Four months in a refugee camp

For my internship I worked for a Greek NGO that operates inside the refugee camp on the Aegean island of Lesvos. It was established during the crisis in 2015, when many refugees fled through Turkey to the Greek islands. This NGO has adapted its goals over the years to align with the needs of the residents in the camp, and by 2021 it has taken on a variety of projects. 

refugee camp on Lesvos

My experience 

My job was to manage the 75 community volunteers we worked with and who were resident in the camp. In addition, I helped to set up and run the covid-19 sanitation stations. We distributed masks and provided hand-washing stations, which was a challenge due to the lack of running water in the camp. This required bringing in all supplies and water we needed every morning. By running these stations we also spread awareness about covid-19 prevention in a situation where 7000 people were living in very cramped quarters. Often the correct information about the covid-19 situation was not well known or believed. We also provided food and SIM cards to our camp volunteers.

I was also in charge of setting up a mobile library in the camp. We created an online database for our library of books and brought a selection into the camp each day, as well as iPads. In that way, residents could search and order a book to be brought in the following day. We had French, English, Farsi, Arabic and more book options, as well as language learning materials, non-fiction learning, and children's books. We were always reaching out to donors abroad to try to get further donations, especially of Farsi books, which were in high demand. It was great to interact with camp residents every day, to try to help them find a book that they needed, or to provide a simple way to make life feel normal for a moment. 

I learned a ton from the experience, about the situations in the countries people are fleeing from - primarily Afghanistan, DRC (Congo), and Somalia, as well as Syria, Iran, and Iraq - and also about the situation in Greece and how the EU is handling it. It is a complex situation, with many interests and actors, and there were no clear facts as the rules were changing constantly, even during my short time there. I recommend volunteering on Lesvos to anyone who has the chance. 

internship in a refugee camp

Organisation of the internship 

This was run through the Swiss partner program to the European Solidarity Corps, EVS, which provides funding for young people wishing to volunteer in Europe and neighboring countries. I contacted one of the organizations, Movetia, which offers funding, and contacted the NGO directly to line up volunteering. They provided a monthly stipend and travel reimbursement, and the NGO helped me find housing and get settled in Greece. There was good communication amongst everyone the whole time, which made things go smoothly.