Karian and Box volunteer in Lesvos — Behind-the-scenes work makes a difference

This is Dan’s story.

Volunteering in a place like Lesvos does not always mean being on the front line of work with refugees. Much of it is practical, often mundane.

The sorting, packing, unpacking, reorganizing of constant clothing donations is just one case in point. A camp where hundreds or thousands of refugees arrive with little clothing other than that on their backs needs a constant supply of seasonal clothing items. And they need volunteers to help sort and distribute them.

The main VCA (Volunteer’s Co-ordination Agency) distribution points in Kara Tepe where we’ve based ourselves were to receive an upgrade. Days of rain had begun to take its toll on the thousands of cardboard boxes placed in huts and tents, with many (and the clothing inside) becoming damp.

Stable raised floors (made from old wooden pallets) needed to be placed in every tent and hut and this required taking out every one of the thousand-plus boxes, re-organizing them and putting them back in onto the new, solid flooring.
This task alone took several hours and each respective doorway had human chains passing boxes containing all sorts of items from toothbrushes to soap, to shoes and hats.

It wasn’t easy and we had to suspend clothing distribution. This caused huge frustration for the refugees who desperately needed shoes to replace those that had become sodden from sea water when getting out of the dinghies they’d travelled in. Many also needed warm clothes as the nights were bitterly cold and many simply had light jumpers or coats with nothing else to keep them warm.

But a day of back-breaking work, shifting boxes paid off. The following day, we had a much better organised set of huts from which to more swiftly deal with the needs of refugees. Priority was given to families with little children, and to those who had little or no warm clothing with them.

So, without the unglamorous and tedious task of shifting boxes all day, we would not have salvaged tons of donated clothes from rain water and would have spent too much chaotic time searching for the right items of clothing for the people who needed them.

PS: one of the heroes of the Kara Tepe VCA point was a guy called George, who is a hotelier from Crete, spending his holidays working the camp. He was valiant in his efforts on the ground, day-in, day-out…
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Posted on 18th January 2016 in Community
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