolutionary advantage when limited to your own tribe, people like you will be the downfall of our race.

salmeida9 karma

I've heard all the hate before :) I'm immune to it now. I am NOT the downfall of our race for helping someone in need. Posso-te garantir :)

tugasnake-9 karma

We'll see how this continent will look in a couple of decades thanks to helping those in need without thinking about the consequences. ;)

salmeida11 karma

See you there.

iJustMightBeInsane3 karma

Are there a lot of Lesbians there?

LightningA-773 karma

What's the funniest/most amazing thing you've seen from refugees who react to reaching Greek soil for the first time?

salmeida3 karma

I answered this in another comment about a fun time I had :

I had a lot of fun sometimes. But I was always brought back to reality and I felt guilty about laughing and thinking everything was ok. The things I had most fun about was the language barrier. In situations where people were trying to explain to me what they needed and I didn't know what they were on about. Specially women, they would be very expressive and would use their hands and facial expressions to explain it to me but I wouldn't get there. At some point the whole queue of people would be repeating the same gesture as the person asking for the thing, hoping that if more of them did it I would understand it :) (note: we are talking about simple things. Not me laughing at someone who is obviously distressed.) It would usually be someone that needs a sleeping bag (they would all do this hand gesture where they would put their finger tips together on top of their heads, looking like a tent. For some reason I came to understand that's a sleeping bag.

But regarding the time when the boats arrive... there's nothing funny about that time. Perhaps you can read a blog post I wrote about a day we helped a boat that was stranded for 5h in the sea: http://www.pescadacozida.blogspot.co.uk/2015/11/day-30.html

LightningA-775 karma

But regarding the time when the boats arrive... there's nothing funny about that time. Perhaps you can read a blog post I wrote about a day we helped a boat that was stranded for 5h in the sea: http://www.pescadacozida.blogspot.co.uk/2015/11/day-30.html

What I said was worded wrong. I assumed that some light hearted things would happen during your internship, but I reminded myself (too late) that this is a serious, global, humanitarian crisis. I always try to look at the positivity of a bad situation or event in life and that's what I tried to do here: strike up a convo that maybe would bring out light hearted moments of an event that is mainly depressing and heavy hearted.

salmeida4 karma

I'm sorry if I too worded my answer wrongly. Yes there was something I think it's worth mentioning about the people I talk about at the end of that entry (the ones that were in distress and crying while hugging me). That night we talked for hours as they warmed up rolled in blankets. We showed each other pictures of our country, I would show the beach they would show the war. We actually met by chance the next day in town. I was so happy. We all took many selfies and photos together as a group. We were all so happy to see each other and with a bit more hope in our faces, I guess knowing that one more trial had been surpassed. We exchanged facebook's and then hugged many times before saying bye.

Pvt_Larry3 karma

With winter approaching what is being done to help refugees in Europe cope with severe conditions? How can we help?

salmeida8 karma

I wish I could tell you that everything it's on it's way to become fully ready for winter. It's not. I dread the rain arriving to Lesvos again.

Here's three posts I wrote when it was raining in Lesvos:

http://www.pescadacozida.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/day-19.html

http://www.pescadacozida.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/day-20.html

http://www.pescadacozida.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/day-21-and-22.html

We need a lot of things. Mostly, we need HANDS! The camps weren't even ready for the summer time yet and now they need to be ready for winter. I don't know where to start:

  • we need covered places where people can queue and wait for their turn without getting soaked!

  • we need proper help at sea to help with the boats that keep arriving during the bat weather

  • we need places where everyone can go in and be warm

  • we need the buses to be reliable when it comes to drive the refugees from the arrival points at the beach to Moria camp. When this doesn't happen people have to walk 50km!!

  • we need wellington boots and rain coats!!

How can we help?

If you can, you should volunteer. There's many things being donated and sent to Greece, but not many hands to distribute them! Many people choose to volunteer at the beached where the boats arrive to. This is great, but the "non glamorous" jobs tend to have less volunteers. I spent my days opening boxes and distributing clothes. I may not show up on the newspapers, but I know my work was useful. We need people putting tarpaulins up to shelter the refugees. People to clean toilets, to clean the sheds where refugees sleep in for one night before moving on. We need HANDS at the camps.

I am only talking about Greece, but I'm sure other places around Europe need help too.

If you can't volunteer, you can choose to buy supplies and send them to the camps. We are in desperate need of raincoats, good waterproof shoes, hats, scarfs and glooves for all ages, socks...

If you don't know what is needed head over to: https://www.facebook.com/groups/volunteers.coordination/?fref=ts

and read the files in there. There's a lot of info about what to donate, who to send it to, etc.

PhileasFuckingFogg2 karma

It sounds like you worked inside Moria, ie after refugees have been registered, is that right? Did you see anything of the conditions in the queues outside? Were you still there when the rains hit in mid October?

salmeida1 karma

Yes I did work in Moria and observed the queues outside. I was also there when the rain hit.

See my blog posts regarding the rainy days: http://www.pescadacozida.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/day-19.html

http://www.pescadacozida.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/day-20.html

http://www.pescadacozida.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/day-21-and-22.html

Regarding the queues: there's not much to add. There's no light, it's unsafe, no real place to rest or get shelter in. The people have to get to the queues through a hole in the fence since the police decided their truck should be parked blocking the real way. The biggest issue is the lack of information to the refugees. There are medical points, toilets and even some food distribution points, but they know none of this while standing in the queue.

jeremysee22 karma

What was the saddest story that you've heard there? Great work volunteering there by the way!

salmeida3 karma

Out of respect to the families, I will refrain from telling you the real sad stories I was involved in. I've come to realise that it's extremely disrespectful to share details of death and horrors on the Internet as if they don't mean anything to you or t wasn't a real person that died. I don't know how to better explain it. It feels wrong. So here is one of the stories that marked me the most: http://pescadacozida.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/don-make-me-liar-nao-me-facas-passar.html?m=0

come_on_peoples2 karma

How fucked is that place?

salmeida1 karma

Very fucked. You would hear me say "this place is fucked" many times a day. The amount of thins that happen there but would never be allowed to happen if these people were British/French/etc , is unbelievable.

blaziken242 karma

Have the waves of immigrants shrink since the beginning of the crisis?

Do you know what are the plans, in Germany and other central Europe countries for when winter hits?

salmeida3 karma

Have the waves of immigrants shrink since the beginning of the crisis?

I can only speak for the time I was in Greece. I know this was the summer with more arrivals since the start of the crisis, but I arrived in the first week of October and there were many more people arriving then than now. One week ago there was a day with really bad weather and only 500 people registered. But two days later 2000 registered.

Do you know what are the plans, in Germany and other central Europe countries for when winter hits?

I don't I can only speak for Lesvos and I commented here on what is happening regarding the winter:

https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/3s1fy7/iama_volunteer_who_just_returned_from_lesbos/cwt8yvq

omg1234567892 karma

How would you characterize your experience with Doctors of the World? I've looked at their web page and they seems to have plenty of non-medical volunteer positions. It's something I would consider doing and wonder if you could comment about the organization. Thank you!

salmeida1 karma

100% recommend them!! The team I was working with was fantastic! They mostly employ local people for their paid vacancies. Something I believe is very good! When it comes to volunteers, they are mainly sent from Doctors of the World from other countries (Holland, Belgium, Spain, ...). I heard bad stories about many NGO's in Lesbos, but everyone seems to have a very positive view of the DotW (or MdM as the team calls it, Medicins du Monde). If I was to work with an NGO I would probably only work for them. They are transparent about their finances and where the money comes from. I have a lot of money from donations and they never pushed me to donate it to them. They would give me a list of medicines they needed and I would buy it myself, ensuring 100% of the money was spent on what was needed. They were reliable with their commitment to the medical points and the schedule. One other organisation that was providing medical care in Lesbos didn't have a schedule and showed up when they wanted and refused to coordinate schedules with us so we could make sure there was 100% coverage in Moria. Some people from the MdM teams from other countries commented on the fact that MdM Greece was a bit unorganised compared to the MdM in their country. But I think it was due to two factors: cultural and the situation. Cultural because I think generally greek people work in a very fast paced and changing environment, and the situation because ... well, things were always changing and so was the plan because of the days being filled with unexpected events. Go for it!

_whatevs_1 karma

congratulations and thank you for your kindness. it is a rare gift.

in your opinion, what is the best way for an ordinary citizen to help the refugees or people like you that help them ?

salmeida1 karma

Hi, thank YOU!

If you would like to get involved, I have written a blog post about the best ways to help, in my opinion.

tl;td: Get involved!! You are the best thing you can donate!

http://www.pescadacozida.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/sara-how-can-i-help.html

hlabarka-1 karma

Why doesnt that group just use refugees to do the volunteer work you are describing and then you can just donate the money you used to fly half way around the world and stay in a hotel?

salmeida1 karma

Is this a serious question or a troll question?