Laurette Bennhold-Samaan writes from refugee camp in Greece

 

A “typical” day, serving tea and the toilet: the 3 T’s

PLEASE EXCUSE English errors and typos as due to time and priorities, I have little editing time 🙂

I’ve been asked who are the volunteers. Samos Volunteers are a privately funded organization and work with many partners on the island. Samos Volunteers is funded only through private donations and crowd funding which is remarkable to me. What this means is that most (if not all) people are pure volunteers and come to donate their time and energy. Some stay for a month but most stay much longer and most are returnees (have already volunteered earlier and come back). This speaks volumes about the organization. Some volunteers come with their parents or vice versa with their kids. We have 2 sets right now which is inspiring to see. Many are in their 20s and 30s but there are some older volunteers like me. It’s such a well-run organization and I have been very impressed with the coordinators who are volunteers as well and how in such a short period of time they train us and we are already passing on our knowledge to others. Incredible.

We work in 2–3-hour shifts and usually have 3 or 4 shifts a day. I have not been assigned to serving tea at the camp in the early shift 7 am (thank goodness as I’m not an early morning person) but I have served tea in the afternoon. My day usually begins at 9 am and ends at 6 pm and we have weekly staff meetings once a week and group dinners on and off. We are kept busy! We all do many things (from working at the warehouse, teaching to reception duties at the education center). We receive our schedule in the evening for the next day. The situation is so fluid here it’s better not to plan too far in advance. We are always part of a team and the teams vary each day and there is always a supervisor who varies as well. We teach classes in multiple languages, art, music, take kids to the beach weekly, arts, and crafts with kids and adults as well as women’s activities at the camp and at the shelters. All of these activities help provide some normalcy for the refugees. The shelters are 2 local modest hotels who provide housing for larger families or pregnant moms. I am living at one of these shelters and one of the moms went into labor last night. There is a local hospital close by and much better than being on a dinghy which has happened as well. This will be her 5th child and the other siblings are very excited about another brother or sister. I am getting to know them well as they are just down the hall from me.

Last night one of the girls (about 5 years old) who has taken a liking to me always wants to come into my room. I think she is curious to see what do I have. I invited her in. She immediately saw my shoes under a table and took hers off and placed them with mine. My guess is she does that at home in Afghanistan. Her eyes got very big and with a large smile when she saw some chewing gum on my nightstand and asked me if she could have a piece. She was blowing bubbles in minutes. I brought some bubble gum for the kids from home. She was also fascinated with my round brush and ended up brushing my hair. After a few minutes, she asked if she could use my bathroom. She went inside and I heard the toilet seat go up. I figured she knew what she was doing at that age. I then heard a strange squeaking sound and I asked if she was ok. She didn’t answer. There was dead silence. I knocked on the door and then opened it slowly and there she was squatting on top of the toilet. My eyes grew big as I wasn’t quite sure what to say as I didn’t want to make her feel uncomfortable but I wanted to make sure she wasn’t going to slip and fall or fall in. My instinct was to say- Oh! You can sit like this as I pretended to sit on a chair (or toilet) in midair. She nodded. My guess is that she is familiar with the squat toilets and wasn’t quite sure what to do with this white porcelain bowl so high off the ground! Cultural differences and adjustments!

 

3 Comments

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  • Laurette and John: This is a very helpful article. Thank you for posting it. I have been looking for the names of and links to reliable refugee organizations operating in Greece, and your article has helped me to make contact with Samos Volunteers and other groups working in this field. Obviously, you recommend the Samos Volunteers group. Do you know if they have a continuing need for older volunteers? Are you likely to continue your work or return as a volunteer someday? Thank you again. David Raphael

  • Raphael–my guess is that they will continue to need volunteers of all ages. Laurette returns, I believe, next week so I will email her and ask her to get in touch with you if she hasn’t seen your email and already been in touch. She is very knowledgeable in the cross-cultural field and would have lots of information, I’m sure.

    • Thanks, John. This is a helpful series of posts — for me and hopefully others. I’m looking forward to see Laurette’s latest article.

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