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It has been quite a long, busy time since we last posted a We Are Here update.

For our project, we are continuing to grow and adapt all the time, through trial and error and practise, and to improve and offer new things thanks to the dedication and skills of volunteers who come to work with us and to your continued financial support – without which none of this would be possible.

As for the more general situation for refugees across Greece, change is also happening but not nearly fast enough, as the asylum process drags on at its painfully slow pace, and preparations for winter across much of the camps have not been fast enough either, and have been overtaken by the onset of extremely low temperatures. NGOs, aid groups and independent volunteers are continuing to do what they can to cover the gaps.

In Serres camp, refugees – including the very young, old, sick and pregnant – are still in the army tents from when they first arrived there at the beginning of August. These tents have neither floors nor inner layers and offer neither protection from the cold, now that the temperatures plummet at night time, nor from the rainwater which runs along the ground straight into their tents when there is a heavy downpour. With the arrival of another 100 people living conditions there became extremely cramped .. Next door to the camp, within full sight and walked past every day, are the empty ‘future’ living containers which have been sat there since the beginning of August. The bureaucracy, politics and whatever else slowing down the installation are just salt in the wounds for the Yazidi population who have already been through so much. With little comfort, little privacy and little dignity, the effect that the poor living conditions and continued uncertainty is having on the psychological welfare of people there is very real.

For our project there this means, that like the other groups working there, we are fairly limited in what we do, and it takes a lot of energy to achieve small things. There is one small communal tent which has to be shared amongst the different groups working there. So in the mornings we rely on the weather being good enough to be outside: a ramsamsam round up and then an English activity followed by a colouring or vocab worksheets, with a mixmatched age of children from toddler to age 8 or 9 sat with cushions and plastic tables on a tarpaulin sheet on the ground and using the wall of a ‘washroom’ caravan to stick up flashcards. We have also recently started classes for the adults, and are supplying some books and other educational material, and some recreational material.

For Nea Kavala, the living conditions are becoming more positive, with most but not all of the people in the camp now in containers. This definitely mean better living conditions, which were much needed as heavy rains and high winds had already caused much damage to tents, which are no place to be spending nights in the winter.

Everyone is keen to extend their tiny living space before winter really kicks in – makeshift porches, storage, partition walls and cooking areas are being constructed using the wooden flooring of the family’s old tent and from the tents of those who left before. Our centre is very keen to support this as much as we can – we bought up extra tools and spent a small fortune on screws and nails and our borrow box is busier than ever.

We also have important construction tasks to carry out ourselves, with the urgent need for winterisation of spaces which were never meant to have to see through a winter, and creating more space in which to carry out our expanding projects and activities that used to be held outside. We have had so many wonderful people come to join our We Are Here team, who are offering up their many skills to teach specific weekly workshops, for adults and children: theatre, music, art, photography, sports as well as the more formal English lessons. It’s such a far cry from the beginning of the community centre, six months ago – we are really benefiting from this increase in manpower and we are currently able to offer many more activities day-to-day.

In September, Save the Children opened an educational space inside the camp too, so we worked together to create a schedule which allowed children of different age groups to have as many hours as possible between the two centres. Preparations are also being put in place for the children in the camp to ‘soon’ attend formal Greek schools. As we wait for this to become a reality, we hope to prepare them as much as possible for this big shift. We then anticipate that we will be able to focus more hours on adult recreational, community and educational activities. Our presence in camp changes with the times, and we can only be so flexible because we are a small, independent organisation.

In September and October we spent a lot of your donation money – mainly on educational and building materials. We will post a separate post very soon to tell you more about what your money has been buying. We will also be posting very soon about our winterisation needs and why we need your donations to keep coming!!