Since 2015 and seeing the harrowing photos of the boats filled with children, young people, mothers, grandmothers, and family members from Syria arriving in Lesvos, I have desperately felt the need to help. Whatever I planned to do would feel like a drop in the ocean. It was not the right time in my life to be able to help in Greece at that time so instead in 2016 we opened up our home to refugees and asylum seekers to offer them a safe place to live until they felt able to move on here at Havoc in Halifax.
Our house became even more of a fully inclusive and welcoming home. We learned so much from the amazing young men who have lived with us and who have all become our extended family. We have shared their tears, fears, and their heartbreaking stories whilst seeing their ups and downs adjusting to life with the Clarkes and in Halifax. Over the last few years we have become more involved with our local organisation St Augustines http://www.staugustinescentrehalifax.org.uk and each one of our children has played a part in volunteering either with the Centre or on trips we now do to Calais with Calais Refugee Aid and Care for Calais. https://www.facebook.com/CalaisRefugeeAid/
Nikki now works full time with refugees locally 2 days a week with an Immigration Lawyer and 3 days at the Centre as a Case Worker. Jake has returned recently from spending a month of his summer holiday with an organisation based in Chios, another island in Greece. We have all been hugely rewarded in so many different ways by working with refugees.
Meanwhile, returning to 2015 the Kempson family who have lived in Greece for 18 years were some of the first to rescue and provide aid to refugees on the shores of the North Coast of Lesvos. http://the-kempsons.com/
“Since early 2015 we have been rescuing providing aid to refugees. They estimate that in 2015/2016 we brought in 600.000 people on the north shore, Although the numbers of arrivals have dropped boats are still arriving and we continue to help.”
Erik, Philippa and their daughter Ej then began to encourage volunteers to come and assist them and began their organisation called the Hope Project https://www.facebook.com/HopeProjectKempsons/
This summer we decided to send a small Clarke team to Lesvos for our “holiday” leaving chaos and havoc at home whilst Andy has had the main part of the house decorated; Nadia has been to Womad, an international arts festival in Charlton Park; Reay has returned from her volunteering in Tanzania; Jake has been busy coaching tennis and Sean and Charlotte have been packing up their stuff to move out to Thailand. Andy has said the last fortnight has been a typical one in our lives and has kept remarkably calm even when having to do some emergency back up PA work.
Nikki, Samara and I have been volunteering now for nearly two weeks and are heading back this Saturday. The opportunity has been more than working and distributing much needed donations – it has given us the chance to develop relationships with the rest of the team of volunteers who work at the Hope Project and those who are connected to other organisations. Most of whom are refugees either living on Moria Camp (known as Hell) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bltWKd82tzEhttps://joindaproductions.wordpress.com/ , or just outside the camp in crowded conditions with very few facilities.
We have been working every day from 10 to 4 sorting out scarce donations and meeting the families and adults who come to the Hope Centre to get clothes, nappies, baby wipes, hygiene items, each child gets a toy or a drawing book, fresh water and plenty of smiles and sometimes a cuddle when the parent needs a bit of time to chose their clothes.
There are queues of people outside the project waiting to come in on a morning. Some of them have walked an hour and a half from the camp to get there. The clothes are getting scarce as the “shop” is so busy and we are in need of the following items in good or new condition: Men’s T-shirts, trousers, shorts – all small. Shoes – all sizes. Children’s toys. Women’s long sleeve blouses, T shirts, and leggings or jogging pants. The list goes on. Money donations can be sent directly to buy items here in Lesvos on https://mydonate.bt.com/charities/thehopeproject. Yesterday we went to a shop and bought small plastic toys to give out to the children and to bring some hope and joy into their lives if only for a few moments. Every pound is well spent.
I will be writing over the next week some stories of a day in the life of a volunteer and how you can help back in the UK.