Project Samos – staff and students volunteer

At the end of August, Paula Green (senior lecturer in social work) accompanied 3 HWB students to Vathy, Samos, as part of a programme, facilitated by GoGlobal funding, to work alongside Refuge 4 Refugees (R4R) for a two-week period. The students were tasked with supporting the organisation of donations, distribution of essential items to refugees and delivery of play activities for children on the land adjacent to the refugee site.

Here’s Paula describing how the trip went . . .

“Samos sits in the Aegean Sea close to Turkey. Similar to other islands in the region it has become an arrival point for thousands of refugees fleeing Afghanistan, Syria, African countries, etc. The harbour town of Vathy is situated on the north of the island with a population of approximately 8,000 residents. On the edge of the town is the Refugee ‘Hotspot Camp’ where an increasing number of refugee’s (currently 5,000) are situated on / next to a site designed to accommodate 650 refugees. The majority of the refugees are therefore living in a tented ‘jungle’ on either side of the original gated community – with a lack of basic amenities.

Volunteers take a break

“The population of the camp continues to rise (one day during summer saw 226 new refugees arrive) and the Greek authorities struggle to process / support relocation in a timely way. Many refugees remain on the site for 2-3 years – this includes approximately 1,000 children, some of whom are unaccompanied and highly vulnerable.

“The students worked as part of a larger volunteer group (up to twenty-two volunteers) coordinated by a R4R core staff team. An 8.30am briefing meeting at the distribution shop was scheduled in every day from Monday to Friday. Here the volunteers were divided into three groups (warehouse, shop, play area) for the morning session, which lasted from 9am until 2pm.

“Between 2pm-4.30pm activity on the island is restricted in order to allow the volunteers a chance to eat, rest and socialise. The afternoon session was similarly divided, running from 4.30pm -7pm before a final reflection/debrief. On a Friday evening, an additional session took place with an open air cinema organised by virtue of a laptop and projector.  Saturday and most of Sunday the volunteers had free time, coming together as a group on Sunday to plan activities for the week ahead.

“Our students lived in accommodation alongside other R4R volunteers – this was basic but provided the benefits of shared-space living (including group cooking), which promoted a community experience offering support and structure.

“During the visit I was also able to develop relationships with 5 of the 15 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) based in Vathy – all of whom were keen to develop closer links with Hallam and challenged me to think creatively about how we can support student involvement throughout the academic year.

“Each NGO serves a particular need of the refugee community in Vathy, with some overlapping provision where there is greater need. For NGO’s delivering structured learning opportunities a greater commitment is requested from volunteers, for other NGO’s a shorter commitment is acceptable.  Within each NGO, ‘Community Volunteers’ (refugee camp residents) work collaboratively to support the NGO in meeting the needs of the community, whilst also acting as a vital bridge between residents of the camp and the support on offer. As such, students have an opportunity to work alongside a wide range of professionals, international volunteers and community volunteers who share their knowledge and experience of the journey leading them to Samos.

“I was incredibly proud of how our SHU students threw themselves into the experience. One student commented to me ‘this is the most important thing I’ve ever done’, and all three students were keen to return. It’s also wonderful to know that an agreement has now been made to send across another 25 students to Vathy next summer. By utilising the GoGlobal fund I believe we are providing students with a life-changing experience, showing how multi-agency working can be both responsive and creative, applying theory to practice in a harsh environment, providing an experience out of the ordinary, and most importantly, igniting an enthusiasm to do more in the future . . . through leading locally and engaging globally.”

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