Volunteer Story: Caterina in Samos

My name is Caterina, I’m a 21 years old Italian student living in the Netherlands. In June 2019 I volunteered for two weeks in Samos, Greece with Refugee4Refugees, an NGO that provides support for many of those who live in the local refugee camp. This camp’s capacity is of 650 people, but this value has been greatly surmounted in the past years, now reaching a population of 4000. No NGOs are allowed to work inside the camp, which hosts the only hygienic facilities for all of those who live in and outside the walls, highlighting the strong lack of transparency from authorities in charge. The work of Refugee4Refugees focuses on the provision of non-food items and activities for children, through the help of both community and international volunteers. More specifically when volunteering in this project you are likely to be assigned to one of three activities every day, these consist of working in the warehouse, the ‘shop’, and carrying out kids’ activities. In the warehouse, donations are organized so that they can be later distributed for free in the ‘shop’, while kids’ activities consist in sessions of games that aim to involve as many as the children living in the camp.

Throughout my two weeks, I got to work with many other motivated international volunteers, as well as with community volunteers, who are refugees that decide to donate their time to help people who share their conditions. The environment of Refugee4Refugees is one of family, in which bonds can be created independently from one’s status. We ate lunch, shared highs and lows of the day, enjoyed the sunset after work together, in an atmosphere of complete comfortableness. Working with such a close team makes the long hours of moving boxes, distributing clothes, or running around with kids go by quickly, and feel like they do really matter. Every day there are changes, things do not always go as smoothly as planned, so flexibility is definitely a skill I have further developed in my time in Samos. Nonetheless I also got the chance to learn a little about logistics through the work at the warehouse, and about the ways to interact with children coming from vulnerable backgrounds also thanks to the visit of a child psychiatrist.

If I could, I would go back to Samos right now, the whole two weeks have been full of highlights, from seeing the improvements in organization in the warehouse and the shop, to the meals shared together with members of other NGOs working in the island, to the smiles of the kids when they would join the activities, to the bonds created with other volunteers, to the realization that the work that Refugee4Refugees really is fundamental. Nonetheless. these feelings are also accompanied by some frustration stemming from awareness, that increases over time, of the lack of action and interest from both local and international authorities on the conditions of residents of the camp. However, seeing how this project is being carried out and the impact it has in the daily lives of refugees gives hope, in a moment in time in which this feeling is more often than not surmounted by resignation and hatred.

Without Indigo, I would have not been able to find Refugee4Refugees, as just like me, many other volunteers I met in Samos. Indigo connected me with this NGO and from there I quickly got a response that allowed me to plan my travel and journey in advance. I would definitely recommend volunteering through indigo because of their high efficiency in responding to enquiries, matching volunteers with projects, and for their values that put humanitarian work before monetary interests, avoiding the risk of engaging voluntourism.