Volunteering in a refugee camp in Greece – please help me raise money

According to the UNHCR a staggering 65.3 million people around the world are displaced from their homes (see the infographic below). 150 of these arrive in Greece a day – 164, 000 so far this year – people like you and me – but who have decided that their lives were more at risk by staying put than by making dangerous journeys of thousands of miles by land and sea.

Once in Greece refugees are finding themselves subject to long waits for interviews before they learn which country will become their new home. In the meantime the Greek government do their best to provide refuge – many people are living in camps that range from ex-holiday resorts to tents within disused factories.

I am currently day 2 into a short stint volunteering with Nurture Project International (NPI) – a US charity founded by public health specialist Brooke Bauer. The goals of NPI are:

  • To provide technical assistance for Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies (IYCF-E).
  •  To offer nutritional support to pregnant and lactating women and children under 5 years old.
  • To ensure that pregnant women are receiving prenatal care and support through pregnancy, birth, and during the newborn period.
  • To offer mentoring and consultation to actors in the field regarding IYCF-E to ensure best practices and consistent messaging.

In practice what that means is that NPI are a daily or weekly presence in various refugee camps in Greece.  NPI ensure they get to know all the pregnant women and new mums in each camp (which make up at least 10% of the camp residents). They come to the designated NPI tent (one of which is pictured at the top of this post), collect weekly food parcels to supplement the food provided for them in the camp; have pregnancy checks, get their babies weighed and pick up nappies, sanitary items and other necessities, or sometimes just come for a hug and a shoulder to cry on.

So what’s it been like so far? Overwhelming, interesting, frustrating, and fun. Overwhelming – to meet so many new people, to get up to speed with the daily routines and jobs involved, and to take in the conditions the camp residents are living in, and hear their stories. Interesting – to see the way so much can be made of so little – both of the people living in the camps and some of the makeshift facilities within the camps. Frustrating – to try to help without knowing the language – I tried to learn a few words of Arabic but even so, the camp residents don’t all speak Arabic – there are Turkish, Kurdijani and Sorani speakers too. Interpreters are sometimes available but in high demand! Fun – playing with the mischievous children in the camps during breaks (see picture below), and enjoying the company of the cheerful and energetic NPI team.

A key aim of NPI is to promote breastfeeding – not just because it provides the best, tailored nutrition for babies but also it could prove lifesaving in an environment where the hygiene levels to safely clean bottles and teats and make up formula is nigh on impossible to achieve.  I’ve been really impressed that the majority of mums we are seeing are breastfeeding.  NPI’s midwives and lactation specialists ensure they visit in the hospital after birth and regularly in those critical first days and weeks to adequately support. It does make me wonder who would be doing that if NPI weren’t there.

NPI rely on qualified volunteers – midwives, infant feeding consultants, dietitians and nutritionists who give their time for free and pay for their own travel, accommodation and food costs.  As well as volunteering my time I’m also trying to help NPI fundraise. NPI only use 5% of their funds for admin and running costs so you can be sure your money is going directly to helping women and children in need.  The items that the charity needs are bought locally which also helps to support the local economy in Greece. Please help me meet my target of $1000 by donating what you can via my fundraising page here.

Also see here for a light hearted music video made in and around one of the refugee camps NPI support – made by some of the refugees and featuring support staff and volunteers including one of my fabulous NPI colleagues.