“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.

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