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Volunteering at a refugee camp in Greece

in Action/Refugees/Travel by

The second you arrive on camp, it all hits you. It’s real.

You see it on TV, on the news, you read about the refugee situation and the camps. But it’s not until you arrive at a camp, that you realise this is really happening.

Some people have been stuck here on this camp in Greece for a year and they have nothing to do. They cannot move on and they can’t go back, as they fear for their lives.

Their lives are on hold.

The children play together, whilst the parents and adults try to come to terms with how their life is now…

Oinofyta Refugee Camp, Winter 2016-17. Photo courtesy of Samantha Jenkins.
Oinofyta Refugee Camp, Winter 2016-17.

I want to keep helping them. I want to return.

Before my initial period there some weeks ago, I did a lot of research on charities working in Greece, and came across Armando Aid. They created a school on a refugee camp about 60 km north of Athens – Oinofyta Community School – and are working predominately with children.

This school gives children an opportunity to still learn and a chance for the adults to learn English in the afternoons. The project is there to help the children adjust more easily when they do start school again one day in the future.

Armando Aid looks for volunteers who have teaching experience, as well as people who can go and be a support in the classrooms. I contacted the group, and they were informative and supportive. They gave me a lot of information about what they were doing on camp, their ethos and their future goals.

Children in the Oinofyta Community School. Photo courtesy of Samantha Jenkins.
Children in the Oinofyta Community School.

Everybody was very friendly, and they have two houses where volunteers can stay at a reasonable price. Although I could only be there for two and a half weeks, they were happy to have me come over, and helped me to organise my trip.

What’s special about this school is the support it gives the people on the camp – along with hope and love.

Children as members of the camp's community. Photo courtesy of Samantha Jenkins.
Children as members of the camp’s community.

Many children were suffering from behavioural issues, which may have been caused by trauma and difficulty adjusting to how their life is now on a refugee camp. The school gives these children structure, and the volunteers have worked hard to manage the children’s behaviour and help them deal with their difficulties.

These children laugh, play and are still able to just be children. They are strong and can take on these challenges that they are facing. But also these children want love, understanding, and a sense of normality. I am happy to be one of the people who give that to them.

This school relies on volunteers, and can only function if they are there. I would happily go for months if it was possible. They need long-term teachers to help the children have some consistency.

Samantha Jenkins and her fellow volunteers. Photo courtesy of Samantha Jenkins.
Samantha Jenkins (left) and her fellow volunteers.

The volunteers show a lot of patience, care and affection, which has made such a positive impact. The ones I met were simply incredible.

People came from all over the world to give their time to do what they can – from countries such as America, Spain, England, New Zealand and, of course, Germany. The experience you share with the other volunteers creates a bond between you all.

Some came for a short time and some stayed for a long time, yet all came for the same reason, and had the same passion to do and give what they could. All the volunteers were people with such beautiful hearts, and it was a pleasure to meet them all.

When I came home, I missed all the people I met on the camp, especially the children.

My heart was breaking because I was no longer there with them.

This experience was completely life changing for me. That sounds so cliché, but I cannot describe it in any other way.

Being on the camp gives you some perspective. These people are escaping danger, and feared for their lives. You hear stories which you cannot imagine happening in your own life.

It shows you how real and how wrong this is. It makes you realise how lucky you are to be born in a country where you do not have to fear these situations.

I learned how important the small things are and how we often forget this. This experience took me out of my life and out of my comfort zone.

The people I met live in such a small space, sometimes with a family of seven, with the possessions they were able to bring with them. And yet, they would invite you for food often and talk and laugh with you. The families were so giving and so generous, despite having little with them at this time.

A lot of people I speak to want to go and help at the school, but are unable to due to commitments in their lives – work, family, children etc. I’m a freelancer, I am not married, I do not have children, and I have teaching experience. And so I am able to go and volunteer. Because I am able to do this, I am also going on behalf of all the people who want to but are unable to.

By Samantha Jenkins

Samantha hails from Hertfordshire, England. She’s a freelance English teacher here in leipzig. She enjoys doing yoga, meeting new people (socialising), being outdoors and, of course, eating ice cream.

You can help Samantha return to the Armando Aid school for refugees by donating to her Go Fund Me campaign.

Photo courtesy of Samantha Jenkins.
*All photos courtesy of Samantha Jenkins*

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