Tent after tent after tent.....

Two of our favourite, loyal and amazing volunteers, Alyson and Tony Bates, also have an amazing son, called Adam. There follows a few extracts from the daily journal of his days volunteering at a refugee camp in Lesvos with a Dutch NGO called 'Movement on the Ground' (MOTG). They are stationed in the two main camps; Moria (where over 13,000 now reside in a camp set up for 3,000).

On the 7th October, Adam wrote on facebook….

“Later this week, I'll be heading to Lesvos to volunteer. An emergency has been declared on the Greek islands. Refugee camps are overcapacity by many 1000s. Illness abounds, children have attempted suicide and people are dying. I'll be there for around 6 weeks”

To follow his story, you can see his daily posts on our facebook page

https://www.facebook.com/groups/503498743142276/

DAY 1  - 14th October

It's *completely* different. I'm working over here in Lesvos with a Dutch NGO called 'Movement on the Ground' (MOTG). They are stationed in the two main camps; Moria (where over 13,000 now reside in a camp set up for 3,000) and, the one I've been sent to, Kara Tepe. 

Kara Tepe is much smaller than Moria, and is for those who are most vulnerable e.g. people with disabilities, young families and the elderly. 

When I was here for a few days in 2015, it was simply tents, huts and gravel. Since then, the NGOs have worked tremendously hard to provide a safe and dignified environment for the approximately 1,500 living here. There's a tea tent, activity yurt, computer hub and even a barbershop operated by residents themselves. 

The reason I chose MOTG to work with is that they place great emphasis on working WITH refugees, NOT FOR - the heartfelt philosophy of my friends at Crisis Classroom in Brighton. For example, the camp's electricity supply is managed by resident electricians. And, international volunteers like me are largely redundant in their team at Moria camp because its made up almost entirely of those who know the place better than anyone else; residents themselves. 

I'll be needed in Moria at some point as preparations for Winter gather pace. I've been warned to expect a very sobering experience as conditions there couldn't be more different than Kara Tepe. Today though, I got to work sifting through the donated clothes, packing clothes ready for the colder weather to come (thanks to volunteer Yassine for the photo of me and Anne). A lot of physical activity on my feet to get me fit again. Will sleep very well tonight. 

Our work today means hundreds of people will have a suitable coat when Winter rolls around. When you're living in an isobox (like a large shed) with your whole family, that's very much needed. I was only able to help make this possible today thanks to your donations that have enabled me to hire the car to get to the camp. So grateful. 

As it stands, I'll be without the car for the last part of my 6-week stay here because I haven't quite yet raised the funds to get me to the end. If you'd like to contribute, I'd massively appreciate it. Just click here: tiny.cc/adambates 

Thank you 🙂 

P.S. Just so you know, photos in the camps featuring residents aren't allowed. 

Day 2 (a day late) 

I've never experienced anything like Moria camp. I wish nobody had to. 

I found a place so mind-blowingly unfair for people to have to live in. I think I'm still processing what I'm about to share with you. 

There's over 13,000 crammed into a space set up for 3,000. 

As you climb the steep concreted hill in the centre, you have the official camp on the left, separated off with wired fences. On the right, and stretching way up top, is the olive grove...I'm actually struggling to think of the words to describe it. 

Tent after tent after tent. As you get mid-way up the hill, you have the portaloos. Some cover their mouths habitually as they walk past them. A few of them leak from underneath. It trickles down the hill where children continue to play. 

Otherwise, filling any small spaces is rubbish. Despite the enormous efforts of NGOs and their volunteers to clear it, the immense number of people means it's simply unmanageable. But, no time to keep looking around. It was time to get to work. 

An area of the camp was going to be levelled and filled with gravel. That meant nearly 200 people would have to move. Our task was to put up new large tents, put pallets underneath to try to keep people dry and help families relocate themselves and their possessions to their new tent. 

Now imagine this: you get told that tonight, you're going to spend the night in a tent with... 
*your mum and dad 
*and your brother and sister 
*and your aunty with a cough 
*and your uncle who snores 
*and your grandma in a wheelchair 
*and your nextdoor neighbours 
*and their young children and crying babies 

...only it's not just tonight, it's indefinitely. 

All that, and this is an *improvement* on what you had before because your tiny tent kept on getting flooded. Now, at least, the tents we were putting up were brand new, stable structures with gravel underground instead of mud. People would be dry. 

For everybody involved in this job, it was really tough. Hours passed by of lugging, dragging and stacking wooden pallets, putting up these big tents and transporting people's life possessions. 

Quite suddenly, the walkie-talkies boomed with firm instructions to drop tools and head to a safe area. A fight had broken out further downhill. I stayed too far away to see, but it might have only been a couple of people involved, yet large numbers gathered round. It made for a nervy atmosphere. I looked down and realised I was stood on a soiled nappy. 

Next to me was a woman with a young daughter in each hand. They stared in the direction of the yelling, one with a finger pulling down on her bottom lip. I smiled at them to try and ease the tension clear on their faces. It didn't work. 

10 minutes later, as the crowds began to disperse, I heard a noise behind me. It was the older of the two girls vomiting. 

I imagined they'd experienced more fear in their few years alive than I had in 30. Children belong nowhere near this place. 

Back to work, only now it was dark. Head torches on, we had to hurry. Tents, pallets, belongings, screws, rubbish were all being moved. Frankly, very dangerous for the very young kids always around. One lad suffered a nasty gash to his foot and ended the evening with the camp doctor. 

We got the last family into their tent and loaded vans with the spare pallets to take them back to base. 

I'm overpampered, but I've never done physical work like it. But, it was as much energising as it was exhausting because of the incredible teamwork amongst the 'Movement on the Ground' group I'm volunteering with. There was roughly a 50/50 balance of international volunteers and volunteers who are themselves residents of the camp - all working seamlessly together to get the job done, regardless of backgrounds and language differences. ❤️ It's a privilege to be involved in something so impactful. 

Thanks again to the kind people who have donated. The hire car you've funded got, not just me, but 4 volunteers to Moria. You've played a part in many dozens of people having a new 'home' to sleep in. 

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Just checked the fundraising page and it's TARGET REACHED!!! :-D 

So unbelievably grateful. I'll now be able to keep the hire car and fund its fuel for the entire duration of my stay on Lesvos. You are the absolute best! 

Now, there's still so much needed. For instance, people are walking around in filthy areas with shoes with massive holes in. We don't have enough trousers for all the young boys. And, with Winter coming, we need way more coats. Such things can be bought locally so if you'd like to keep somebody warm, dry and comfortable, please do donate and I'll be able to get what they need. 

Donation page is here: tiny.cc/adambates 

Day 4 

I decided she's called Willita. She almost got crushed! Me and my volunteer friend, Anne, were removing tents in Moria camp when Anne nearly stood on Willita who was inside a wooden pallet. 

I pulled her out against her will before she was hurt. I was encouraged to just let her go, but she'd lost her mum and was too small to survive alone. She quickly became very attached to me and couldn't be persuaded not to climb on my shoulders. 

A man took a shine to her and we got talking. He spoke English well. He said there were lots of cats near his tent down at the bottom of the olive grove. We set off down there. On the way, we chatted, and he asked me to guess how old he was. I thought "Hmm I'd better say a few years less than I really think, just in case"...so I said "26?" His face dropped. "I'm only 20...my skin is bad now..." 

I remember having similar conversations with people who'd gone through great trauma and stress in 2015. 

When we reached the bottom, he pointed out a tent under which there were several cats. I placed Willita on the ground, expecting her to dash back up my legs like she had been doing, but instead she scarpered off to join the other cats and stayed there happily. Really hope they're looking after her! 

After my update yesterday (which you can read here: http://tiny.cc/lesvosday2), I'd like to reassure you that it's not constant misery here. Many people are innovative and enterprising, and are finding ways of constructively spending their time. People here often have a surprising amount of resilience despite what they've been put through. There are still moments of laughter, and the kids keep on playing with each other no matter what's thrown at them. 

That said, a reminder of why it's a wretched place to be is never far away. The cramped, filthy and dangerous conditions could drive anyone crazy. Today, a large fight broke out. It was too unsafe to be there so I and other volunteers had to be sent home. 

I have the right and privilege to head to safety and comfort. The now 14,000 residents here have fled war and persecution. They include ~5,000 children (nearly 2/3 of them are under 10). They have no option but to endure this for months and years without knowing when or if safety might be granted to them. 

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I can't believe how generous you've been with the donations. We're already close to the increased target of £1,000. I'm looking forward to doing a shop with the NGO I'm working with to get the most essential items needed. I'll update you on how your money is helping when I find the time. 

Donation page is here: tiny.cc/adambates 

  

Day 12 
 
A very special evening for me and this living legend. 4 years ago, me and Julio arrived on Lesvos at about the same time. After enduring a personal/business crisis at home in Spain, he found himself in Lesvos without anything. He just wanted to help. What he's done since is beyond comprehension. 
 
He said he was a chef, but he had no money and there was no kitchen. At the same time, we were trying to support 1000s of extremely hungry people. I decided to give him 400 Euros of (your) donation money to cover the cost of him getting to and from food markets every day. And, with a couple of brilliant German volunteers, we funded the equipment to build a kitchen. Very quickly, Julio started preparing 800 hot, nutritious meals a day. it was invaluable for the people there. 
 
We'd largely lost contact because I'd deactivated Facebook. When I reactivated it and shared that I was going back to Lesvos, he dropped me a message. Last weekend we met up. I couldn't believe his update. 
 
Since that point in 2015, he has set up his own NGO Accion Directa Sierra NORTE, travelled to many different locations in Greece, France and elsewhere, cooking food for refugees who need it the most. He managed to raise the money to buy a massive shipping container and converted it into a mobile kitchen. Since that day we first set up the kitchen, he has cooked and distributed over HALF A MILLION meals to refugees!!! 
 
He has dedicated his whole life to "solidarity food". He trains refugees up to be master chefs themselves, and the last person he thinks about is himself. 
 
When we met last Sunday, he generously offered to host the weekly team meal of the organisation I'm working with, Movement on the Ground. Everyone loved their paella. It was a privilege to be invited to enjoy his sensational food. It's an honour to have somebody so special, yet - at the same time - so normal, as a friend. Eres un ejemplo a seguir, Ell Botarga de Albendiego! Gracias. 
 
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Again, apologies for not having the chance update more. I'll try to share with you what's been going on tomorrow evening. The colder weather is starting to take a grip now so all hands are on deck to be prepared. 
 
Thank you so much once again to those who have been exceptionally kind to donate to make sure people have warm clothes to wear. I've spent a lot of time sorting and supplying clothes. We need an awful lot more coats, underwear and all sorts. I'll be more specific soon, but I'll be heading to the shops soon with your money to get people what they need. 
 
if you'd like to contribute, PLEASE DO here: tiny.cc/adambates 
 

 

 

 

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