Today was a reminder of the immense suffering which is simply sitting on the doorsteps of Europe. The calls for help continue as the borders have now been closed for four months. A friend recently sent me this one:
“Hello volunteers in Thessaloniki! There’s some people I know that have no food/water and are staying/sleeping in the park across from the train station. If anyone can take a little something, water and a bit of love, I would be very grateful.”
Needless to say, we made our way down to the park to see what kind of support we could offer. Walking through the park we sat down with one family from Afghanistan. We wanted to share our love and compassion for them, and also to find out a little bit of their situation.
Why is this young family sleeping in the park? Do they have food? Where can they find water? Does anyone support them here? What about diapers??
We were able to learn a little bit about this young family. They had given up hope, they were fed-up with the camps… They could no longer take the inhumane conditions, and decided to try to make their way to Athens.
This mother was with her husband, teenage son, two young children, and a friend. Both young boys were under three years old, and and both were suffering from open, infected wounds. I have been around the refugees and the camps over the past months, but this brings a whole new light to the lack of sanitation services.
The younger boy had warts all over his hands. His brother had both closed and open scabs on his thighs. The teenage boy didn’t have open wounds, but had bug bites covering both legs and feet. The friend had an open wound near his ankle which was certainly infected.
The adults had thin slippers on their feet, and asked us desperately for shoes. The two young children had crocks that were too small for their feet. They hadn’t had any water or food all day. They had no tent to sleep under.
The friend I was with disinfected the infected wounds and covered them… But we wanted to do more. How could I help this family? Why has our world forgotten about these people?
I headed to the cafe next to the park to see what we could find on a Sunday afternoon in Greece. Thanks to the donations we have received, I was able to purchase a large bottle of orange juice, and a spinach pie for each of them. After sharing a few more laughs, smiles and hand gestures, we hugged the family goodbye, wishing we could do more.
We ventured behind the train station, knowing there were more refugees to be found. We first came across four young families sitting together in the shade. While sitting with them we learned the families were from Syria and Afghanistan. They were out of water, and hadn’t had any food all day. Even so, their only request was for milk for the young children.
The families welcomed us warmly as we provided each child with a milk cartridge. We glanced around the park and estimated there were roughly 50 people. As we look around we noticed one empty water bottle after the next, so we then headed off again, returning with our arms full of waters. Making our way around the small park we discovered another 300 refugees sitting in the shade across the street.
Wow. 300 people… My feeling of helplessness just skyrocketed. At this point it was time to make a game plan, to strategize, and to pull together our resources to support these people.
We decided to reach out to the local volunteers and warehouses on social media to try to get more information. I was able to connect with a man from the UK who is sharing dinner with 350 refugees in the park each night. We also learned there is a medical caravan the refugees can visit when in need of medical attention.
The most disappointing aspect has been realizing the overall lack of essential aid, the lack of care, the blatant lack of humanity. The people receive no breakfast, no fruit, no milk. There is a lack of water hygiene supplies (sanitizer and wipes could go along way!).
At this point there are two key Steps of Action:
1. Purchase and distribute FRUIT each morning.
2. Create a communication system for all teams supporting the park to ensure effective collaboration.
Please help us to provide these families with a piece of fruit in the morning. For $20 USD you can purchase a banana to provide breakfast for 100 refugees. For $60 USD you can provide a banana for all 300 people living in the park.