First impressions at Camp Moria - By Sindhuja Sankaran
M long arduous journey began on the 20th of Dec 2017 from Krakow and finally reached Mytilene on the 21st morning. This trip included long sleepless hours, olives for dinner (for the lack of vegetarian options at the airport) and a splitting headache...needless to say, it was not one of the most comfortable journeys. I'm stressing this point because I will reiterate the importance of my feeling completed exhausted and depleted a little later.
I was picked up by a fellow volunteer and we drove to grab some coffee and then made it to the volunteer house, a red brick bungalow which is called the 'Mansion'. I was quickly given the tour of the house and my room and introduced to my roommates. We had an orientation session with the main coordinator and she gave us a very detailed presentation of what to expect at camp Moria, where we'd be working. She was right, what you hear is undoubtedly different from when you see it for the first time. The first thing she said was, ''soak it all in, take your time'', an advice that proved to be extremely important.
We were then added to four WhatsApp groups for all co-ordination related purposes (and some social stuff too!) of which the most important one was the one related to the 'Schedules'. That evening I was scheduled to do a 'social shift', which basically involved us volunteers walking around the camp (always in pairs!) talking to the 'persons of concern (POC)/refugees' and giving them information about the various activities that go on in the community centre or recruiting people who used to be teachers to join the teaching team. I was unnerved and eager at the same time as I was not sure how to 'interact'. That is the first mistake anyone could make in my opinion, because the more you reinforce the sense of normalcy with the POCs, the more comfortable the environment will be. They are people just like you and me and we were fortunate enough to not needing to escape a war-torn area.
The problem however was, since my driving license was not valid in Europe I couldn't drive to the site (as planned initially) so the scheduling had to be changed. After some re-planning, I was given these options: Would you like to just stay home today? (or) Would you hitch a ride with the medical team and stay in camp for 3 extra hours apart from what you had planned? The exhausted/depleted part of me yearned to just go to bed and sleep, it really was alluring. Owing to my 'not the best physical condition' reasons, I thought I was justified to want to do that. But then, there was this wave of thought that flooded my mind that screamed a) ‘’I'm here to work, not rest’’ b) ‘’No sleep, limited food, fatigue for 2 days is nothing compared to what the POCs have experienced. So, in other words, suck it up and go!’’ I know it might seem harsh to impose such strict expectations on myself, but I wouldn't have decided otherwise in retrospect. I stand by my decision.
I arrived at camp Moria, the first thing I noticed was the sign..'Welcome to Moria' except Moria was crossed out and it was replaced with Prison...welcome to Prison indeed. The conditions are harsh...without any doubt. Tents everywhere, some more sturdy than others, children running around, people walking around without proper warm clothing, without proper shoes and they were just there in the rain experiencing 6 degrees Celsius. That moment was surreal. I was not in shock perse, because I expected this. I think I also tried to rationalise the situation because thinking about this in retrospect can never be beneficial. What can we do NOW to help them? Watching this, I felt even more motivated to do my best while I’m here in Mytilene. Day 1 in camp Moria, was more like an orientation to get a general idea of the situation. The social shift was not as expected, as it was pouring and not many people were outside their tents. So, one of the coordinators showed me around the camp, the emergency exits and the place where the registration takes place. It is important to know that I visited the camp the day after the evacuation due to the riots. People were also scared to come out because of that. So, things were a little bit more chaotic and intense than usual. Finally, we went to one of the small cafe/restaurants owned by a Greek local outside the camp to eat some fine Falafel. The people from the organisation, especially the medical team ate at this place quite often, so he knew everyone. As we were leaving, he gave us some oranges and we asked if they were from his garden. He said, unfortunately his garden was destroyed in 2015, when refugees first started coming in and they were running around searching for food. What struck me most was despite his property being destroyed, he was still doing everything he can to help. He has a 'free mobile phone charging point' so people can come to charge their phones. This crisis obviously resonates deeply with a lot of people.
We got home after the shift and I got to bed. I experienced some respite…I was glad I could finally sleep, I was glad I was here to help.
By Sindhuja Sankaran