“What difference does your organisation make?” Reflections from Sally.

Here’s a thing. A question. I agreed to do an interview with some students from Toronto University last week. I do try to do these things when I can because it is one way of getting information beyond the very restrictive and often sensationalist boundaries of mainstream media. It’s a small drop in the ocean of information, but for an hour of my time it is worth it.

So the question that sticks with me is “What difference does your organisation make to the wellbeing and integration of the people you are working with”? That’s a good question and is all too easy to answer because the difference between what happens for women when a flexible and dedicated organisation linked with other decent places are involved and when people are left alone without support is massive.

I have been writing this for years, that we make a difference. But on Friday it was brought home to me very starkly. If after reading my blog, you agree that we make a difference, please donate to CRIBS International if you can.

Knowledge is power.

There was much excitement and chat in the front room of our tiny office. Over a period of an hour, 8 women, 10 kids, one doctor, two caseworkers, our flat manager, Isabel and me, assemble for an education session on breast health. I sit there listening to the German doctor explaining in virtually perfect English to Noémie, our Belgian caseworker, who translates to French for the women in the group. We learn about risk factors, self-examination, signs and symptoms. As I sit there, I think, well, everyone probably already knows this, are we being condescending? Then, as the questions come out, I realise that quite a few folk don’t know it and that what I see happening, am a part of, could be lifesaving. That is a big deal. Knowledge is power and it saves lives.

Breast Health workshop delivered by WHOM International, and one mum breastfeeding while listening.

A party.

Then, as it is carnival week – the week before the Greek Orthodox Lent period – we have a party. There are wigs from our case worker Daphne’s daughter’s dressing up box. And someone made food to share. Thank you. Another person turns up the music and dancing begins. I get to hold one of the babies who was born prematurely, while mum has a bit of down time, a dance and some pizza. The baby also had a dance with me. The atmosphere is great: solidarity and a community of women dancing together.

Luckily Daphne had made it back just in time from the asylum office where she had been since 7am with a new mum, not very well and her not very well 3-week-old baby. The baby needed an asylum card in order to get a health card in order to get better. The laughter and cheering I hope was a balm for us all.

Those we can’t help.

Meanwhile, just a few metres away from the party, two women arrive, looking for a place to sleep. One has a three-month-old. She is very thin. The other is 6 months pregnant. I stand there with my privilege of a front door, a valid passport, money and a ticket. And thankfully, beyond the time of periods and pregnancy. I can see they are shattered and in need. I promise to try my best to get them something. A few years ago I would have brought them in, bought food and booked a hotel place. But not this time. Was I wrong? You remember when the teacher said, if we do it for one, we have to do it for all? And you used to seethe with the injustice of it. This is where I found myself. I am parachuting in for 2 weeks from the UK and yes, I had the power to do these things but once I am gone, the fall out for the full-time team would be immense. There are hundreds more women needing our help, outside that door on the streets of Athens. But we are struggling to pay for those we already help. And this is why I didn’t buy them food, give money and pay for a hotel.

So here, here is the ask. There is always an ask from me, isn’t there. I wish I didn’t have to, but this is the reality. While the Greek government and the mega NGOs scoop in the millions even billions of euros and run lovely shiny offices, cars, salaries of £95k and the like, people like us are doing the work and having to ask.

Can you spare a dime?

And to go back to the lovely students from Toronto, how do we make a difference – here you are – this is it.

Leonie arrives in athens

Leonie had already impressed us all at CRIBS with her 24 hour danceathon fundraiser. When we discovered that she had not only managed to complete this crazy task, but had also raised over £1,300 (smashing her £450 target) we were over the moon!
Leonie has kindly agreed to write us a blog of her time spent with CRIBS, and we start off here when she arrived at the beginning of March.

Leonie raised over £1,300 in her 24 hour danceathon before heading out to Athens!

My first week

I have been volunteering with CRIBS in Athens for one week now, it has been amazing to get stuck in and see first-hand the impact that CRIBS has on so many lives.

Here are some of the highlights from my first week.

On Thursday, I headed to the free shop to meet Anaïs, the shop’s manager. She had a full day of appointments scheduled, so it was great to see how things work & meet some cute children! The free shop is so important as women are empowered with self-determination, selecting items that they want, that are their preference.

At the end of the day, we had a big delivery of diapers and other items from Christian Refugee Relief. We got these ready for distribution next week!

Just a snapshot of the diaper delivery!

On Friday, the free shop is closed, so I attended a virtual networking event. It’s lovely to be able to connect with like-minded people- isn’t technology amazing?! 

After a weekend of rest and exploring Athens, I headed to the free shop. It was a national holiday (reminder: get Anaïs a Greek calendar!), but it was still busy with appointments & people collecting diapers. I was able to get stuck into sorting the clothes upstairs with Paul, a local volunteer- I was absolutely in my element as I love to sort and organise!

Included in the pack that CRIBS distributes to mothers:
30 diapers
Baby wipes
Sanitary products
Shower gel
Child’s toothbrush and toothpaste

On Tuesday, I began devising a survey to better understand the birth experiences of refugees and inform CRIBS services. I’m an (aspiring) action-oriented researcher, so I’m excited to start the process. 

In honour of International Women’s Day, I went to a march with some new friends who are here on Erasmus. Athens is a very sociable city with lots of young people, and it was wonderful to see so many people celebrating and supporting women.

A snapshot of the performance in Pl. Klafthmonos on International Women’s Day! 

Greek government plays hard politics with asylum seekers

By Carla Deckers

After some months of hectic activity behind the scenes, we are back with a new post on the political situation regarding asylum and migration matters in Greece.

Everyday, dinghies are arriving at the shores of Lesvos, Chios or Samos carrying desperate people, among them many pregnant women and babies. Camps, such as Moria are dramatically overcrowded. This year alone, 62,000 people arrived on the islands. Winter is close and news of people freezing to death will come. 

New policies

Obviously the situation has to change as quickly as possible. However, the direction the Greek government is heading towards is alarming. Here is a brief overview on what the new Greek government plans to do.

Politico and The Guardian report that overcrowded camps on the islands will be shut down and replaced by detention centres. These may be on uninhabited islands or in isolated areas on the mainland.

These centres will be closed facilities. People’s freedom of movement will be severely restricted. They will not be free to go in and out as they wish. They will have to stick to certain schedules

What’s the point of these changes? 

  • By establishing these detention centres, deportations will be easier and faster
  • Only registered NGOs will have access to the camps and these registrations are tightly controlled.
  • These changes will not improve the conditions of asylum seekers.

Impact on lives

“Asylum seekers can be detained in Greece for extended period and with limited means of appeal (the asylum rejection), in clear violation of international standards, under which detention should not be the rule.” 

Amnesty International comment on the government’s plans

The International Organisation of Migration (IOM) warned that camps on the  Greek mainland, especially Athens and Thessaloniki, are already beyond capacity. 

By early 2020 more than 20,000 asylum seekers will be transferred to the mainland. What does this mean for CRIBS International? Work on the ground will become even tougher. Accommodation will become scarcer, hospitals more overcrowded and discriminatory attitudes will increase.

So please everyone, spread the word. Discuss this with  friends, family or neighbours and keep on supporting us. Donations are needed more than ever.