One of the questions that the organization I’m working for asks its volunteers upon receiving their application for work is what their backgrounds are in. With so much going on at the Hub, there are so many different avenues that volunteers can find themselves venturing down. Since I have classroom experience, I spend a large chunk of my time teaching. I would say the majority of what we do here on the island revolves around the classrooms within the Hub, but another piece to the puzzle that is Echo100Plus is our storage department.
We are truly fortunate to have always been lucky enough to have a stream of clothing donations coming in from all over Europe the past few years. Every so often, a few boxes arrive, filled with donations of clothing and shoes that we then get to sort and distribute to the residents of the Hotspot camp. Since I’m normally teaching in the mornings, I rarely get scheduled any time to be a part of the storage department, but every so often, I get the chance to drive to the other side of the island where our storage garage is, and sort through a couple of boxes of things, throwing them into their designated crates.
With anywhere from 600 to 1,000 refugees on the island at any given time, our clothing donations are crucial in helping the people who have fled their countries to become more established on Leros. Even though we are only one small NGO, we have been designated the task of dealing with distributing clothing to the refugees. This means that if we don’t provide the people with clothes, they won’t be given any. We are the sole distributors of clothing, jackets, footwear, and hygiene products. This is why monetary and clothing donations are so important.
When new arrivals get to the island after arriving on boats from nearby islands, we are in charge of giving them clothes right away. Often, they’re still wet from their journey from Turkey. We have a number of different clothing packs pre-made and ready for when new people arrive. For the most part though, our storage team is constantly prepping for “distribution.” When I was here earlier this year, the team I was on did two distributions while I was here, earlier this month, we did another one. Distribution involves closing down the Hub and all normal activities and focusing entirely on giving clothing out to the residents of the camp. This seems like a simple task, but when there are nearly 1,000 people to distribute to, including families with small children and babies, a lot of work needs to go into the event.
For this particular distribution, we closed down the Hub for one entire week and turned the classrooms into a shop, with men on one side of the building and women and children on the other. Ahead of time, one of the volunteers created a timetable for when residents could come in for their appointments. With so many people needed jackets and shoes for the arriving winter, we had to schedule people in 20 minutes shifts, with both of our shuttles constantly running from the Hub to the Hotspot, in steady rotation, picking people up, and dropping them back off.
As each van load of people arrived to the Hub, we volunteers would direct them to their designated areas and then assist them in finding clothing that would best suit their needs. So many of the men prefer to wear formfitting clothing, so we ran out of small and medium jackets relatively quickly. It gets a little old, but for the most part, being people’s personal shopping assistant is pretty fun. The communication is always hilarious too, since most of them only speak Arabic and Farsi.
All in all, the week was a tiring success. Most people were at least somewhat satisfied with what they were walking away with, and I felt good about people getting more clothing to keep them warm. Even though this area of Greece is pretty nice, the weather can still take a toll on the body, especially if you live in the Hotspot.
I think one of the highlights of doing distribution is that we get to interact with children. We aren’t licensed to work with children on a day-to-day basis, so when they come in with their parents to collect clothing, it’s the only chance we really get to see them. Seeing single young men on a daily basis is one thing, but babies and toddlers coming in with their parents to collect shoes and jackets is a sobering reminder of what a mess the Middle East is. We need to do better than this, we humans. We’re capable of so much more.