Back in June, We Are Here teamed up with A Drop in the Ocean to hold a party for Eid, to celebrate the end of Ramadan, and it was a really special day to be part of. There was water fun and other activities for the children, sports for the adults, and 5 different communities from the camp working hard all day to cook food from their regions to serve up a feast for 500 people. After the food came music and dancing, and some performances from residents. It was also an opportunity to ensure a good meal was provided for those in the camp who are still having trouble accessing enough food.
Our daily schedule is busy and varied now, too. We currently have a team of around 12-15 people and are running a child-friendly space and many other kids activities including arts and crafts, sports and gardening, adult ESL classes of different levels, music lessons, computer classes, and our women’s space where the adult females of the camp can go 5 days a week to learn English in the mornings and join other activities such beauty time, dancing and a weekly ‘cyber cafe’, as well as our evening activities of music and dancing and film projections. Thanks to some hard work from the volunteer team and translation helpers from the camp, we can now put up our timetables in many languages to cater for the varied mother tongues of the camp.
In early July, we also had to work on securing our community centre. After a break- in through a library window, we decided to invite some of the people who either regularly attend our activities or whose children do, to ask for their advice on how to better secure the space. The meeting felt like a real success, with men and women there representing many different communities in the camp, listening to each other’s ideas, putting forward suggestions, and several people signing up to physically help. Within a few days, the group had designed and built us some solid wooden security shutters for our windows.
As well as being safer our centre has also been made a bit cooler. Our classrooms and library had become stiflingly hot to the point where it was almost impossible to concentrate in class. Thanks to your donations, we have been able to fit some air conditioning units inside our spaces, which we prioritised as the most urgent need for our project. Thanks to some extra hands – a DIY team from IHA – we have also managed to put up a shade over our sandpit and build some extra things for our CFS and women’s space. There are still many upgrades, additions and restocking that we hope to do this summer in response to high summer temperatures and a camp population which has doubled in the past few weeks, from around 400 to over 800 residents.
Parts of the situation in Greece feels like going back in time to 2016. At the recent coordination meeting for volunteer groups in Northern Greece, we heard updates from other camps about overcrowding , lack of services, people living in tents again and some people not having access to such a basic need such as food. The varied statuses of the different people in the camps, with different statuses qualifying for differing types of support, means that people are falling through the gaps.
For some, Nea Kavala is better than their previous camp and certainly better than what they fled. However in many ways, Nea Kavala as a camp has taken a step back in terms of its own services and facilities. Some of the new arrivals have been placed in vacant containers. For the most part though, people are being housed in 5 big tents, divided up into ‘rooms’. These are cramped, windowless spaces and the biggest complaint is about all the insects which come up from the ground and in through the main doors. The rooms don’t have ceilings, or proper floors, so it is hard for people to protect themselves from being bitten by bugs in the night – Nea Kavala is home to many mosquitoes.
Another major issue in the camp is a reduction in the services and for the moment as contracts end and there are as yet still gaps. Legal information is a key one – UNHCR is barely present in the camp and the Greek Council for Refugees has also left. This lack of information increases the stress in an aleady difficult situation. For many people, the only way access the asylum system is via Skype with, depending on the language they speak, as little as a one-hour window a week in which they are able to try to connect along with the many others stranded in Greece. If they succeed in getting through – something which in itself can take months of trying – this merely gets them to the first stage of an extremely drawn-out process.
Despite all this hardship, the influx of new arrivals has brought a new and energised atmosphere into the camp. There are so many families with young children, and many of the people were moved together and know each other from their previous camp, which makes settling in easier. Last Saturday, The Wind up penguin theatre company visited the camp, doing the musical round-up with our team and delighting kids and big kids alike with a very special performance – thank you!
Many new people have also come to join our activities. There are lots of new faces in the women’s space, excitement and a pinch of chaos as the newly arrived little ones get to know our spaces and activities (and some tough adaption as the children who have been here a long time have had to suddenly share their space, toys and volunteers with so many newcomers). The child-friendly space has had to expand massively and have adapted by creating multipurpose spaces – we have a ‘pop up’ child friendly space which transforms both classrooms in the morning into a little haven for children to play and socialise together and packs back down to leave room for out adult English classes in the afternoons, which have also massively expanded – thank goodness for our new air conditioning! Faced with this sudden influx though, we are lacking enough furniture and school materials for everyone, and also hope to improve some of our infrastructure to provide more protection from the heat of the sun, and are running low on funds. Please consider donating to, and sharing, our summer fundraiser to help us achieve this
When this project was set up in 2016 as an urgent response, we never imagined that in 2018 the camp would still be there, that there would still be such gaps in services or that there would still be a need for us here – we are so grateful for the volunteers who continue to come and contribute their time, and if we are to continue the activities we are currently running we need more people to come out and contribute their skills. If you are interested in volunteering with us this year, please find out more and apply to join our team!
Main photo: Hannah Flint