Fun time with the children at one of the refugees’ squat. Everyone was excited to express their own ideas and visions. Aftermath clean up is a different story….
Hundreds of refugees’ children have not gone to school for a very long time. The war in Syria made it unsafe for them to attend school. Furthermore, they have been in transition seeking a safe place to call home for many years.
Here in Greece (and in many other countries that took the refugees in), the local community has been extremely supportive of the refugees crisis. They opened their own homes to shelter vulnerable refugees. They supported the use of abandoned schools and buildings to host hundreds of other refugees. They opened their classrooms and enrolled dozens of children in education programs including local language and several international languages.
The locals have formed committees who meet with the refugees leadership team on a weekly basis. They discuss the refugees’ needs, and explore all support options available. They advocate and coordinate with the local schools to find the right fit for the Syrian children, and they collect donated food/clothing from the local residents and bring them to the shelters.
Today, we took a few new families with their children to register for a school close to the squat. The principal and the teachers were very excited to meet the children and gave them hugs, kisses, and gave them apples and chocolate.
In the afternoon, generous volunteers bought a cotton candy machine. We gathered the children who were very excited to watch the process and receive the colorful and fuzzy webs of sugar as they form their hollow shape. Everyone was jumping of joy and being so high on sugar.
Thank you for your continuous support to the refugees and the SURF mission.
Youssef landed in Greece, a handful of days ago, and immediately met with Kastro. He is assisting him with providing shelter and education for displaced people affected by the refugee crisis, and using SURF dollars to financially support Kastro’s latest project, “Occupation building”.
“Occupation building” is the latest squat project directed by Kastro. After a racist group burned down one of the refugees’ dwelling units, he found another abandoned building, and moved the displaced refugees to a six story high business building just a few miles from the center of Athens. The abandonment was the result of the 2008 financial crisis. Youssef flew to Greece to provide Kastro with support: financially, physically and emotionally. The building is not outfitted with enough basic amenities. The former offices are being converted to sleeping rooms, the open floors are being partitioned into smaller rooms, and they are installing a kitchen, bathrooms, and showers.
With your generous donations, SURF was able to buy water heaters and other building material so the people can have a humane living space. All labor/work is fulfilled by the refugee people. SURF is proud to be a part of a beautiful collaboration with this hard working community.
There are thousands of refugees stuck in Greece waiting for their asylum’s paper work to be processed. This process currently takes 6 to 18 months. There are more people coming every day, creating more demand to provide a humane environment.
Please continue your support of the SURF mission. You are all making a huge difference in people’s lives, and their struggle is less painful because of you.
Please visit our donation page to find out how you can support our latest project with Kastro.
Youssef arrived in Greece a few days ago. His mission is to distribute SURF DONATIONS, and work with Kastro on a new project in Athens.
After missing my connecting flight due to bad weather, I was stranded in Salt Lake City for almost a day, which made my long trip to Athens even longer. I finally arrived to Athens early in the morning, two days after leaving the Bay Area. After a quick shower, I headed to the first of the six refugees squats I am planning to visit during my visit to Athens.
This is an abandoned school that was converted into a refugee shelter by Kastro, a Syrian/Greek artist and activist whom I will dedicate an entire post to share his long and noble work with the refugee crisis.
The school is hosting over 400 refugees including over 180 children. Vulnerable refugees (pregnant women, unaccompanied minors, elderly and people with medical needs) are hosted in private community/local places. The school’s classrooms were transformed to shelters, and each room is shared by several families. The sewage system was cleaned up, bathrooms and showers were installed and a community kitchen was established providing two hot meals to the refugees on a daily basis. Also, a clothing and supplies warehouse was established to supply the daily needs of clothing, cleaning supplies, snacks, bread, etc. to the refugees. The school also has a laundry room and a small clinic room with access to a local volunteer nurse 24/7. Other volunteered nurses and doctors visit the school twice a week. Kastro started a new project to install a green house on the roof as well as a chicken coup to provide fresh eggs and vegetables to the refugees on a daily basis.
Foods, clothing, medicine, and other supplies are funded through local community members and private donors. There is no support of any kinds from the Greek government or any NGOs. Therefore, foods and supplies are not always available to the refugees.
Kastro established 5 other squats hosting and surging hundreds of refugees. These squats have similar structures and setup. They are all managed by their own residents, the refugees. However, due to the lack of funding, not all squats have kitchens, clinic, or a food warehouse. These squats are in constant need of daily supplies of bread and other foods items. Your generous donations will support hundreds of refugees and provide them with bread, milk, rice and other foods and supplies for the days to come. Please visit our donation page to find out how you can help.
We are working with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to mentor a Syrian family while they settle into new life in the Bay Area. For over 80 years, the IRC has responded to the world’s worst humanitarian crises and helped people to survive and rebuild their lives. They help to restore health, safety, education, economic well being and power to people devastated by these crises. You can view more about their history here.
The IRC settlement program includes housing assistance, English lessons, financial aid, cultural orientation, and much more. SURF’s role will include outfitting an apartment for the family, helping them settle into their new home, mentoring them weekly, and financially subsidizing their housing expenses for 6 months. The family consists of a mother, father, and three small children aged two, three and four.
We’re thrilled to be involved in this amazing program and to be able to make an impact on the refugee crisis locally. As always, we welcome financial support to help us continue to make a difference for these people who have been through so much. Our work isn’t possible without the financial backing of generous donors. So please consider making a Tax deductible donation to SURF.
This week Humans4Humanity welcomed their first container in their new Athens warehouse, courtesy of the SURF team. The container includes items such as clothes, shoes and backpacks. All items will be distributed to refugees. We thank Humans4Humanity for their continued work with SURF and their continued efforts in supporting the refugees in Greece.
You may have heard stories about our amazing friend, a Syrian-Greek artist we met in Lesvos. His name is Kastro, and he provided care and shelter for refugees at his home in Lesvos. He welcomed those with special needs that surpassed what the refugee camps can accommodate. Kastro took care of them himself and shared his life, his home, and his spirit.
Hundreds of refugees are stuck in Greece, clueless as to what will happen next. With nowhere to go and very little resources at their disposal, their needs have shifted to the mainland of Greece. A man of action, Kastro moved his initiative there, and immediately went to work. He took over an abandoned school, and outfitted it to host over 200 refugees (mostly families, children and handicapped individuals). He bought and collected tents, mattresses, and food, and with the help of other volunteers, he installed showers, built a small kitchen, and erected a rock climbing wall for children. He bought a car to transport children to and from school. He worked tirelessly on repairing the broken sewers, a highly ambitious and tough project to tackle. He held community meetings at the school to spread the awareness, and educate local residents about the refugee crisis.
It’s difficult to put into words how dedicated Kastro is. He has a huge heart. We at SURF are proud to know him, and proud to be able to support him and his initiative. We are humbled by his generosity and we are lucky to know this man.
Your ongoing support and the generosity of your donations will continue to support people like Kastro who has been instrumental in bettering the lives of refugees.
It’s true. The situation in the European Union has changed drastically since our SURF team was there in February. Weather, politics, and refugee arrivals create an unpredictable and ever shifting situation.
This Spring saw the start of the EU-Turkey Refugee Agreement, which allows for the deportation back to Turkey of all “irregular immigrants” and has been highly criticized by human rights groups. Go here for a full explanation of the deal.
This turned Moria (the government registration camp on Lesvos) into a detention center rather than an open camp, which led to the April closing of Better Days for Moria (the camp where we primarily volunteered).
In February, the Balkan States (part of the widely used passage from Greece to welcoming countries such as Germany) suddenly capped how many refugees would be allowed to cross into Macedonia from Greece, and in March stopped allowing passage all together. There is currently estimated to be 12,000 people stuck in the Greek border town of Idomeni (May, 2016), and many more thousands stuck elsewhere in Greece. In the last 10 days another group of European countries, including Austria (formerly a predictable safe haven), imposed refugee caps, creating an impending ever growing backlog in Greece. Even when a country can agree to asylum procedures lack of resources for processing applications and for the relocation services continues to create a bottleneck.
This is being called the worst refugee crisis since WWII. All we can do is continue to see the refugees as individuals and families and provide them with some human needs and comforts to the best of our ability.
SURF does still have allies who have moved their operations from Lesvos to the main land in Greece and we’re in regular contact with them around what is most needed. Please continue to support SURF with your donations and know that every dollar does help and will be donated directly to the support of refugees.
In much gratitude~
CBS SF Bay Area broadcast a segment dedicated to SURF on the 6 o’clock news. You can read our story and view a video of the segment by clicking on the headline below.
It’s difficult to explain the transition back to our day to day lives after spending an intense week on a life changing journey. Some of us have been having a difficult time adjusting to our usual world. This piece was written by a friend of SURF. She did similar humanitarian work and was able to use these words to move past her pain and heartache. We hope you enjoy these beautiful words as much as we did.
Dearest friend, on your way home, from a life changing journey on the other side of the world,
You left on a mission to help others; you want to bring that back into your life, and cultivate it going forward. Keeping your heart open will be your greatest gift to others going forward, including when you go back into your “daily life”.
When you walk into the world of your comfortable “first world” environment, with such an incomprehensible amount of abundance all around you, you will invariably be shocked. You may feel totally amazed at how much even the poorest among us has, and astonished to hear anyone complain about lack, in any measure. You may feel angry, and annoyed, that so few people seem to really “get it”- numbed out in their comfortable lives and completely unaware of what else is happening for so many people in other parts of the world- for which, if they even got a glimpse, they would bow first in shame and then in prostration. In fact, it may be difficult for you to hear about anything that isn’t about being overwhelmingly grateful for life, or else isn’t a humanitarian crisis, because you’ve just gotten so close up and personal with the belly of life, in this way, that everything else pales in purpose. It would be easy, from this place, to close down, and shut yourself deep inside, away from the world, and to decide that no one can understand your experience who hasn’t just lived it. And it is true, many cannot. And, some can, so try to connect with those people, who also live a life on purpose, and are guided by the quests for truth and love at their core. Absolutely take care to share with people who will give you the space to feel however you feel, and who truly nourish you, and your feelings of well- being and peace.
And, most importantly, try to remember this one thing: we are all connected by a desire to be happy and to find peace. This is the one thing to remember if you remember anything as you walk into your life again. Make a point to look into the eyes of people around you, even those with rich lives but poor attitudes, and remember that everyone is breathing that same intention inside. Every single person is alive trying to find happiness and peace. The person being rude to the checker at the grocery store, acting entitled and impatient and harsh? She’s just wanting love, and has lost her connection to it, and is afraid. Her prickly anger is just her vulnerable fear, protected, fear that perhaps she’s somehow outside of Love. She’s not, just like you are not, when you also get lost. And you will get lost, being human. Sometimes we just take detours, but we never totally stray from the path. From this experience, you also just got way closer to that intention in your own life, to live from Love, and Truth, and have no doubt accessed that deeply. Undoubtedly this will be hard to hold onto, the expansiveness of the awareness you’ve gained. Don’t try to. Some of it will remain unalterably strong in your heart, some will temporarily fall away or become obscured. It’s still inside you. Never forget that. And when it appears to have fallen away, even for a short period, and you find your “first world problems” become part of your consciousness again, try not to judge yourself, or wince. This, too, is seasoning. To see the mind in all its facets, in one moment able to be connected to the belly of human life and suffering and vulnerability, then caught up in the trivialities of modern life in another moment- it is all, in fact, Life. May you accept that you are all these things, that you are not separate from anyone or anything, and that the vast range of these experiences are in fact, a reflection of the vastness itself that connects us all. No one left out. Nothing left out. Let it season you for the gratitude it can bring you right back into, just like that, a potent reminder of just how fortunate you are. But above all, don’t let it become a way to judge yourself or others, for this is the surest way to take you straight out of all that love you just tapped, and back into the darkness you wanted to alleviate by doing what you just did on this great journey. Instead, hold everything that arises in your mind and heart, with kindness. Each of your feelings is just another scared child, like the very ones you may have helped, no doubt, merely wanting your acceptance and love. When you remember that, you will come right back home to yourself. You are not guilty of anything. You are innocent. Including of difficult feelings and confusion. You don’t have to have it all figured out. You never will anyhow. Just return to kindness, over and over and over again, and forgive yourself for everything.
And lastly, please don’t judge your good fortune. Remember that all those beings you fell in love with and were helping, are also wanting a simple and comfortable life, themselves, with their basic needs taken care of, people to love, and safety. You have all this already. Being ashamed of it, or guilty about having it, is a denial of the very thing the people you helped, want for themselves. Deny it to yourself and you deny it to them. Cast it outside, and you cast them outside. This is their simple prayer for their lives. Make it your prayer for your life, too, that you have so much good fortune, so readily, and even more so now, because you are truly grateful for it. Your gratitude for your life is the greatest gift you can send out into the world. Keep the flame of your gratitude fire strongly lit, don’t let judgment, guilt or shame have a seat at your table, and join the chorus of humble satisfaction and joy that sings its song to the world with its quietly murmuring heart, every day.
-A friend of SURF