Volunteer Story: Orla in Samos

At the end of May, I travelled to Samos to volunteer with the organisation Refugee4Refugees. I found R4R through Indigo Volunteers, where I have been an ambassador for the last six months- reaching out to universities and other groups of interested people about the service that Indigo provides by recruiting and connecting volunteers with humanitarian projects that need them most, and about the abundance of volunteering opportunities available with grassroots organisations across the globe. The application process was simple, thorough, and allowed me to consider what my skills are and what working environment I’d best liked to be placed. After having found my place with R4R, I was put into contact with their incredible team and have been supported by both them and Indigo since.

There are currently around 25.9 million refugees who have fled their homes in an attempt to escape violence, insecurity and poverty. Millions of these people have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement. The EU’s deal with Turkey has left over 4000 of these people stuck in complete limbo on the island of Samos, where its camp is six times over capacity. After arriving in Samos I was instantly perturbed and shocked by the stark contrast between the incredible natural beauty of the island, and the dark realities of the overcrowded, inadequately resourced camp. It was with this that I was able to realise how important the work of non-profit organisations like R4R is, and how for the next month I could be part of an amazing movement that offers the sustainable support and humanitarian assistance that is so needed.

R4R is the only NGO on the island that distributes non-food items such as clothes, shoes and hygiene supplies. I spent my time with an incredible team of caring and motivated volunteers organising donations in the warehouse, distributing items in the free shop, and running play based activities for children twice a day. Although time spent in the warehouse was physically intense at times- the gift bags we made and distributed to over 400 children for Eid al Fitr, the 620 pairs of shoes we distributed to children for summer and the month’s supply of diapers we gave to babies, who would otherwise only have 5 per week, made each minute of work worthwhile.

Developing the land opposite the camp where we carried out kids activities and events like the Eid celebrations was something that was really great to be a part of. The team worked to build a fence around the land to optimise the safety of the children during kids activities, and made a sand area for games like Volleyball to be played. Between the improvement of the land, and the incredible energy of the team, kids activities was something to really look forward to each day. The memories I made spending time with such animated and positive children everyday will truly stay with and inspire me forever.

The experience heightened my awareness of the enormous humanitarian crisis that exists without a voice. I feel extremely grateful however to have been part of an NGO that supports the undeniable fact that it is not only Western volunteers who have the ability to make a difference, but that the refugee community plays a big part in the solution of the crisis, as their active involvement brings a wide range of skills, insight and kindness.

I met some of the strongest, most altruistic and inspirational people during my time in Samos, all of whom contributed to the sense of respect, care and shared humanity that permeated all aspects of my experience.