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.

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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!

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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.

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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.