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.
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!
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!
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.
So, my aim at blogging every other day lasted as far as day two!
The following week was filled with going to the hospital with F to see her newborn son. Each day we thought he would be sent home the next day, and each day he wasn’t. We were told the baby was well, but we must wait for the test results to be sure.
I understand and appreciate the caution taken by the Greek hospitals but also worry about the impact of separating a baby from his mother for 10 days at less than three weeks old, and the impact on future breastfeeding (because I’m an expert at all this now you know! – Thanks Sally!)
A week later on the Wednesday we also took F’s three year old daughter to the hospital with a suspected urine infection. This involved a lot of waiting around, but F was able to go and feed baby regularly while I waited with her daughter trying to keep her entertained.
I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to be a single mother with a 3 year old and a baby in a foreign country with no family, and husband still stuck in Syria.
So, I was happy to be able to help at this even more distressing time.
Good news and difficult decisions
We also had a success story … and then a very difficult decision to make. A CRIBS family had moved out – the dad had got a job and with the support of CRIBS they found their own flat. This was wonderful news, and is exactly what the charity is about – giving people some stability in their hour of need, and enabling them to find their feet in a new country, develop their language skills and find work.
This meant we were able to look to our waiting list to decide who to move in next. This turned out to be pretty awful – we had 7 families on the waiting list. We talked through their situations, including:
A pregnant mum with diabetes and a toddler
A woman sleeping on the floor of a church with her newborn
A woman sleeping in a park with a sick newborn
We had to make that decision and we did so as a group.
When you are having to decide what’s worse between situations like this you really realise how bad things are.
When a mother with a newborn baby can’t access housing provided by authorities, you have to ask where the system has gone wrong, where all that EU money has gone.
Free shop, new knickers
Another day or so was spent helping Qasim and Shazia with the CRIBS Free Shop – which is currently opening on an ad hoc basis to provide the families with the things they need, with dignity and respect.
They can browse the clothes, household items, kitchen equipment, books and toys and choose what they’d like – just like any other shop, but minus the payment at the end, all thanks to the wonderful people bringing and sending donations.
We had just had a huge delivery of women’s knickers from a local supplier arranged by the wonderful Mary Dallas and enabled by the huge success of my “Smalls for Sophie” campaign. We raised £110 and received an additional £100 from the Aagean Sol Network. So far this has purchased 132 pairs of knickers and we are looking to buy some toiletries this week with some of the remaining money. Any extra will go to rents etc, as mentioned in the Facebook appeal.
Thanks so much to everyone who donated, we had lots of happy customers, and plenty left for other women who we expect to be serving in the next week or so.
In between all this I finally got to meet Brittany and her gorgeous baby Ariyan. We talked about what was needed to help operations run more smoothly on the ground, and among other things we agreed to write up a CRIBS Handbook – to get all this extensive information from people’s minds into a document that can be used by others to run things day-to-day.
In addition, my time has been spent creating processes and policies to make life easier for everyone. It may sound boring to some and don’t worry I won’t go into detail, but I love coming up with something that I know will make things much simpler and save so much time!
This has of course been broken up with more lovely food and chai from Shazia, as well as a much needed visit to the island of Evia to visit Mary Dallas and have a break from the madness of Athens!
One week left – I don’t know where the time has gone, and lots to do in this last week, but feeling very happy to be part of such wonderful and essential work.
Sophie is volunteering with CRIBS in Athens for a month. She will be working closely with staff and volunteers there to help put operational systems in place. She has kindly offered to blog her experience to give a sense of daily life on the ground with CRIBS.
First day in Athens
Getting my bearings with the neighbourhood, did some shopping and grabbed a coffee while going through my notes and trying to work out where each family is up to, and things to discuss when I meet the team on the ground later.
We had a very effective meeting – me, Mohammed, Qasim and Shazia, talking through lots of different things that we want to work on, and where the families are up to. We talked for 3 hours and still didn’t cover everything I aimed to – which just shows the immense amount of work on the ground here. The organiser in me couldn’t wait to get typing the notes up and make plans, and was looking forward to meeting Brittany who had stayed home with the baby.
‘There would be time tomorrow’ I thought …..
I was of course treated to a huge wonderful meal by Shazia enjoyed in the company of mum Jamila and baby Fatima, also living the flat. Gorgeous four year old Hania had gone to bed worn out after giving me a very warm welcome on arrival.
Day 2: the real work begins!!!
We had agreed that I would accompany Farida to the hospital to see her baby, freeing Mohammad up to make some appointments, pay bills and buy fans.
We arranged for a medical student from MVI to come to the hospital with us to try to determine whether the baby really needed to stay in hospital. The news was good, they were not too concerned, but they wanted to keep baby in while allergy results came back so they could keep an eye on him. It was just wonderful seeing mums face light up as she saw him, she was able to breastfeed and we then had some time on the phone with Shayma interpreting what we had been told.
We now needed a breast pump so she could express milk at home to bring into the hospital. After lots of messaging we arranged to borrow one from Amurtel. I then went on the hunt for containers to store the milk, and a freezer bag to transport it to the hospital. This sounds simple but I was passed from one place to the next until I finally found what I was looking for.
Simple tasks like this become very exhausting in the 33 degree heat traipsing around Athens!
By the time I got back to Farida it was almost 9pm. After some miming and explanations, with the help of Google translate, about how often etc, she was finally able to express some milk!
I updated Sally on my way back and just when I thought my day was finished she told me that a lady from Congo had been in touch with her saying she needed help, food, has a baby and is pregnant. We are full at the moment so I couldn’t do anything about accommodation. I spoke to her and she was ok for the night but agreed to meet her the next day.
Ok, clocking off 10.30pm. No notes written up and no chance to meet Brittany. I leave Qasim a voicemail explaining I can’t help him at the shop all day tomorrow as planned but would come after the hospital. He had spent the day dealing with a huge truck load of donations to the shop; goodness knows how he fit it all inside. He quickly rang me to say don’t worry, he can manage, I must focus on the urgent things. How thoughtful of him!
I check Facebook and see Sally has set up a fundraiser for the extra costs of storage containers for the milk, freezer bag and transport to hospital. Already it has got £75 from only 3 donors, and I’m left feeling overwhelmed at people’s generosity and understanding, not to mention the scale of the work ahead. Time for a good nights sleep!