© Copyright Ellen Mulcrone

I explain I am here to...



 I remember now.. All I wanted to do was create beautiful, comfortable, nurturing spaces for people.. a space where children can learn, where women can share, where men can drink tea, where people can rest, explore, read, create, remember, forget.  Pods.. It's taken me 8 days, however, to find my feet.


Naturally, on arrival in Greece I was swept up in the overwhelm of sheer complexity. Amidst 34 camps in Northern Greece alone, there is a fundamental lack of human rights. Despite handfuls of NGOs showing their face and supposedly taking responsibility for these individuals, most people are living intermittently without water, heating, electricity, decent food, education, community, light.... If a chicken farm was kept in this condition it would immediately be shut down. Unfortunately there aren't any laws for human farms...... I suppose we never believed it would come to this. 


Having blindly signed up to a volunteer group when in the UK, on arrival to Thessaloniki I quickly realised that this wasn't the group or the place for me. A strong scent of 'gap yah' experience hits me as I walk in to the manicured volunteer lounge; warm and smelling of freshly cooked food, in stark contract to the resident's space on the top floor; not decorated, certainly not heated, and whilst physically above, quite clearly hierarchically below, at least in some of the volunteers' eyes.


I introduce myself and explain I am here to 'get shit done' - turns out this is a name of another organisation. I like the sound of this group and instantly  I make a mental note to contact them that evening. Throughout the day I find myself gently but persistently questioning how and why things are done as they are in this place. "Why is there only 1 trip in to town per week for the residents?" "Why is the volunteer space so divided from the refguee's?"   "Why are we discouraged to build close connections with 'them'?... Surely this creates unnecessary division?"  "Why do we clean up after the residents.. Isn't this a little patronising?" "Why are there only 180 people living here when the bottom floor is empty and could easily house another 500?"  "Why are there so many volunteers sat around on facebook or eating?"    I am surprised to receive such cold responses. Whilst I recognise my questions may be a little confrontational, I had the naive understanding that the main focus of everyone volunteering here was to get the refugees out of this horrendous situation; to lighten their load in some way. Apparently not. People were rolling in around 1pm hungover, which I assumed was maybe because of a one off late night that they'd shared, but was apparently a daily occurrance. It actually made me feel pretty sick to my core. This wasn't a joke. Some children here, for example, had fled from a reality where they were forced to watch their father being beheaded, from rape, from their beautiful home land being obliterated. These people need our full attention, not 10% of us whilst the other 90 was vomiting and sleeping in. So despite the sharp, bright residents there (who only highlighted the uselessness of the volunteers), I felt my time was better spent elsewhere.









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Ellen Mulcrone
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