I looked at him and he introduced himself in three languages: English, German and Spanish. His name is Ahmed, he is 13 years old. He gave me a comforting smile and hugged me. This little gesture overwhelmed me in such a touching way – I can’t explain it
Mari Wahdat :: Age 24 :: Germany
Volunteering in Idomeni – an experience almost impossible to put into words. We all came here for the same reason: to help people in need. How we help differs from each day to the next. One day you are setting up tents or distributing food. The next day you find yourself in a warlike zone, helping people affected by teargas, rubber bullets or water guns.
Initially, my plan was to stay for 2 ½ weeks. I came here to coordinate a project for an NGO, I am freelancing for: morethanshelters. We collected donations to help set up protected spaces for vulnerable people, like breastfeeding mothers and their babies, in Idomeni.
Like 99% of all volunteers, I intentionally missed my flight back home – there is just too much to do. We find reasons to stay another day. And another day. And another day.
Entering Idomeni Camp feels like entering a different world. A world, which is neither Europe, nor Greece. Idomeni has its own structure and its own rules.
The projects in Idomeni and its surrounding camps are initiated and organized by an incredible team of volunteers. In the last five weeks, I have met a number of inspiring souls from all over the world, while being involved in great projects, such as Team Bananas & #LightenUpIdomeni. Our Banana Team distributes 4,500 bananas every morning, to the children of Idomeni. We distribute tent by tent, which gives us the opportunity to get to know the people of the camp in a special way. After several weeks of banana distributions, we became part of the daily, chaotic life and routine of Idomeni.
Volunteering in Idomeni is often exhausting, emotional and painful and it is taking its toll on everyone. Nevertheless, leaving the people of Idomeni behind feels wrong. They depend on us. They depend on us for food, clothes and shelter. First and foremost they depend on us to comfort them and to cheer them up. Somehow they trust us and they put their lives and the lives of their families in our hands.
These are people like you and me, who were just born in the wrong place at the wrong time. Any one of us could be in the same situation – in this decade we were just lucky. One day, you have a normal life, with a regular job, your kids go to school, you have friends and hobbies, you have a house – you have a home. The next day the entire world calls you a refugee. You are forced to beg strangers for a pair of shoes, for shampoo, for a blanket and you have to stand in line for hours just to get some tea or a sandwich.
The people in Idomeni never cease to amaze and affect me time and time again: Their openness and hospitality towards us volunteers, their endurance to live under these inhumane conditions and their never-ending ambition to cross the border. They have come so far and they are not willing to give up on their dream – come what may. While remaining in this uncertainty they have settled in Idomeni. Food markets, various shops, hair salons and falafel “diners” appear at every corner. When inviting us for tea at their campfire, the people share stories of their previous life, a life before being a “refugee”. They tell us about their torn apart families: mother in Syria, brother in Germany, sister died while crossing from Turkey to Lesvos. They show us pictures of their destroyed homes, but they also show us happy pictures: pictures when they finally reached a destination or when one of their relatives finally receives asylum in a European country.
There are a few families with whom I developed a particularly strong relationship. We meet every morning for tea and each day I update them on the news. Each day I have to tell them: the borders will not open. Each day the same disappointment on their faces.
A few weeks ago I bonded with a boy at a point, when I was feeling really exhausted and tired. It was after I had been doing my daily dancing round with the kids. I simply needed to sit down for a few minutes – no talking, no thinking. I thought I had found a hidden place, but after a while I realized there was a boy sitting next to me. I looked at him and he introduced himself in three languages: English, German and Spanish. His name is Ahmed, he is 13 years old. He gave me a comforting smile and hugged me. This little gesture overwhelmed me in such a touching way – I can’t explain it. I just know, that I would do anything to enable a happy, safe and healthy life for Ahmed. From that day on we became friends. Everyday he shows me the new things he has learned at school (his Spanish is already better than mine). He keeps telling me in German: “Morgen gehe ich nach Berlin”. Of course we both know, that this is not happening. Even to this day, I have never seen him sad – not once. He doesn’t talk about his past, his friends or his home. He only looks forward, eager to live and learn and determined to live in Germany one day.
I could write a book of all the fates, people and stories we encounter while volunteering. Every living soul in Idomeni deserves their story to be told. We meet so many faces – but in the end, the only thing we can do is to ease some of their pain in comforting them and in giving them the basic living conditions everyone deserves.
And this is the reason, why we are here – volunteering in Idomeni.