Iris House has a handful of regular interpreters/refugees who work with visiting volunteers. From around the world this weeks interpreters arrived to Chios shores from: Cameroon, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. The volunteers from the US, Norway and Switzerland.
Janne started Iris House 3+ years ago. Chios was the island she and her family visited from Norway every summer. She watched with increasing horror the humanitarian crisis happening in a place that was her home away from home. She come to Chios for a 2 week holiday to help where she could and has been here since.
This morning Max and I drove the 15 minutes to the neighboring seaside village she lives in. She’d already collected the interpreters from town and Vial Camp and we drove the 2 vans to the next seaside village to meet a new mother she’d discovered last week.
Having just arrived to Chios a week before her twins were born, this Cameroon mother had a C-section at the Chios hospital. Not knowing anyone, and only speaking French a social worker dropped her 3 days later at an efficiency apartment. Just mom and the babies. No diapers. No wipes, No clothing for the babies. Nothing. Not even food for mom. Janne happened to be at the apartment complex and someone told her about the twins mom.
Today we visited her, like most new mothers she was tired. But a special kind of tired that happens when you have 10 day old twins (both weighed just under 5lbs at birth) and are all alone in a country that is not home. Thankfully for mom, there have been 2 Norwegian grandmothers volunteering these past weeks and they have stepped gladly and willingly into the grandmother roll for this young mom.
Both are boys and I held one for 20 minutes. Gazing into the face of a miracle – the baby would back arch every 5 minutes or so. Content in the sleep world where baby is not all quite here on Earth.
We reluctantly set the babies down and caravanned to the container area where Iris House now has their aid stored. We spent the next couple hours collecting aid to be delivered to new arrivals. In the past 2 days alone over 130 people have arrived on Chios. Another NGO meets the new arrivals on the beach having been told where to go by the Coast Guard. The new dry clothes given on the beach is the only thing these families have. Most of the smugglers make them leave what ever they’ve brought from home on the beach in Turkey. We prepared hygiene kits for the newly arrived: shampoo, a sponge, dish soap, clothing soap, deodorant, tooth paste, pads, tooth brush and soap.
We took a van full of aid to Vial Camp to distribute to the new arrivals and Janne took a
van to the apartments with children to hand out clothing for children. We all met back at the container area and repacked for a 2nd distribution – this time clothing for 10 single females who’d arrived this week. Usually people get to pick their clothes out at a regularly scheduled distribution but for new arrivals it’s best to get them clothes as soon as possible and they will be able to hand pick out items during the next distribution.
At 6:30pm we dropped off the last volunteer. It was a good day. Ramadan (Muslim’s observe a month of fasting sunup to sundown, prayer and reflection each year) started on Monday and the volunteers from Vial were starting to drag by the end of the day. Not even a sip of water did they take. MUCH more self control then I could ever have.
We met Hasib an Afghan friend i’d met in October for dinner. He reminded me so much of Max when we first met and wanted them to get together. The fast ended at 8:20pm, we met at a restaurant in the port area at 8:00pm. At 8:20pm Hasib excused himself to find a quite place to pray. He returned to the table just as the waiter brought his food. In that moment he was just like Max and his friends. 19-20 year olds digging into a plate of food- histories so different yet so much the same.