Volunteer Story: Summer on Lesvos, Greece

“Ahh I bet it was nice to get away for a bit!” My friends say , when I tell them I’ve just got back from Greece. If I’m honest, I didn’t really tell too many people I was going away, or why I was away, as I really didn’t want to make it about me. I didn’t go to ‘find myself’ or to make me more appreciative of the life I have, or to somehow come back a changed person… No. I was just aware that people, just like myself, are in need, and I had time available to go and help.

Like so many, I would hear reports of thousands of people coming to parts of Europe in search of safety and a better life, ‘Refugees flood into Europe’ would be the headline. ‘PEOPLE’, I would say to myself as I mentally tried to correct the headline. It was often reported in such a cold hearted  manner and the sincere severity of the situation would be lost, even the term ‘flooded,’ was insensitive.  Of course, it was often followed by  a story of a few locals outraged that the bus was late for the 3rd time that week. You get the picture, 2 stories side by side, 2 completely different worlds.

My Volunteer Experience with Yoga and Sport for Refugees

My name is Summer Artman, I am from Bristol. I volunteered on the Greek island of Lesvos, with an organisation called Yoga and Sport for Refugees. They provide loads of sport activities for people to take part in throughout the day.  Yes to escape from their circumstances for a while, but more than that just to have fun! Basketball, dance classes, all types of martial arts are just some of the classes provided. Swimming lessons are the most popular, but each activity has regular members of which to them, that particular class was most important. Football, running and body-building classes boasted of their professionalism, and it was obvious that members of these classes took so much pride in being part of it, they took it very seriously!

The organisation is partnered with One Happy Family, a larger community type centre on the island. This is where yoga and sport is run from, and so in between sessions I found myself meeting people, sharing jokes, just generally talking to the people who use the community centre as a chill out spot. Legal advise and medical support could also be found here, so not everyone’s’ reasons for going  were social. For me, a reminder of the reality of the circumstances on the island.

Making New Friends

I met one man who on the day that we met, was just released from prison. He described it as prison, and he had been in there for 3 months. In England, we would describe it as a detention centre, but whatever you want to name it, it is a prison. A lot of single men were held there on their arrival to the island. A few days later he bumped into another man who was also in the prison with him,  and they reminisced.  ‘Are the Lebanon’s still in there?’ he asked. ‘Yes, they’re still there’ the young Somali man answered. He saw my face drop and he reassured me that he was a man, and that they could cope. I tried to smile but inside, the comment struck me. As an aspiring clinical psychologist myself, mental health is a top priority for me and so the reality that ‘being a man’ was the only coping mechanism seemingly available rang alarm bells for me.  I later found out that for the around 5/6 thousand people living in Moria Camp, there was once only 1 doctor around.

Not all stories were like this! Most conversations were normal, and they were grateful to have a new person to talk with, who spoke to them like they were human, and not just a  refugee. This made interactions  natural and many people would shake my hand and ask me how I was, and if I was going to swimming class that day for example. Some would try to teach me Farsi, and some wanted to practice their english, but where language was a barrier, a smile was always universal. 

One of the classes that bought so much joy was probably dance class! The teacher Samuel, from Congo bought energy like no other, and was able to teach us all new Afro-House dance routines. In one room were people from France, Congo, Afghanistan, Iran and  even Israel all laughing and enjoying the class together. It was a brilliant sight and in a small way I hope a foreshadowing of a brighter future. 

If you have time available and are willing to use your skills set to serve others, I would very much encourage you to sign up with Indigo Volunteers. The process was so easy, and I was able to be impacted, and  have a direct impact on peoples lives, through them.