In February this year I decided to go to Greece to work in a refugee camp accommodating primarily Syrian women and children refugees.
It is something that I had been thinking of doing for a while. I have a very fortunate life and I am at the stage where my children are old enough to look after themselves and I have the opportunity to “pay it forward ” and help others in need.
I had been looking for something where I could use my skills accumulated over almost 30 years as a naturopath. The opportunity arose with Involvement Volunteers International to work as a nutritionist in Greece and it took me about 30 seconds to decide to register my interest.
Four months later taking almost $3000 in generous donations I found myself in Athens meeting up with 25 other naturopaths, nutritionists, nurses and doctors from Oz and the UK.
We got stuck into it straight away and at Kora House, a refugee support centre, made up a healthy nut and seed slice to go in 100 food packs we put together to distribute to the homeless on the cold winter streets of Athens that night.
The following morning fellow naturopath Jules Galloway and I went to our herbal heaven, a fabulous shop selling a huge variety of medicinal herbs. We stocked up on kilos of herbs to make tea blends to take to the camp. We had a lot of fun comparing knowledge with the lovey self taught lady with such a happy, friendly personality.
Our huge team then split into smaller subgroups to make it manageable to work with existing NGOs on the ground and we scattered into numerous camps across Greece.
Our Awesome Foursome went to Ritsona camp, about I hour north east of Athens housing primarily Syrian refugees, mainly women and children .We discovered that Ritsona is regarded as one of the best camps in Greece. It had been winterised, meaning that tents had been replaced by ISO boxes which house 7-8 people and have a small bathroom, kitchen and air conditioning.
We were assigned to LRI (Lighthouse Relief International), a Swedish NGO, working in their FFS (Female Fr
iendly Space) and IYCF (Infant and Young Child Feeding) areas. There are a lot of acronyms in this world!
These spaces are set up to support women with breastfeeding and provide a safe place for women to gather and do activities or just chat away from the rigors of camp life. We provided healthy snacks for the women and toddlers and made and distributed take home packs contains rice, chickpeas, nuts and dried and fresh fruits to supplement the unappetising and nutritionally deficient army produced meals that they were supplied.
After a few days at Ritsona it became apparent that the people here were actually in a pretty good space. They were being looked after well by numerous actors including Red Cross, Save the Children, and I Am You.
The opportunity came up to go to Chios, one of the landing islands to provide more general volunteering help which I was happy to do as I was there to work hard.
Before we left Jules and I organised a tea party for the women of the camp. We mixed 4 different medicinal herbal teas in great quantities and I purchased teapots, pretty paper cups, serviettes and delicious treats. We made a breastfeeding tea, a calming tea, a cold and coughs tea and a digestive tea.
Unfortunately I didn’t get to actually hold the party before I left Ritsona but I passed it into the capable hands of Shay and Sammy who reported back that it was a huge hit. Women lined up for hours to get into the tent and they had to bag up all the extra teas we had made for later use. All the woman of the camp wanted to be involved and it was a great community event for them.
I was disappointed to find that in the camps we were not allowed to utilise any of the vitamin and mineral supplements that had been so generously donated by some of the major Australian supplement companies. This is all tied up by the doctors of Red Cross and while working with NGOs you find that they are very respectful of each other’s roles and try not to do anything to tread in someone else’s toes. We did manage to do a few sneaky things like the herbal teas and adding protein powders to yogurt for the nursing mums and protein bars to food packs though.
Next:Chios and Souda Camp.