Ahuge influx of refugees feeling violence in the Middle East and parts of Africa has overwhelmed Greece since 2015, now recognized as one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises. As of June 2018, Greece has absorbed some 60,000 refugees, with over 8,000 living in and around the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki, many of whom need vital support in jumpstarting their new lives in Europe.
The Sindos Community Center, named for the suburb outside of Thessaloniki where some 500 refugees live in government sponsored housing for refugees, is the only local institution in the area providing essential support to these families and individuals. Each day more than 70 refugees come to the Community Center, where a holistic rehabilitation program offers job training, language classes, music and art therapy classes, and a child friendly space.
Throughout October, the Sindos Community Center hosted a number of workshops and trainings around the theme of living a more healthy lifestyle. This theme was initiated by members of the refugee community, who organized and recruited participants for these events.
In partnership with the Hellenic Red Cross, the Sindos Community Center provided first aid training sessions to over 45 community members in small groups: Arabic speaking women, Arabic and Kurdish speaking men, Farsi speakers, and French speakers. This aimed to decrease the need for interpretation, and maintain cultural norms consistent with the topics of discussion. Other workshops implemented included sessions on healthy eating, parenting skills, and oral health activities for children.
One of the center's volunteers, Dr. Daphna, began a weekly lecture series on healthy living. The first week dealt with nutrition, and the coming weeks will address combatting winter illnesses, preventing common skin problems, and additional topics per request from my community. Thus far, between 30 and 50 community members attended each lecture. By providing refugees with information about common health problems, they will be more able to support their families in leading a healthier life style, and will instill within them more confidence in solving problems on their own. This is one example of improving the community's resliency.
IsraAID's Northern Greece team also presented its programs to students in the Psychology Department at the Mediterranean College of Thessaloniki, aiming to involve more locals in providing essential psychosocial support to refugee. With IsraAID, students in these fields can gain experience in group facilitation and mental health trainings at the Sindos Community Center by offering additional support for the IsraAID professional staff.
The Sindos Community Center provides a safe and stable environment for refugees to get to know others from different cultural backgrounds, building familiarity and connections that serve to strengthen Greece’s intercultural fabric and support the emergence of new leaders from within the refugee community.
Thank you for your ongoing support!
The Youngest-Ever Arrival
Last week, IsraAID's medical team attended to the youngest-ever new arrival that we have seen on Lesvos. Her name is Aishagol and she was just two days old when her family arrived on the northern shore of Lesvos. Her parents are from Afghanistan, but she was born in Turkey on the way. She was welcomed to the island by IsraAID nurse Ioanna. During the week, IsraAID's medical staff treated over 95 of the 340 new arrivals who reached Lesvos' northern shore. 1015 new arrivals have reached Lesvos in 28 boats since the beginning of August, with over 600 in the last week alone. IsraAID is the only international NGO providing medical care to new arrivals on the northern shore of Lesvos.
The School of Peace
The School of Peace is the only educational framework on the island offering mother-tongue classes in Arabic, Congolese French, Farsi and Kurdish. The school serves 180 children daily, providing academic classes, physical education, and two hot meals. Classes are taught by refugees from the children's own communities.
The school is a partnership between IsraAID, Hashomer Hatzair and the Ajial Movement.
Mehdi, Farsi teacher at the School of Peace, wrote this poem about the school:
"What are you looking for?
Here is the international school of peace.
Which kind of values can bring safety and happiness to your life?
Here is that place we could improve the communication of nations at the current time.
Here is that place which colors will be combined, compositions are planting a present of the freshness sapling in our hands every day.
Here is a little garden of peace which the round its flowers will hug all of the earth under its wings.
Here is just a corner of the international school of peace.
Meet IsraAID's New Community Health Advocates
IsraAID's team in Lesvos has welcomed two new Community Health Advocates, refugees and medical professionals who will work with IsraAID to raise awareness of health issues and help ensure refugees can receive necessary care.
Fareba, 22, from Bamyan Province in Afghanistan has been on Lesvos for about 5 months. Fareba has 5 siblings, and is happily married. In Afghanistan she graduated from nursing school and worked in a self-help clinic for 2 years. She then went on to attend only one year of medical school, before she was compelled to leave Afghanistan for her own safety. She is currently one of IsraAID’s Community Health Advocates and works as a translator in the Kara Tepe medical clinic.
“I wanted to join the Community Health Advocates Program because my field is nursing and I love to work with medicine, whether that’s working with medical teams, meeting patients, or meeting different doctors. Also to refresh all of my skills and to constantly practice. As a refugee I know a lot of other refugees and I can use these skills to help the community and encourage and promote their health and wellbeing better as someone who comes from a similar background.”
“I have seen a lot of people who have psychological issues. I really want to help these people, relieve their stresses, make them happy and relaxed. This is the main concern on the island, more so than medical conditions. If our minds are good and healthy the rest of our body will be good and healthy. Many people here are suffering from psychosomatic issues, and I want to help in any way I can ease these psychological pains.”
“In the future I want to become a doctor. It is both my hope and my husband’s hope. My husband has been encouraging me for a very long time and it is a dream that we both share.”
“I am very thankful for those who gave me this opportunity.”
Abdul, a refugee from Chad, has been on the island of Lesvos for about 3 months now. In 2015 he completed his nursing degree. After his nursing degree he returned to school to study general biology with hopes of becoming a science teacher. However, in his last year of studying he had to leave Chad for Europe. “I left Chad because I spoke out against the government and joined a protest which caused me to become wanted by the government.”
Abdul moved to Lesvos alone, leaving behind three brothers and one sister back in Chad. He is currently one of the Community Health Advocates with IsraAID.
"I wanted to join this program because I am a nurse and I wanted to help others and feel like I was doing something for others. IsraAID also has different realms that I can work in in the health sector. Sometimes I can be a nurse and sometimes a teacher. There are a variety of things I can do, like different activities with the community where you really feel like you are a part of a team.”
"The majority of people who come here complain about gastro problems, and this stems from the food that people eat in the camps. Another problem is that people in the camps live in very close proximity to each other, which in turn affects how fast disease spreads. In addition, a lot of people suffer from psychological problems which affect the physical body and the symptoms of the body. I hope to find a solution to all these problems, and I believe that I can change the health condition on the island for refugees through education and awareness which are two important things.”
"In the future I want to become a person who other people can benefit from, a nurse, a general doctor, or even a teacher. I also love languages and the ability to learn languages to be able to communicate with a variety of different people from all different backgrounds and nationalities.”
Thank you for your support, which makes this work possible! More updates to follow ...
Here are the latest updates from IsraAID's programs supporting refugees in Greece:
In April, IsraAID took over management of the Sindos Community Center in Thessaloniki, together with our partners Be A Robin. More than 130 people attended the opening event to learn about the center’s activities, with food prepared by fellow refugees. The center serves the refugee community living in the urban city center, ensuring access to mental health support, art therapy, community activities and more.
Recent events at Sindos Community Center include:
Community Women’s Day. More than 60 women from Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Iraq and Syria attended. Activities included dance, relaxation, and group support sessions on self-expression and bonding. This provides an opportunity to empower female refugees in their communities.
Community Dental Day. Access to dental care and information about oral hygiene is a serious issue for refugees in Thessaloniki. IsraAID’s team provided free dental checkups by an Arabic-speaking dentist, distributed hygiene kits, toothbrushes & dental floss, and delivered education on the importance of good oral hygiene.
Harry, IsraAID’s Medical Coordinator, recently shared this story from his time working on IsraAID’s medical programme providing immediate, shore-line care to newly arrived refugees in Lesbos:
"It is my last day in Lesbos, Greece, and I’m driving on a dirt road in a small Jeep with a family of Syrian refugees, when one of them, a little girl, piled in the back with her mother and five siblings, starts singing. The road that leaves the rocky coast where their small boat landed is bumpy, and it’s important that I stay safe; I’ve got precious cargo on board. They’ve been through hell to get here.
I get a brief glimpse of the singing girl in the back seat. A shy smile, a few missing teeth, a few brown curls, a red jacket, still wet from her journey across the Aegean. She could be 6 years old.
She sees me looking back at her and our eyes meet for half a second. She temporarily becomes too shy to sing and stifles a giggle. I laugh out loud. Her parents smile; her Dad in the front seat with a son on his lap, her mother with an 8-month old baby girl with what I hope is only a mild viral respiratory infection. Her siblings giggle.
A second of wonderfully awkward silence passes and she starts singing again, a little louder now. A happy tune like a cartoon jingle. She keeps singing until we stop and they all tumble out.
I get out my medical equipment and my paperwork, the two tools of my trade, and try to find something in my limited supplies that will help her baby sister breath a little easier. She likely has a viral infection, but it could be a bacterial pneumonia. It is difficult to tell without an X-ray or lab tests.
Eight hours later I’m back in Israel. The singing girl has moved on too, to an overcrowded refugee camp in Lesbos. She and her sister will remain there with their family for an uncertain period of time, until the authorities find someplace else on the island, hopefully someplace better, for them to go. And then they will wait there while officials determine if they will stay in Greece, move elsewhere in Europe or be sent back.
Her family fled a nation mired in a terrible civil war with just a few small bags of belongings to start a new life with. It hardly seems like a moment to sing, or smile, or laugh. But they made it into Europe, finally, and, for a moment, they felt safe and happy. Or at least she did."
Thank you for your support, which makes our work possible! More updates to follow ...
Since mid-August 2017, over 6,000 refugees and migrants, 40% of which are children, fleeing conflicts and economic hardship in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and other Middle East and African countries, arrived on the island of Lesbos, seeking passage into Western Europe. This total, is more than double the number of new arrivals for the same period in 2016. A continuous increase in arrivals is expected as winter approaches.
School of Peace:
In Lesbos, over 1,500 refugee children currently do not attend school. Worryingly, this number is likely to rise due to the increased numbers of arrivals, and the slow asylum processes which cause families to remain on the island for a prolonged, unpredictable and uncertain amount of time. While there has been some progress in safeguarding refugees access to education by the Greek Ministry of Education, enrollment in formal education remains problematic on the Aegean Islands
For these children, going to school is of critical importance. Beyond fulfilling their basic right to education, it also gives them an opportunity for childhood experiences, a peer and school community and a warm meal, in a safe and multicultural space.
IsraAID, Hashomer Hatzair and the Ajial Movement of Arab educators, are implementing a community education initiative in Lesbos – the School of Peace.
The School of Peace is located between the two existing refugee camps in Lesbos, and provides a daily, stable environment and educational framework for 150 refugee children, between the ages of six and 16 years old. The children learn the major academic subjects in their mother tongue (Arabic, Persian, French) and are taught by teachers from their own refugee communities. Throughout the week, each class also enjoys extra-curricular enrichment activities and shares a warm meal together every evening. This initiative utilizes a unique approach of community empowerment through education.
Story of Impact:
Shiba, 23, from Afghanistan, has been living in Lesbos for 14 months after a harrowing journey by boat, and is now a teacher in the School of Peace. Although this was not her profession in Afghanistan, Shiba really wanted to teach the children at this school!
"Most of the refugee children in Lesbos do not have access to any formal or informal education, and I want to help give them a chance! I most enjoy watching the children suddenly understand something that they didn't know before. This is a special school, run by a very special community!"
Medical response for new refugee arrivals to Lesbos, Greece:
In 2015 and early 2016, many international aid organizations were stationed on the island to receive and provide aid to the new refugees. However, after mid-2016, many left Lesbos, as the number of arrivals gradually reduced; this included all international medical actors. Since then, IsraAID has been a key part of UNHCR's central response plan, providing urgent medical care to the refugees arriving on the shoreline.
The team operates on the island's northern shore, from a local clinic, and in IsraAID's medical tent at the UNHCR reception facility. The doctor and nurses quickly identify cases of medical or protection concern, and take appropriate action, in a timely manner.
IsraAID has so far provided direct medical assistance to over 300 newly arrived refugees, including women at a late stage of pregnancy, as well as individuals and children suffering from diabetes or hepatitis, epilepsy, hypothermia and deep wounds. In view of the lack of public medical facilities in the area, IsraAID also provides medical assistance to the local Greek host population, and regular first-aid training to all of members of the North Shore emergency response group in Lesbos.
Due to the increasing number of refugee arrivals, likely to escalate as winter continues, and the lack of any other medical actors on the north shoreline, there is an urgent and ongoing need for IsraAID's Emergency Medical Response Program.
Some recent highlights:
Vaccination initiative: IsraAID's medical team, in collaboration with Doctors Without Borders / Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and DocMobile - Medical Help e.V., just completed a full MMR vaccination campaign for refugee children in Lesbos, Greece. Our volunteer doctors and nurses vaccinated all children aged six months to 16 years old, who live in the six emergency refugee shelters on the island. Many of the children have never been vaccinated against MMR or have no records of their past vaccinations. To enter the Greek education system, all children are required to have a record of receiving this vaccine. We are really pleased to have provided this vital medical care to the refugee community.
One week in February: Over four nights one week in February, IsraAID's volunteer doctors provided emergency medical assistance to refugees as they arrived by boat, to the island of Lesbos, Greece. Nearly half of the arrivals were very young children. "At this time of year, as the temperatures drop down to near zero at night, our team pays special attention to the young children - often wet and exhausted - because they are at a higher risk of having hypothermia after a long journey in the cold," explains Anne , IsraAID Head of Mission in Lesbos.
Around 40 children arrived that week, via Lesbos' northern shoreline, and were seen by our medical team before being treated in UNHCR's transit camp.
Thank you for your ongoing support! More updates to follow!
IsraAID's team in Greece is working in the Caritas community center, which serves the refugee community now living in the urban city center (and not camps). See picture below for one of the first sessions IsraAID held with yoga for women, run in Farsi. In another group session for women, our team ran an exercise about self-care. Using different relaxation techniques, the mental health professionals emphasized the importance of looking after yourself - body and mind. The women discussed how to use some of these techniques to better manage the daily challenges they face.
During last week's art therapy session in the community center, while their just-made jewelry pieces were drying, the women refugees learned important words in English - words that represent their past, current and future journeys, such as: joy, safe, community, dance, hope.
Early Childhood Development - The women trained in IsraAID’s Early Childhood Development program rotate daily, putting their skills into practice. The children hugely benefit from finally having an educational, safe framework in the camp.
With more and more refugees arriving to Greece the homeless population is growing rapidly. IsraAID partner with an organization who gives medical support though a mobile clinic. IsraAID is working with them a few times a week to give psychological support for the homeless refugees as well as to help them better communicate with the doctors in Arabic and Farsi.
Two weeks ago, IsraAID's mobile medical team on Lesbos were called to Tsonia Beach, Lesbos, where 40 refugees and migrants had just arrived by boat. Most were from West Africa. They were wet and exhausted, but relieved to be safe. IsraAID's team, together with local partners, is waiting to provide warm blankets, medical assistance, and to take the refugees from their rubber dinghy to a refugee camp.
Many refugees who come by boat, including children and the elderly, arrive freezing and shivering. They have been thoroughly soaked in cold sea water on the way from Turkey to Lesbos. The crossing from Turkey to Greece, on inflatable, over-crowded boats, remains one of the most treacherous parts of the journey for refugees coming from Middle East countries such as Syria or Afghanistan. IsraAID's mobile medical team is the only unit operating on the North shores of Lesbos island. Our volunteer doctors and nurses provide emergency medical care to new arrivals, following their incredibly arduous journeys.
"When I was part of IsraAID's team in Greece, we heard many personal accounts of refugees who had been on the most traumatic journeys, lost everything, and who needed the most basic items, like shelter and food.
While a lot of organizations are giving practical, physical assistance, the IsraAID team also tries to address the emotional wounds. The mental health specialists accompany people in overcoming these traumatic events, share coping mechanisms and strengthen their resilience.
I was amazed to see the strength of these communities, and was inspired and humbled to meet people with such strength of character and resolve." IsraAID mental health specialist.
Give your donation to IsraAID this Giving Tuesday – our teams in Greece need your help to continue their work, especially now that the winter is on our door step and the situation will become even more desperate. Thank you!
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