Carys Athey: One Volunteer’s Experience in Greece

A few weeks ago, Carys Arthey arrived in Greece to begin volunteering with indiGO Volunteers, one of Help Refugees’ partner projects. In this post, she shares the experiences that she has had so far.


“The journey begins…

‘All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” — J.R.R. Tolkien

To put down in words what I have – and am – experiencing as a volunteer in Greece seems like an impossible task. And yet it was only a month or two ago that volunteering was a distant dream, little more than an idea that would pop into my mind  after seeing the news.

Now here I am, two weeks in to volunteering as a volunteer coordinator for indiGO Volunteers in partnership with Help Refugees. What an incredible experience it has been so far – incredibly humbling, a shock to the senses, each day filled with inspiring moments and people.

In the space of four days, I had left my job, packed up my flat and arrived here in Thessaloniki. In all honesty, I had little idea of what I would be doing or what to expect. I am amazed how easy it has been to step out of one life and be absorbed straight into another one.

You simply complete an online application form, book flights and confirm the dates you are available, organise accommodation and turned up at the HUB for an induction. You can be rolling your sleeves up in the warehouse and making a difference within a few hours of arriving. Never in a million years would I have thought it would be so straightforward.

The first thing that hit me arriving in Greece was the language: not speaking Greek made reading signs tricky, but given that almost everyone can speak English, you can easily get by.

The next thing was how welcoming and inclusive the volunteering environment is. This, for me, is the most special part of the whole experience so far: working with so many different people, from different cultures and backgrounds, and at different stages in their lives.

The work asks you to leave your ego at the door, and immediately you are brought together for a common goal: to help people in need.

It has taken me a while to understand the set up. In a nutshell, my understanding is that after the initial larger NGO’s reacted to the refugee crisis, smaller volunteer projects (grassroots organisations) started to pop up to meet the needs that were not prioritised or supported on a larger scale.

Help Refugees looks to support and enable these projects, which are ever changing as they do their very best to offer whatthey can in these uncertain times. An indiGO volunteer coordinator’s role is to match volunteer applicants to the grassroots projects, so they can continue to respond to some basic human needs.

The range of projects includes a mobile information team, that provides guidance on official processes that many refugee simply do not know about or understand. There is a mobile medical team that visits vulnerable people in and around the camps and cities, who otherwise wouldn’t have access to healthcare or expert support.  In addition, there is a team that sources fresh fruit and vegetables from local markets, bundles it up and delivers it to the camps. This ensures that residents have access to a variety of foods, and can obtain the nutrition that is so often lacking in the state provided meals.

indiGO Volunteers currently works with seventeen projects, matching volunteer skills and availability to the projects’ needs. My role now is to look at how we can move the support from the initial reactive approach to a more sustainable model, because the situation – of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers caught in Greece – will not be resolved anytime soon.

I’m not sure how long I will be out here, or how much I can help. I simply plan to do my best, as every day I see small things making a real difference.

If you want to get involved and volunteer, you can find out more here.

If you are in a position to help me fundraise, I am raising money for indiGO Volunteers to continue their coordination work – you can donate here.

Wish me luck & thank you!!!

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Without volunteers like Carys, the grassroots projects that we support wouldn’t exist. Over the past two years, more than 15, 000 ordinary – or rather, extraordinary – people have volunteered with projects affiliated to Help Refugees, delivering frontline support to displaced people across Europe and the Middle East. To find out more about volunteering, click here; alternatively, if you are able to help us continue to support projects on the ground, please donate here. Our work on the ground depends on the generosity of people like you.