Christmas with refugees

Thanks so much to all those friends who were thinking of me over Christmas and gave money to support FoodKIND. I spent just over 2 weeks as a volunteer for the charity, working in 2 refugee camps in mainland Greece.

FoodKIND has a very simple aim – to provide food with kindness to refugees who do not have access to nutritious food.

It is very easy to feel powerless given the scale of the refugee crisis but the 2 founders responded by deciding that they could at least organise volunteers to come, live nearby, shop locally and provide fresh nutritious food in a refugee camp.

I worked mostly in a camp called Malakasa, near Athens, with refugees who are not yet registered so have no means of support.

As a team of 5 or 6, we cooked for 400 – 600 men, women and children each day. There were several thousand people in the camp but the majority were registered by the Greek government and lived in portacabins and received 400 euros per family per month, regardless of household size.

I had feared that the conditions would be so unbearable that I would not be able to cope with the reality; and that may have been true on the Greek islands, but in this camp, although those families who were not yet registered were in tents, they were mostly within a warehouse structure so had a layer of protection from the weather.

New refugees continued to arrive whilst I was there, however there was no further room in the warehouse so they were just in their tents. The camp was in the mountains which meant very cold nights and indeed there was both snow and an earthquake the day after I left.

Each day we prepared food and cooked all morning and then arrived at the camp at 2pm to find long queues already formed. We gave out a plate or bowl of a vegetarian dish plus salad and a maximum of 3 flatbreads even though they may have been collecting for 6 or 8 people.

FoodKIND used to give out eggs each day but the budget no longer stretches that far so the protein comes from lentils or chickpeas. Everyone loved having fresh salad. For Christmas day two young Catalan women in our group organised cooking, icing and wrapping 500 cookies which went down very well.

The day after I found it so hard to see the joy on each person’s face as we handed out one satsuma per person. Again, FoodKIND’s funds are not sufficiently high to allow fruit to be included in the daily provision.

The whole experience was nourishing for me although that feels an odd thing to say. For me personally, the hardest yet most inspiring part of my stay was sharing a house with a changing group of 4 or 5 other volunteers. We varied hugely – a cook on super yachts, 2 Catalan students and ski instructors, an Australian ex policeman, an American local government worker from Cornwall, a horticulture marketing manager and a young woman who worked in a bar.

It was hard because I’m not used to living with constant music and chatter, yet inspiring because despite huge differences in age and life experiences, we shared some core values that had led us to be there doing something practical and worthwhile.

The teamwork was great; things worked smoothly and efficiently, led by a volunteer co-ordinator who stays for 6 months. The volunteer guidance was excellent and, as it says, most FoodKIND volunteers have only one question – when can I go back?

As I go to press, I am amazed and very grateful that donations on my fundraising page have passed my £1,500 target; the page is still open at Givengain if you feel inspired to make a donation.

What FoodKIND really needs is people who can donate through a monthly standing order – however small. It will enable them to have a stable income so that they can increase the amount of food they can distribute. There are no paid staff and minimal overheads because volunteers meet their own travel costs and share the running costs of the volunteer house.

To me, the value of what FoodKIND does is not just about giving food; it is saying to every refugee who is served food “You are not forgotten; there are people who care.”

Please share this brief report with friends and family.

Further details of FoodKINDs work can be found on their website.

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