Teaching refugees to swim

In Souda camp we decided it was a great idea to take advantage of the beautiful Aegean Sea in our morning activities. Initially we just took children into the water. We divided the volunteers into groups based on swimming ability.

Some volunteers went with the children that were unable to swim, some with the less able swimmers and some with the able swimmers.

Boys enjoying a good swim

On the first day we realised that adults were also keen to join us and so our “swimming club” grew.

We now have at least 20 swimmers every day but often more and so far we have taught 6 children, 1 man and 1 women to swim!

Diving into the Aegean Sea

In addition to the swimmers in the sea, we have families who come and watch their children learn to swim and socialise on the beach. As well as the volunteer (Drop) swimming teachers, we have refugees who help to teach.

Refreshing bath just outside the Souda Camp

Our hope is that this activity continues all summer because not only does it engage and bring people and families together, but after the trauma of arriving the beaches of Chios Island in a flimsy dinghy boat, it helps children and adults regain confidence in the water.

Text: Amelia “Ellie” Stead, Drop in the Ocean, Chios.
Photo: Eirik “Photo Guy” Solheim, Drop in the Ocean, Chios.

Don’t just think. Act!

Thinking about going to Chios volunteering for the Norwegian NGO “A Drop in the Ocean”? Stop thinking and start acting!

All the time I hear the phrase: “I have been thinking about volunteering for refugee work with Drop in Ocean on Chios (or one of the other places in Greece where we operate”. My answer is: “Stop thinking and start acting!”. Just thinking about it is not going to do any good for the refugees… Further, you are loosing the possibility of a most important experience that you will never forget or regret!

A refugee couple hoping for a better future
A refugee couple hoping for a better future

During my stay on Chios volunteering as the coordinator of the activities of the “Drops” on this Greek Island, I have never heard a single volunteer expressing that he or she regrets going to Chios. On the contrary, many keep coming back…

It is not uncommon that volunteers describe the stay on Chios as “a once-in a lifetime experience” or “a turning point”, and that the stay “changed them (in a positive way)” and “broadened their minds”.

So what do the volunteers do on Chios (as of late May 2016)…? After having breakfast, we go to the Souda Refugee Camp (in Chios Town). By the way, you will need a rental car (for your own or sharing with 1-2 fellow volunteers).

We start handing out breakfast to approximately 1000 people in the Souda camp at 8:30. The breakfast consists of bread (sandwich, croissant etc.) and a boiled egg or a fruit (orange, banana). We try to vary the breakfast a bit from day to day.

Drop in the Ocean volunteer is playing with children in the Dipithe Camp
Drop in the Ocean volunteer is playing with children in the Dipithe Camp

At 9:30 we start serving breakfast for approximately 500 people in the nearby Dipithe Refugee Camp. During and after the meal we socialise with the refugees and make note of any special needs (such as baby milk, diapers, hygienic products, strollers for babys, clothes, shoes etc.) and play with the children.

A young mother and her two daughters in the breakfast line in Souda camp
A young mother and her two daughters in the breakfast line in Souda camp

We buy the food for the breakfast at a baker’s in Karfas. Georgio brings all the food himself to the camps in his van. Georgio shows his support for the refugees (and our work) by giving Drop in the Ocean a large discount.

Serving breakfast in the two camps is the sole responsibility of the Drop in the Ocean volunteers. If we don’t show up with food each morning, most of these poor people will have nothing to eat for breakfast.

People's Street Kitchen in Chios Town preparing soup for the refugees
People’s Street Kitchen in Chios Town preparing soup for the refugees
Our warehouse (provided by Kostas) fully stocked, including 80 baby strollers
Our warehouse (provided by Kostas) fully stocked, including 80 baby strollers

After serving breakfast the Drop in the Ocean volunteers assist as needed at the two street/soup kitchens on Chios Island, People’s Kitchen and Basque’s Kitchen, in preparing and serving lunch and dinner in the Souda and Dipithe camps. We also spend time in our warehouse (kindly provided by Kostas), collecting various items for the refugees and keeping it tidy and fully stocked.


Where has Europe’s sense of decency gone?

I am frustrated about the refugee situation in Greece; especially with the backdrop of Europe (Greece and Italy) being the cradle of democracy. The situation peaked last Wednesday at Vial Hotspot Detention Center when we saw the EU flag next to the Greek flag at the entrance.

Welcome to Vial Detention Center on Chios, Greece
Welcome to Vial Detention Center on Chios, Greece

I have had such a great faith in Europe and Europe’s ability to promote peaceful human relations for all people on this little planet that we call the Earth. So what is the situation as of April 23rd 2016?

Vial hotspot detention center
Vial hotspot detention center

We have experienced that the European countries are closing their borders for people fleeing war and terror. We have experienced that the EU is forcing Greece to create hotspot detention camps to show that they can handle the refugee crisis and continue be part of EU.

The Antoniou class patrol boat of Greek Navy, P-287 HS Kelefstis Stamou
The Antoniou class patrol boat of Greek Navy, P-287 HS Kelefgtis Stamos in Chios harbor

Vial hotspot detention center is a prison where humans are imprisoned behind barbed wire fences. According to the UN 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights every human has a right to freedom and security (Article 3: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person). The people in Vial has neither liberty or personal security. They are imprisoned without a trial.

Is this treatment of fellow humans worthy of Europe? Can we just sit and watch this happening? No, of course, we cannot let this happen and do nothing.

Drop in Ocean and People’s Street Kitchen volunteers are serving soup for hungry refugees in Vial

I’m so fortunate that I am the Chios coordinator of the Norwegian NGO Drop in the Ocean and get to be in the frontline of refugee work on the (Greek) Island. The “Drops” on Chios (and elsewhere in Greece) are working in the field where the refugees are (and not in offices). Depending on the present needs (which may change from day-to-day) the Drop in the Ocean volunteers (and other volunteers) are taking care of the refugees as they arrive on the beaches; wet, cold, scared and dehydrated and are feeding them in the camps during their stay.

In cooperation with two street/soup kitchens and other local and international volunteers, we feed about 2000 people on Chios at present, providing breakfast, lunch and dinner. As fewer boats have landed after the EU-Turkey deal was signed, most of our time is spent on the refugees/migrants already on the island.

Buying orange juice for refugees
Happy refugee boy with orange juice
Happy refugee boy with orange juice and sandwich provided by the “Drops”
Janne with happy refugee children

We also provide shoes, cloths, diapers, baby milk, baby food and a variety of sanitary products. These poor people have fled from all their belongings and arrive with not much more than the cloths they wear and perhaps a small amount of money and a smartphone to keep in contact with their family.

Our organization needs more volunteers and more donations to continue our work. I urge you to spend some of your time and some of your money on these poor people whose only crime was to be born in the wrong place at a wrong time in history. Let us show them that there still is some sense of decency and humanity in Europe!

Volunteer on Chios

Welcome to my website !

My name is Janne Hegna. I am a Norwegian. I am married and we have 4 grown-up children. I hold a master degree in economics and management, and a bachelor in teaching.

I travelled to the Greek Isand of Chios in the beginning av January 2016 – and I have stayed here since – to volunteer helping refugees fleeing from war and violence.

From February to mid-October 2016 I worked as the Chios Field Coordinator for the Norwegian NGO “A Drop in the Ocean”.

I am still on Chios working as a volunteer, now focusing most on vulnerable refugees, especially children and mothers, cooperating with various national and international NGOs as well as the local authorities.

On this blog I will share my experience working for the refugee cause in cooperation with Greek and international NGO volunteers as well as the local authorities.

This is a sticky post informing about the blog. The newest post follows under. Please share a link to the blog or a post you like to others that may help by volunteering in Greece or donating money to Drop in the Ocean and other organisations  working for refugees.