Finding the Silver Lining at the Ferry Building
Saturday night. I was sitting at a bar with a fellow volunteer and new friend, Maria, having a glass of wine when we got word that hundreds of refugees were stranded outside at the port because ferries had been cancelled or rescheduled for the next morning. There was an abandoned building next to the port that they were camped out in as they waited out a pretty strong wind storm. They needed some help and supplies like blankets and food brought down, so we called a friend with a car and hitched a ride to the ferry building.
I don't think anything prepared us for what we walked into. Based on the remaining structure, the circular building was an old aquatic center. There were shallow pools on the ground level with stairs that led to a second floor from four different access points. The second floor had the deepest pool I had ever seen in the center with stadium style seats on the two longer sides. People had camped out along the edges, in the stands, on the ground--anywhere they could fit themselves, trying to stay away from the windows. The wind was so strong that the biggest concern was that the old windows surround the upper part of the entire building would break and fall on people below. The other, almost equally, big concern was that someone (specifically a small child) would fall into the 30ft plus empty pool and seriously hurt themself.
It was a disheartening and chaotic scene to be part of. Many of the refugees had been told that the ferries weren't leaving that evening, yet they were insistent on going down and waiting by the dock, even with bad weather. I get it. You've made it this far. You've been on the go for days, weeks, sometimes even months. You've spent days walking without food, hid out in the bushes waiting for the day you'll be able to cross, drained your savings to be able to travel with your family and you survived crossing the sea in a dinghy with a driver who has never operated a boat before. You waited in line to get registered. You slept in a tent in the cold, with two other families, huddled together for warmth and sharing stories of the good times to pass the time and keep your spirits up. You bought your ferry tickets to get to Athens. You're so close—there's no way you're going to risk missing that boat, so you decide to stay at the port and wait, and wait, and wait.
We tried to lend a hand however we could but the other volunteers on site seemed to have it under control. So we left with the intention to return the next day when we would have a better idea of how we could help.
We were supposed to go to the tent to help pack up for a move the next morning but woke up to rain, rain and more rain. And I don't mean drizzles or a few drops, I mean an ongoing downpour. A decision was made to postpone the packing for later that day. Still determined to help, Maria and I made the 30 minute walk to Moria to see if we could help in another way. And help we did. We have out ponchos, helped organize cloths in the clothing distribution tent and made outreach bags so we could return to the building by the port to see if any medical aid was needed.
What a difference a night and a thunderstorm made. The building was wet. Water was coming in through broken windows and the ceiling. There was trash everywhere. And the smell of urine consumed the building. But volunteers were there to help.
They brought blankets and food. Medical teams offered care, as limited as it could be in these circumstances. People donned bags and were picking up rubbish. It wasn't ideal, but it was something. It was making a difference. People would smile after seeing the "Dr", even if we didn't have medication for them. People lit up incredibly after they had something warm to drink. And volunteers found themselves giving out gloves and trash bags to refugees as they joined in on picking up trash. It goes to prove that even in the most horrendous scenarios, little things can and do make a difference.