Screams of “close the border” are heard around the world, the little Greek island of Chios has not been spared.
Days before we were leaving for Greece my social media sites were blown up with messages for refugees to “stay indoors”, to avoid public spaces and to NOT go into the city. The fascists had gathered in Chios, some from the island, others from the mainland. Their message of hate in the form of blockades on the 2 roads leading to the camp. Threatening to do harm to any refugee they saw.
For 2 days food could not be delivered to the 7,000+ people who call Vial Camp home. In the chaos of the days tensions were high in the camp and on the 3rd evening 28 tents were burned. People who had hardly anything lost everything.
Not knowing the situation on the ground we arrived in Greece not knowing what could be done with tensions so high. Iris House has a dozen or so interpreters who live in Vial and who keep the founder Janne updated daily (or hourly) as needed. With so many new arrivals and 28 families who had lost everything, Janne decided the best course would be to do a clothing distribution for those who lost all and the new arrivals.
Another NGO who helps the young unaccompanied minors and young men joined our group for the distribution. We met at the container area where the aid we’d sorted yesterday was loaded into the 3 waiting vans. In all there were 15 of us. We all gathered in a circle to talk about the plans, jobs were given: line keepers, people to help each individual shop, shoe distribution and people to add clothing when needed from the back stock. And a plan to stop distribution was also discussed, and Janna would make the call in the moment to leave the aid or load the aid and drive back to the container area.
We arrived to the distribution area on the same dirt road where distributions have been happening. An easy 5 minute walk along a dirt road from camp. Spring has sprung in
Chios and the olive groves are spotted with purple, yellow, white and red flowers. About 50 people patiently were lined up waiting for us to start.
I was in line control (really an excuse to take babies away from weary mothers and hold
them while the mom’s waited their turn). Emotions were measured as everyone gauged the mood. There were about 10 of us minding the line- there were the usual people “cutting the line” who were gently but firmly told to go to the back of the line. Children ran in the fields picking flowers to give to their family members or us line keepers. The weather was PERFECT! Big fluffy clouds, a cool breeze and the sight of the beautiful flowers everywhere. Holding their babies I’d ask the mothers were they were from, if they did not speak a little English a friend in line would translate. And, if no translator, we would smile and admire the babies.
Someone would hold a place in the line and the others would go sit in the fields of flowers. So beautiful.
Slowly the line snaked down to the area where the clothing could be picked out. Max, Marin,Sam and Mae were shopper helpers. To maintain fairness, each person given a number is registered in the computer saying what they got and the date. On their ticket Janne writes the number of people in the family and the ages of the children if applicable. Next a “shopper” (Sam, Marin, Max and Mae plus 4-5 interpreters) would take that family/person and they were able to pick out: 1-top, 1-coat, 1-pair pants and 1-pair shoes. The shoes ran out in an hour and while we’d
packed 3 vans with clothing we left with 1/2 a van full. In all 157 people received aid in 5 hours. We loaded the vans, drove to the container area, unloaded the vans and drove 5 minutes to a seaside town Karfas for dinner at a family run restaurant. There were 14 of us in all. Our lives started in: America, Norway, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria but tonight we were friends gathering after a great day of work.
We parted after dinner and went to a local grocery store and loaded 3 grocery carts with diapers and went back to our hotel to pack them into bunches of 15 diapers, tape them and put them in big plastic bags for tomorrows distribution. At the beginning of this crisis babies were given 10 diapers a week. “The horror” we said! But this past 1+ years no diapers are given unless from and NGO (like Carry the Future).
We are doing well, tired. Last night we got back to the hotel just after midnight. We’d visited Vial and I’m still digesting what we saw. Will write about it later.
The kids are doing fantastic, working hard, engaging with the refugees, locals and everyone they meet. It is a blessing to see their worlds being expanded and exposed to such new realities. These are good kids and our future will be brighter because of them.