I’m currently volunteering as a Farsi interpreter at a medical clinic at the One Happy Family community center on Lesvos Island. In 2015 I volunteered as general labor and later an interpreter at Camps Pikpa and Moria and shared those stories here.
Friday, September 22nd — Lesvos Island, Greece
I went to see an old friend today. Pikpa was the first refugee camp I worked at. I arrived in December, 2015 and stayed a few weeks until finding more intense work. While there we planted a flower garden, put up life jackets reading SAFE PASSAGE at the entrance, built shelves, and sorted through several tons of donations. I wanted to see what had changed in the last 18 months since I had seen Pikpa.
At first glance it looked the same. Behind an old fence were wood cabins for families and laundry being hung from parachute cords tied to trees, tents, and anything else. Everything was flanked by pine needles and old playground equipment.
A closer look painted a different picture.
The flowers we planted in the gravel we designed were dead, their bright colors replaced by weeds. The vibrant orange SAFE PASSAGE row of life jackets was now a drab, sun-bleached eyesore along a drab, sun-bleached stretch of concrete.
Most of the changes were good though. The medical office had double the supplies it had when I had been there two years ago; more walls and buildings were painted beautifully, while the older paintings had been touched up to remain fresh; there was a tree house made of old pallets and an Indiana Jones-looking playground where kids could swing like monkeys from ropes which connected several pallet-made platforms; there was now a trailer specifically for medical use; there was more furniture, made from pallets and rubber from old rafts, of course. From the outside Pikpa looked like a worn-down summer camp, from the inside it looked like a case study on upcycling and murals.
Five or six kids ran screaming through the playground, throwing pine cones at each other and laughing so hard they coughed, while the rest of the camp ignored the noise and slept. The one employee I found sat outside and smoked, explaining to me that there were more volunteers this year, including interpreters, doctors, and artists that had been in short supply.
The camp had been overhauled. It had been beautified, supplied, and manned since I left. And yet at 10:00 nobody had arrived for work yet. While Pikpa changed, Greece had stayed exactly the same.