The last few weeks of the 2018 were all hands on deck, maintaining our activities with a small team whilst working on setting up our new Social Space and preparing the centre to be closed for the Christmas period.
December raised some challenges for people in camp, causing the numbers of attendees at our activities to be low. In the Child Friendly Space this had the biggest impact with fewer children attending. However, the extra time was used to improve the space, which now looks incredible with a den, ladders and balancing beams for the children to play on. Before Christmas we also said goodbye to our long-term CFS duo, Chrissie and Laura, who are heading on to new adventures. So we say a huge thank you for all their help, energy and love in the project, and we wish them all the best in whatever they do next.
To celebrate the end of the season, We Are Here and Drop in the Ocean collaborated to put on a Christmas Party in the Big White Tent in camp. There was food and drink, crafty activities for the little ones by Ana from EyetoEye, lots of decorations and much music and dancing. It was a real success, with many people attending, and felt like a good send off for the year before we closed the space for three weeks.
We needed our fresh energy, from both rested returning volunteers and new team members as the year started with low team numbers and some very trying weather this month – bitter cold, heavy snow, high winds and days of heavy rain. Thankfully, for most of this time, people in Nea Kavala were able to rely on the heating in their containers – although there were several nights where people struggled to sleep when the power cut off. Also, over the weeks of late December, many people were transferred from the horrific conditions of the island camps into better places on the mainland. However, the conditions on the islands remain abysmal, and in Thessaloniki we heard reports from the volunteer medical groups working in the streets of treating people for pneumonia and frostbite.
The numbers of people in the large rubhall tents in the camp had been decreasing steadily during the autumn months as people were moved either to containers in Nea Kavala or in other camps. In December, the 40 something remaining people in the rubhalls were deregistered from the camp as a result of moving themselves ‘prematurely’ into the containers that were destined for them, because they could no longer stand the bitterly cold weather and strong winds. Losing registration from the camp means losing the cash card assistance, so this has been a very difficult time for the families concerned. There is due to be a meeting next week between the ministry and four representatives nominated by the community, so we hope they will be allowed to be registered in the camp again soon.
At times like that, it can sometimes seem incredible that these very same people can find the motivation to continue attending activities. Yet, from our first day back in camp in January, people were asking when the centre was opening again and our English classes have been going really well so far this year. In the first week of classes we reset the groups, moving many people up a level and making the lowest level accessible to complete beginners again. Our teachers hand delivered invitations to those moving up and we saw many students that day who were rightly proud of their efforts. Trying to learn even the smallest amount of Greek, Kurmanji, Farsi or Arabic is a reminder of how challenging it can be to master a new alphabet and such new sounds. Some of our students are pre-literate in their own language and are attending classes for the first time, while others have completed higher education back in their home countries. Either way, it takes so much resilience to start from zero in a language when you have no idea what your future holds or where it will take place. Teaching in this environment also has its challenges, and we find much support in our ‘Educators’ Cafe’ – a monthly meet-up between different volunteer groups teaching in Northern Greece. This month it was our turn to co-host in Polykastro along with Open Cultural Centre.
In our Child Friendly Space, the children were also happy to have access to the space again on the weekend, and were delighted to discover the upgrades and the new additions to the fancy dress collection. The CFS for little ones in the week has continued to be quiet for now with the bad weather and a lot of coughs and colds for the smallest ones in camp, but those who are coming are growing more confident in the space.
We have also been really pleased with the opening of our Social Space. We had already been using it for various activities, but were able to use some of our recent donations to buy things to kit it out and decorate. We also had a lot of help from the residents – adapting some existing furniture, building benches for a seating area and painting the space. Last week we held an ‘opening party’ and since then have started keeping it open as much as possible. The board games have been a big hit, and people have been enjoying having a space to come, have a tea and just hang out. We plan on building up our info board to include information on workshops, events and job offers, as well as keep up-to-date information on the asylum procedure, and provide people with reliable access to more information through computers in the space.
We continue to be so thankful to the people who keep our project running by donating to our project and by fundraising on our behalf. Before Christmas, author Tina Pisco volunteered with our project and used her writing skills to keep a blog of her time here, through which she encouraged people to donate 2,000 euro for our Women’s Space. A massive thanks to Tina and all of those who donated. You can read Tina’s blog here:https://tinapiscowriter.wordpress.com/
And another THANK YOU! To Gamely Games , who are supporting our project with a monthly donation of 100 pounds towards drinks, snacks and activities for our new social space. They also posted us out some packs of games which we shared out with other community centre groups in the area. Soundiculous in particular has been a source of much laughter in our ESL conversation classes.
Finally, we are always looking for enthusiastic, caring and proactive volunteers to join our team!