For the second year in a row, young people from the Adriatic Union of Seventh-day Adventists – a church region comprising Albania, Croatia, and Slovenia – volunteered their winter holiday to work at a refugee camp in Greece, in late December 2017, and early January 2018.
“Children are victims of war horrors, and as refugees, they are left on their own”
The camp, a village of containers located near the northern city of Katerini, is populated by 270 refugees, including 101 children. Each container is equipped with a small kitchen, a bathroom, and other furniture providing basic comfort and privacy for its occupants. Health care is provided at a dispensary, and a doctor is available. There are larger containers on the site providing separate social spaces for male and female adults and space for group activities including a school, and an area for teenagers.
The camp is supported by the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) Greece, and the youth worked closely with local ADRA director Tihomir Lipohar to make the holiday period a very special time for the refugees who find themselves marooned in Greece.
They began with the children, organizing outdoor playgrounds and creative workshops in the school. Through these workshops, they shared ideas on patience, sharing, mutual respect and how to communicate.
“Children are victims of war horrors, and as refugees, they are left on their own,” said Adriatic Union Youth director Bobo S. Marčeta. “While on the road, the parents are focused on mere survival, and children are deprived of opportunities to simply play around and develop social skills. For some families, this period can last up to two years.”
The youth played group games and table tennis with the teenagers and set them up with a football pitch, including brand new goal posts. It is something that particularly thrilled the boys. The youth also provided a small New Year’s party for the children, including snacks and music.
Even in the joy of giving, volunteers learned lessons of gratefulness, as they noticed that children struggled to enjoy the snacks and each other’s company, grabbing the snacks in fear that they would be left without them. They still have a long journey to full rehabilitation.
The youth also spent time with the adults, whose biggest need is to improve their language skills. The youth organized separate English and German courses for men and women. The courses also gave them a small glimpse into western culture.
Volunteering was also very practical – giving help that would extend beyond the 14-day visit. The youth set up a container with washing machines and, through interpreters, showed how to use them. As families are large, this will make their lives much easier. The young people also installed a TV set in the women’s room and did some repairs around the camp.
As the volunteers returned home, the stories of the refugees will stay in their minds and hearts. Accounts of disjointed families, deceased family members, destroyed homes, desecrated memories, and no hope. “While the team could not amend for their losses, by the work of our hands, a kind word, and a smile, the volunteers helped them forget their sorrows for a moment,” said trip organizers. “It let them know that there are young people who care and are positive. For all the youth, it was quality time well spent.”