How The Aid Caravan to Greece started
At the end of August 2015, Erika Mauritz made an appeal on Facebook, asking for people to help her collect goods for refugees in Greece. The response was simply overwhelming. Throughout the entire country people answered the initiative, which got noticed by local media while at the same time lots of people shared it on social media. Thousands of people in The Netherlands and Belgium donated necessary goods and hundreds of volunteers joined the Aid Caravan. In this way they were able to turn their feelings of powerlessness into charitable deeds, because “Ordinary people just help.”
Since that first appeal The Aid Caravan to Greece has collected about 1500 m3 of aid supplies. Thousands of people supplied seventy locations throughout The Netherlands and Belgium with goods such as men’s, women’s and children’s clothing, toys, tents, sleeping bags, bed linens, hygiene products, medicines, baby carriers, strollers, diapers and dry foods. Sponsors and national transport companies have helped to collect the goods and bring them to our central storage in Bleiswijk. Here a great team of volunteers carefully sorts and prepares the goods for transport to Greece. We are proud that the first transports with aid supplies have arrived and have been distributed to those in need.
Collaboration and social durability
In Greece we closely co-operate with local volunteering initiatives in Kilkis, Kos, Lesbos, Leros, Chios, Piraeus and Athens. We do not only offer them our goods, but also help them in receiving and redistributing our goods in the best possible way. In this way, we try to make sure that local volunteers do not lose precious time with sorting the goods once received. For example, in October a team of the Aid Caravan to Greece undertook an expedition to Kilkis in order to improve the local storage and distribution facilities, in full co-operation with local Greek volunteers. We also work together with Solidarity Piraeus, a Greek volunteering organisation that welcomes and receives refugees in the port of Athens and sends goods to the islands.
We decided to co-operate with Greek volunteering organisations to help the Greeks face this crisis. In this way we create social durability in the regions that are affected. Our organisation mutually benefits from this co-operation as our aid supplies reach refugees faster and more efficient because Greek volunteering organisations have better access to local infrastructure. That’s also why we can uses the basketball stadion at the old Olympic side for distributionpunt, from where we and the volunteers of Greece distribute all aid goods inside Greece.
Transport and sponsorships
We transport goods across land and sea. We have learned that demands can differ locally and weekly. For this reason, we send our containers one at a time after consulting local organisations about their specific needs. We take the demand and storage capacity of our Greek partners into account as good as we can.
Until now, many enthusiastic volunteers, donors and benefactors have pushed The Aid Caravan to Greece forward to the point where it stands now. However, we are still looking for sponsors who can make a difference and can turn this extraordinary logistical challenge into a success.
To give an impression of the expenses: the shipment of a sea container including companion costs 1600 euros, 2800 euros if we sent two. A sea container holds either 21, depending on its size. One pallet costs about 75 euros on average. A pallet contains approximately twenty to thirty boxes. In other words, the price of the shipment of one box is about 3 to 4 euros.
We have estimated that we will ship about fifteen loads, half of the containers costs have been sponsored by our logistic partners. The containers will be send weekly, or two every two weeks. We are still looking for funding of five shipments for all winter supply this month, food date will be expired and winterclothes are now most needed goods. Only this month, Januari, there arrived about 62.000 refugees at Greece soil, many of them are children. We are also looking for donations with which we can buy and supply water and food locally. Finally, donations will help us setting up and improving local distribution structures. We are thankfull for each donation.
Our Foundation enjoys a so-called ANBI-status, facilitated by Party MenS en Spirit. This means we can supply our donors with official receipts for the purpose of fiscal discount. We can also offer our donors exposure: please contact us if you wish so. For more information about our initiative, please visit our website www.hulpkaravaangriekenland.nl or send us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will then contact you as soon as possible.
Report by Erika and Selim from Athens 01/25/2016
At 5 am we met at the airport and we left for Athens. After a good flight we arrived at 11 pm local time. Bruno picked us up and drove around for a while because he wanted to point out the Olympic stadiums of Elliniko. In one of these large buildings, the former Olympic basketball stadium, our supplies are stored. A little further is the Hockey Stadium which now serves as a refugee camp.
After this Bruno took us to Piraeus Gate E1. Here we could leave our suitcases with over 70 kilos of medicines. This extra baggage was sponsored by Transavia, for which we are very thankful! We met Fadi who helped us unload. We tried to get in touch with Sotiris, but did not succeed. He was everywhere and nowhere arranging things. We are sure we will meet him somewhere this week.
On the floor of the hall of E1 there were families everywhere, the elderly and young people on board and blankets. They could not leave because there were no buses to Eidomeni. The border to FYROM was closed. This means the parks in Athens are filled with refugees who sleep outside. We received many questions of refugees about the bus tickets because the date of the fares for which they had paid would now expire. People were afraid that they had to buy new tickets. Yes, indeed buy: refugees pay themselves for the tickets for the boat and the bus. No money means a long wait on the islands. Due to lack of information tempers sometimes run high. Hunger and cold make sure people can tolerate less; lack of nutrients for the body causes different behavior. This is true for each individual human being. A man asked for a medical check for his wife who was eight months pregnant. There were no doctors today and we could not help him and the Greek volunteers either. When you have to say no in such a situation is very difficult. It feels unnatural and inhuman.
At two o’clock we left and went to our hotel in Kolonaki, in the center of Athens. Our thanks go to Mirjam and our sponsors of COCO-MAT for this fantastic free accomodation! In the hotel we quickly swapped shoes and we headed off for the next appointment. Karina, a Dutch woman who lives in Athens, would take us to a number of initiatives. We met at a restaurant down the street where we got the bill written on the tablecloth much to our surprise.
Karina took us to Notara, where a squatted tax office serves as a refugee hostel. In this house 110 residents of all backgrounds live together. The common room was packed with residents who were sitting cozy together. We were given a tour and in the kitchen we found the food that we had sent to Notara! So this has arrived safely. There were making food for the stranded refugees. Normally this is not one of the activities, but now was required by the circumstances, so it was done. In Notara we actually ran into the daughter of Selim’s colleague. The world is small.
We met a number of active citizens who invited us to go along to their weekly meeting in another squatted building. There were also many students present from Denmark, Sweden, Taiwan and England who were in Athens for a course on migration at the Dutch Institute in Athens, after staying in Istanbul at the Dutch Institute in Turkey. The meeting was set up as a direct democracy. This meant that the meeting was pleasant but the process was also quite slow. This was also recognized by the participants. After an hour we went to Victoria Square from this location to see where the refugees were staying and whether we could do something. When we arrived, the van of Notara with the cooked food just arrived and everyone ran to the side of the square. There was a lot of pushing and shoving. The refugees were obviously hungry and in need of a hot meal. The cold was terrible. We had frozen fingers too. Yet these people remain outside all night and have to sleep in the cold. We saw families with children who circumambulated with sleeping bags. They could not lie down because then the police will take their sleeping bags away. Sleeping in the park is also hard. Every 2 to 3 hours, the police wakes up the refugees. There is an official camp, but people do not want to go there. They are afraid to be arrested, to be deported or put in prison, so they prefer a park bench. The treatment by the police is taken into the bargain, the reply is that the police in the country of origin is much worse.
After a cup of hot chocolate, we went back to our hotel after a long day. It was a beautiful day full of inspiring people who are all so very involved and passionate about what they do every day, rather than work or in addition to their daily work or family. Tomorrow our day will start at half past six, when the first boats arrive. Fortunately, the bakery around the corner is open 24/7 since we obviously will be missing breakfast at our hotel at that time.
We wish all of you a beautiful and inspiring day from Athens, a city in which inhabitants work very hard to spread the concept of solidarity.
καλήμερα – kaliméra (good day) Selim and Erika