Working in a refugee camp in Nea Kavala, Northern Greece, is a life changing experience, that took me out of my bubble and made me understand better what is going on in our world.
In Nea Kavala I faced people that were forced to leave behind what they used to call home and went on a journey to Western Europe in hope of a safer life with rights and freedoms everyone should have. Instead they are now living at an old airfield, in a tent, fearing the winter that soon is coming. Among them are little children, newborns, pregnant women, sick people.
Working with these great people, most of them from Syria, brought up a lot of feelings. Nights of dancing and laughing were followed by evenings of pure sadness with many tears and hugs to share.
These people used to have dreams. They went to school, university, worked, had a house, were surrounded by family and friends. Now most of them have only one dream: going to Germany, Austria, Sweden, Norway, leaving this camp and what comes with it behind.
In the community centre of Nea Kavala Camp, that was brought to life by ‘We are here’ I was part of an amazing team, trying to get people out of their tents, giving them the possibility to free their minds and putting a smile on their face. We give kids the possibility of education, teach English to adults, provide activities for everyone to join, and have a place for women only, where they are welcomed to join activities and speak about their concerns.
I was welcomed in Nea Kavala like in a lovely family. People there taught me so much more than a few words of Arabic and some dancing. Having nothing and still giving so much they reminded me of what humanity is about.
Five weeks in Nea Kavala was the first volunteering experience I’ve ever had, and it was a mixed one in many aspects. I am a refugee from Syria in France and a member of the same community as many of the refugees we helped, and so it was particularly psychologically painful to see them in these dire conditions.
I also felt something of an additional burden or pain as many of them saw me as their hope to leave the camp or to help them with the troubles in their daily lives – problems I was often powerless to solve. But at the same time, it was a deeply enriching, inspiring journey for me in which I learned so much. The work at the centre is inspiring – bringing together refugees from different backgrounds and ages to meet and learn together.
I had many roles during my time in Nea Kavala, including teaching English classes for adults, interpretation between the refugees and other volunteers, helping to set up and open the women’s space, and being part of organising a football tournament, which encouraged refugees to interact with each other and also forget their problems for a bit.
I would like to use this message to convey two poignant messages from refugees that I spoke to.
The first told me that he “just wanted to be treated as human, but Europe was a fake dream.”
A second said “I hope the civil communities across the entire Europe will mobilize and defend what Europe stands for in the world.”
Most refugees at Nea Kavala have been at the camp for many months, and some have been on a migration journey for years. This brings different problems to those you might see on TV, which normally focuses on refugees just arriving in Europe from unreliable boats when their immediate needs are food, safety and shelter. The prevailing issues at Nea Kavala are boredom, depression, despondency, frustration and anger. The ‘We are Here’ project is helping to address these issues by providing education and activities for both the children and the adults. ‘We are Here’ is a new and every-growing project, so volunteers should be proactive and expect to be part of a team with lots of enthusiasm, ideas and collaborative working.
I am back home in california after nearly 3 weeks of volunteering at Nea Kavala refugee camp in northern greece. With the support of family and friends in the U.S, I was able to bring sport and game equipment to the Iraqi and Syrian people who are unfortunately still waiting to immigrate to countries within Europe. The aid and state of these camps is poor, and European governments must invest more effort in finding them a permanent home. Much of the work in securing a bright future for these kind people must be done in a government office. But in the meantime, we must do what we can to let people have parts of their normal lives back. With an amazing group of volunteers, we were able to see the children learning in the community centre, the men playing backgammon and soccer, and the women dancing freely. I know we were able to make a difference.
I’m from Scotland. Many people are not so fortunate; their homelands are devastated by war, suppression and persecution. Since European countries closed their borders in March, many of these people are stuck in Northern Greece in military-run refugee camps. I believe that no matter where you are born, you should have the right to live in a safe country.
In May I started volunteering with refugees in several camps, before settling on a project I fell in love with – The We Are Here community centre. The project focuses on teaching children and adults, creating a community feeling and bringing people together through various creative activities to learn, have fun, and feel more human.The people I have met here deserve so much more than the squalor and inhumanity they are living with.
Nea Kavala’s community centre ‘We Are Here’ has gone through many changes since its humble beginnings, and volunteers are essential in the daily running of the centre. We are not solving the refugee crisis, but we are making it more bearable.
I spent a month in northern Greece working on setting up the woman’s space project in the Nea Kavala refugee camp, a site which shouldn’t exist, full of people who are waiting for our countries administrations to fulfill their duty and finally respect the law. Human rights standards are shameful in Europe right now. Bearing this in mind, it may seem less than a drop in the ocean, but thanks to the effort of many volunteers, a group of women is already leaving their tent for a while everyday in Nea Kavala, practicing their English, occasionally dancing, playing instruments and chatting in a shaded area.. I hope the women’s space will be useful only for a short time and hope to see all those friends soon reunited with their kids, parents, loved ones… continuing their studies, working, living again their life, a life which has been illogically and unjustly interrupted.
Working on this project you should expect to be part of team of creative people from all of the world. You could have many helpful roles, from playing with children to building big tents and constructions. You should be prepared to be in contact every day with heartbreaking views of oppressed people sometimes in low mental condition, but also with young kids having fun and enjoying what they have. Volunteers should also be prepared to share much of their free time with other (usually) young and full of energy people.
I spent the first two weeks of July in the camp of Nea Kavala, together with my sister and another good friend. During my time there, I organized some activities with kids – art and crafts and funny games. I enjoyed my time, and I think the kids- who where really lovely- had some real fun too. Now, a month after leaving Nea Kavala, I smile when I remember how nervous I was during the weeks before travelling to Greece. Those self-questioning fears of ‘will I really be able to manage this?’were hard, and I guess many others have some similar feelings. But the experience helped me to learn about myself and about other people- inside and outside the camp.