This summer, as part of Reef We Heart program, I went in Greece to report life in the refugee camps. We Heart is Reef humanitarian outreach designed to strengthen the people in places where the brand and its ambassadors travel and surf: I was traveling with Mike Lay, Victoria Vergara and Anna Ehrgott, and we all spent a few days at Oinofyta refugee camp, where we painted the camp school and spent time with the children, while the brand made a donation to ArmandoAid, a non-profit, non-religious, non-political organization, working in Greece providing equipment to local charities and volunteer groups, helping the refugees arriving in the Aegean islands.
None of us did know what to expect when we crossed the gates of the refugee camp, with a mix of fear and anxiety in the back of our minds. These feelings suddenly disappeared as soon as a young girl with a dirty flower dress run to us with the biggest smile, grab our hands and took us for a walk through the camp.
The Oinofyta camp is set in the yard of a bunkrupted factory, surrounded by more plants abandoned during the Greek crisis. About 130 people live in tents, using rudimental facilities like an open air kitchen, a few chemical baths and one single shower. Still, Oinofyta might look like an happy camp, as it is not crowded, and all the families come from the same area of Afghanistan with no language, religious or tribal barrier.
Soon more children came out from the tents to meet us. In a urge to communicate with them, I asked one of the volunteers how to greet in Farsi, the native language of the children. She didn’t know and asked a child “How do you say hello?” and he replied “Hello!”. Came out, all the children and teenagers were speaking fluent English, and some of them were in charge to translate between the adults, who only speak Farsi, and the volunteers, who only speak English.
All the children go to the local school, one of the few buildings in the camp, where volunteers teach them English, math, and quite anything else but religion. During our stay, we witnessed something that shows that the kids value a lot the time spent in school: as class began, two brothers hid in a tent, and the teacher had to grab them out, only to find out they were finishing their homework.
People arrived in Greece after a long and dangerous journey from Afghanistan. Most of them had been working for ISAF as translators, drivers, plumbers; now that NATO retreated, they have to leave their motherland, fleeing persecution and death warrens from Talibans, who again are taking control of vast areas of the country. The decision to leave was not light-heatedly, and all the refugees I talked to said they would love to go back to their homes, but, given the political situation, it is impossible. So they left their war torn country trying to reach different countries of Europe; instead, about 57.000 refugees are stuck in Greek camps alone, waiting for asylum. In total, about 1 million people applied for asylum in Europe over the last year.
It must be clear by now that it is impossible to stop this flow of people escaping war and violence. Let’s welcome all the refugees and give them the opportunity to work and build a new life (and pay taxes). Let’s give the children the opportunity to study in proper schools, so they will become next generation doctors, engineers, photographers. This is the only smart thing to do to solve the refugees crisis.
And in the meantime, you can donate to some of the several charities dealing with the refugees crisis. I, for one, am donating the whole fee of this reportage to ArmandoAid and to MOAS, a charity dedicated to saving refugees lives at sea.