Last Convoy - 25th November – Friday 14th December 2018.

The Convoy left the UK with three Hope and Aid Direct trucks. Solent Challenger, Robin Hood and Frantic, driven by Roddy, Chas, Bev, Shaun, and Tony. The trucks were filled to capacity with 8 pallets of pasta and rice, 2 pallets of toiletries, 3 pallets of sanitary items, 2 pallets of shoes, 40 pallets of clothing, 6 pallets of bedding and much more. Some of the aid had been donated by: Blandford Cares, Refugee Aid From Taunton (RAFT) and Vital Innovations.

We also carried a commercial washing machine.  A second commercial washing machine was collected en-route in Romania.  This had previously been donated by Hope and Aid direct and was being relocated for more effective usage.

Life is never straightforward and after several days driving, after a stop in Croatia, the 7.5 tonne truck ‘Frantic’ refused to start. The issue was finally detected and fixed. This was not the final mechanical failure of the convoy…

After 5 days driving across Europe, the convoy arrived in Lesbos and met up with Hope and Aid team that had flown down to Greece to assist with the aid delivery and distribution.  The ‘flyers’ were Lance Clarke, Diane Roworth, Karina Meachin, and Janice Blackwell.

The majority of the aid was offloaded into the Attica Human Support Warehouse near Mitilini. Over the next few days aid was distributed to a number of locations, charities and organisations around the island. Too many to mention them all but a few are:

Moria camp: Is the official camp for Refugees on Lesbos. It is controlled by the Greek government, and the overcrowding is because Greece is enforcing the EU's "containment" policy, keeping people on the island rather than transferring them to the Greek mainland. It is part of the EU-Turkey deal which aims to return thousands of refugees to Turkey, and it has been in force since March 2016. There are currently more than 7,000 people crammed into Moria camp, which was supposed to house around 2,000. Conditions are so appalling that charities have actually left in protest. The place smells of raw sewage, and there are around 70 people per toilet, according to medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).

Together for Better Days, a place where families can have a few hours respite and women can receive psycho social support and the many unaccompanied children have some schooling.

Watershed, who build, fix toilets and wash facilities and are trying to provide access to clean water across the camps.

Home for a Day. Refugee families are picked up for either the morning or the afternoon and receive either a home cooked meal. There is friendship, toys and games for the children, a beach, music and space to ‘be’. Nikos & his wife who run this project along with many other volunteers, also prepare a carefully selected individually named gift for each guest  -toiletries, toys, items of clothing, tied up in a bundle. The package includes a hot water bottle. Many refugees sleep in summer weight tents & earlier this year when H&AD were here, 3 refugees died of hypothermia.

Refugee for Refugees - Omar from Syria set up this project after gaining refugee status in Germany but decided to come back to Lesbos to help others. Despite severe leg injuries, Omar SWAM to Lesvos from Turkey along with two others, including a non-swimmer. The journey took him 14 hours.

This charity runs a ‘free shop’ for refugees to give them a little bit of the ‘normality” of a ‘shopping experience ‘.  Refugees are given tickets and at their allotted time taken to the shop and allowed the dignity of being able to select their own clothing items. A tiny bit of near normality for them.

The convoy then moved on with the 3 hour ferry journey to the island of Chios. Chios is the nearest Greek landfall to Turkey (a mere 5 miles), hence the large number of refugees who have risked the rough and very dangerous passage. In fact, the day before a boat landed with 54 people, of which 26 were children. The perilous sea journey is never far from anyone’s mind. A poignant reminder is a dinghy displayed at Attika alongside a typical ‘life jacket’ - 3 empty 5-litre water bottles. This flimsy and totally unsafe rubber dinghy crossed to Lesvos carrying 72 men, women and children. Unbelievably this time they survived.

The day was spent delivering aid to the CESRT (Chios Eastern Shore Response Team), who have recently changed their name to Open Arms. This is headed by a local lady Toula and her international team of volunteers. We added to their stock, they were down to 70 blankets and no men’s jackets.

Once offloaded the trucks were then used to ferry aid around the island since there are no large vehicles on the island that can be used to move large quantities of aid to other facilities, including

Medecins San Frontier (MSF) warehouse, where we loaded blankets and hygiene packs into the truck to take back to Open Arms for onward distribution.

Chios Refugee Language Centre - a community space run by a dedicated American/Irish couple and many volunteers. This is a place where refugees can come (30 minute walk) for respite, language lessons, gardening and to spend quiet time with the centres many cats. Like so many of these charities, refugees and volunteers of many nations, enjoy time together in peace and friendship.

Chios Women’s Centre – aid from ‘The Ripple Effect’ charity was taken to Womens Centre run by a British lady, Alice, fluent in Arabic. Many refugee ladies attend the centre on a weekly basis to participate in the busy programme of activities.

It was nice to see the ladies, some with babies, laughing together and they delighted in showing us their dancing.

Kostas’ Kitchen – Kostas is a local restaurateur, who runs a kitchen that provides hundreds of meals a day for refugees. He provides a healthy home cooked vegan meal for less than 1 euro per portion. Regulation camp food, a frozen microwaved meal often needing hours of queuing is costed at 7 euros per portion!

The long journey home then commenced but en-route dropping off aid at eight further warehouses/refugee camps through mainland Greece (there are 270 such facilities in Greece).  

All was well until the 7.5 tonne truck ‘Robin Hood’ develops a serious fuel pump issue just North of Cologne in Germany. After numerous phone calls and a significant delay in the return journey, the decision is taken to leave the truck with the local MAN dealer for repairs and to fly out and collect the truck, when repaired, after Christmas.

Another successful convoy with an excellent team of volunteers, pulling together to overcome every challenge and help people who really need our help.  Well done everyone.