A new year message

A new year message

2016 has been a year of very mixed feelings.

I feel distressed about the direction our immediate environment seems to have taken. But it was also the year when I experienced the willingness of so many around me to want to do something good for others.

Because of the support of friends in our network we have reached out to those in need both near and far– several hundred miles away.

At the beginning of the year I started collecting donations in Sweden under the name ”Together we make a difference” to help people on the run in Greece. By the end of the year, I can tell you my dear friends so generously donated an incredible quarter of a million Swedish Crowns (242, 000 SEK) !!

”Together we make the difference” sounds like a cliché – but I think it’s fantastic, because we have really proved it to be true!

We have helped people in the Greek island of Lesbos, where soaked, terrified and traumatised fellow human beings set foot in Europe for the first time.

We have helped out in the port of Athens where so many desperate people were stuck when Europe’s borders were closed. We have helped in the large refugee camp of Idomeni that was formed at the border with Macedonia, where around 18,000 people gathered.

We have helped build a couple of new camps around Greece, two of 40 camps built to be more suitable to house people for a very long time to come, until the EU countries have agreed on what to do with each other.

We have also helped people arriving here in Sweden with support, accommodation and things, trying to welcome our newly arrived citizens, and guide them through the required process in an increasingly guarded Sweden.

Your fantastically generous financial support has included helping to supply basic warmth and dry clothes to newcomers. We have been able to buy shoes, sleeping bags, tents, cooking utensils, baby milk and diapers.

We have supported the purchase of educational materials for kids classes in the makeshift camps and schools and started an art project in one of the camps.

We have been able to allow residents of the six vulnerable families that we have hosted in apartments in the Greek village Goumenissa. I can tell you now that the UNHCR has taken over the financial responsibility for all our families, which is so gratifying.

We have shown all these people that there are many of us who do not want to see them as a number, but as individuals, like ourselves. And above all, we have all shown that we can make a difference!

Just as I believe that what is happening and continues to happen in the world (on many levels) will bring great suffering for a very long time, I also know that what we have done together has positively impacted many individuals’ lives for the better.

I really wish you all could take part of the gratitude and joy that I have been shown by the people whose lives we have affected together. That in itself has given me the energy to continue in the hurricane.

With this, I want to thank all of you, dear friends, for your fine, generous and warm support.

It is you who have made all this possible – and it is something to be proud of. I wish you all a happy and joyful 2017 and a hope for a better year for all of our fellow human beings on the run. Unfortunately, the situation for refugees in Greece is in no way over, and it still requires major relief operations. I do not myself right now how my involvement will look like next year. I’ll get back to you when I know more, and in any case, I will write about how it’s been for the Abdi family with their little baby Joanna, as so many of you have helped support this family and followed their progress during the year.

Joanna

Raising funds for kids’ art classes in refugee camps in Greece.

Raising funds for kids’ art classes in refugee camps in Greece.

As many of you know, Jonny is currently running art workshops for refugee children in Northern Greece. We urgently need some help to continue this project. The conditions for children in the camps is very hard; there is little or no formal education, structure or stimulation for them.

You can donate here: http://tinyurl.com/jax8yrq
Or if you are in Sweden, you can swish Joanna on 0736-800 444.

We have volunteers of all kinds on the project; art teachers, actors, playwrights & artists from England, Wales, Greece, the States and Syria. We have refugee artists, parents & translators in the team and we hope that they will be able to expand this project. All volunteer team members pay their own way & give their own time for free, fund transport to & from the camps and purchase art supplies.

The team has been running daily English-Arabic/Kurdish workshops in both military-run refugee camps on the outskirts of Thessaloniki & in Goumenissa, a small town near the Macedonian border, for the Syrian children brought there by our sister housing project.

If you would like any more information or would like to get involved in the project, please get in touch with Jonny or Joanna on Facebook or Instagram (jonnybradford74) or email jonnybradford74@gmail.com.

Many thanks!

Joanna & Jonny

 

 

 

 

Every penny still counts!

As you all know, we are Jonny and Joanna, and we have been volunteering for Lighthouse Relief, a small non-profit social enterprise registered in Sweden. We are now part of a small group of volunteers called ‘Share the Magic.’ Currently we are moving a few families out of the camps, as well as running an art class for children in one of the camps, and doing whatever else we possibly can.

Every penny we collect goes to helping refugees. We fund our own travels to and from Greece.

If you are in Sweden and would like to make a donation, please Swish Joanna on: 0736-800 444.

If you are outside Sweden and would like to donate to Share the Magic, you can donate here at our fundraising page, or here are our UK Halifax bank account details:

Name: Jonathan Bradford
Sort Code: 11-18-11
Account No: 00767590
IBAN: GB13HLFX11181100767590
BIC: HLFXGB21L68
SWIFT: Loydgb2L
Address: Halifax, P.O Box: 548, Leeds LS1 1WU, U.K.

Some happy pictures from Jonny’s kids’ art class in the Kalachori refugee camp  in Northern Greece.

Two families moving in

Little Clara Hessos was born in the Softex camp, in terrible conditions here she is 3 months old.

Finally, after three long weeks of hard work, two more families have moved into apartments in the village in the northern Goumenissa, Greece, away from the miserable military controlled camps.

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The Family Shamuo moving into their new home from the Kalachori camp . Kajeen was so happy to find a doll waiting for him. 

 

 

Thanks to the amazing volunteers on the ground in Greece, Jonny, Dirk, Maria, Sally and several other wonderful people who make up our little volunteer group Share The Magic. Doctors without Borders have helped by donating furniture for the apartment.

Only a few days ago the Shamuo family, a Syrian Kurdish family, moved into one of the apartments. The family are Jwan and Gulistan, Grandma, and two beautiful daughters, Ajeen and Kajeen. The family have lived in several different camps with their small children for over a year, each camp worse than the other, with terribly tough conditions. They have not slept in real beds since they fled their home in Aleppo. They have been through indescribable hardship that no human being should ever have to experience, let alone children.

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The day after spending their first night in their new home. An indescribable feeling to have a real bed again.

In the camps there are between 500 and 16,000 people. Mrs. Shamuo says: “I can’t believe I finally get to cook food myself without having to queue for food. To take a shower with hot water, in private, and not have to share dirty toilets with hundreds of other people.”

These basic things give us human beings our dignity- and it is hard for most of us to imagine now having them. Thank you to everyone who has supported this project to make it possible to move even a few families out of the camps. We wish that we could help everyone, but we are also very grateful and happy that we can help someone at all.

We will continue to support various projects inside the camps, such as the Children’s Art Project that Jonny has started in Kalachori camp.

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Pappa Jwan and Mama Gulistan send their Thanks to everyone who has helped make this possible. ”The feeling of relief is indescribable”
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Daughters Ameen, 4 years old, and Kajeen, 2 years old.
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The family when they had just arrived, together with Jonny, Sally and Maria, part of our little volunteer group, Share the Magic. 

The family Idres move away from Softex to a better camp. You might remember the Idres family from Homs with their three children and 3-month old baby Clara who lives in the Softex camp? Several of you wanted to help them in any way possible. Jonny and Maria went over to them with some clothes last week, which they were thrilled about. And now, thanks to Maria and Sally’s amazing network, they have managed to find a place for them in a much better camp run by the Swiss Red Cross. We have contact with a volunteer there who runs a small tent school for both children and adults, and also runs other activities in that camp to try and help make everyday life in the camp better, during a long and uncertain wait for the EU to decide their future.

Military controlled squalor. In the military controlled Softex camp, conditions are pretty bleak. The Idris family should be allowed to leave it behind in a couple of weeks. This camp has a really bad reputation. It is actually controlled by the state but it’s the military who runs the camp. The EU has give sanction for Greece to “take care” of all the refugees, while politicians squabble and disagree on which countries should receive them. The Greek military are not the ones limiting their freedom to apply for asylum and their human dignity. The squalor of these camps is a direct consequence of the fact that the EU has accepted closed borders, leaving people in limbo, in Greece, for an indefinite period of time. I still get deeply disappointed, however, by the quality of the sub-standard camps run by the Greek military given the financial support they have received from the EU.

 

 

Ramia’s Story

Ramia’s Story

Every person who is forced to flee their country to get away from war and persecution carries their own unique story. This is one of them. It’s a short excerpt from Ramia’s story that she wrote for us in her own words about her experiences in Aleppo, before she fled the town and country with her family. No child or person should ever have to experience this.

Ramia is the oldest daughter of one of the Syrian families that is in our little group ‘Share the magic.’ Our network is supporting this project with apartments in the village of Goumenissa in Northern Greece. Thank you to everyone who is helping to support a few children and families with us.

The point of no return

The story of our family is the story of many families from Aleppo, just one of the thousands of stories of war, in one way or another. We used to hear the sounds of bullets everywhere, a terrible power seemed to rupture and our nights turned to black with the songs of guns and shells. This was a terrible year in Aleppo. The city was systematically destroyed by the theft of property and the mass displacement of people from their homes. Many women were widowed and everyday more children slept on the street corners in the cold and the heat. There was still some hope that people might come back to their senses and that security might return. But the city was besieged. Many of its inhabitants fled to other areas that were safer, such as Latakia, Tartus, and Damascus. After a year of suffering and a lack of resources we decided it was time for us to go.

I went back to my University to complete my second year when a rocket hit the building. I will never forget that day. That day I saw body parts flying past the students in front of me and my friend threw herself over me to protect me. There was blood everywhere and only screaming prevailed amidst burning smoke and broken glass.

I saw so many young men and women crying, and I joined them with my own tears of pain and suffering. I fled from the building and began to run in fear of everything until someone finally stopped me. They asked me for my father’s phone number, so that he could come to take me home, and when he arrived I had no consciousness of where I was. I stayed in the house for a month afterwards, too scared to leave, but my mother always said ‘nothing shall ever happen to us except what God has written for us.’

Do not forget, we are used to shells. Things became slowly worse from there. One day when we were all out of the house a gas jar (Hell Shells) fell on the house next door to our own. Thank God my mother was with my Aunt along with my little sister and brother, and my father was working with my older brothers, and I was in the market. But our neighbours – five children under three, a number of parents, and an elderly man and women were buried under the rubble.

Nothing remained of our building either, whose stones had crushed a garden house where a women and a little girl lived. I could see children in shreds and feel the pain of not being able do anything to help. We left. This had become a normality for people in Aleppo, an everyday life scene.

Arriving in Greece…When the volunteers greeted us on the beach they felt like angels. They took our friend who was bleeding straight to the hospital, and helped the women and children on to land first, and tried to soothe our fears. I will say that in this moment I was happy. It is a nice feeling to have survived, but it is also painful as we have moved away from our country and our lives and reached a point of no return.

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‘Share the magic’ kids are starting school!

As many of you know, we have started a small network called ”Share the Magic.” This is to focus our efforts finding housing for a few families. Now all 10 kids from our current families will now start in a Greek school and daycare. This is fantastic news and with thanks to Maria who has pulled strings in her fantastic network in order to be able to get them places in school. The kids have (today) received the vaccination they need for them to be accepted in school. Each syringe costs 100 euros, and we have a total of 14 children to vaccinate, together with the new family’s children who are soon moving in. Sally, a wonderful American volunteer, got the full amount donated by one of her friends back home in California. Amazing!

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Last Saturday we celebrated with the entire ‘Share the Magic’ gang, with a picnic and birthday party for Maria and Dirks 2-Year-old son Arrionas. What a beautiful day we had all together, with so much joy and laughter. It really did feel like magic to see these happy kids running around. There are many of us who have played a small part in giving them a chance to get a reasonably normal life during their escape from the war in Syria. It is impossible to mention everyone- you know who you are. Thank you again all of you who have made this possible, through volunteering in person or collecting and donating money. Thanks to you these kids are laughing again. Some people have asked if they can support the families in any way. If you want to support the new families, you are of course more than welcome. Or I can also recommend a wonderful project which my friend Jonny has started in one of the camps – It’s an art project that will be run every afternoon in the camp’s little school tent. The kids get a chance to create, paint, and be creative for a moment every afternoon. It’s gives them a highlight every day and it warms your heart to see how successful this art class is. Otherwise, there is a plethora fantastic greater voluntary organisations who are all doing a wonderful job. Lighthouse Relief is one of them and I very much recommend them.

To help Share the Magic in Sweden, send a donation via Swish: 0736800444

The Oxfam camp

All camps are not as terrible as Softex, Thank God. I also visited a WHO camp that was fantastic in comparison- it was driven by the English Organisation Oxfam. It was in a small village in the mountains, a four-hour drive from Thessaloniki where my beautiful Syrian friend Faten lived. Here, 120 refugees are living in an old children’s home and there are warm showers, real beds, canteens where people can eat together, independent volunteers and a basketball court. At this camp international media were more than welcome. The meeting with Faten was amazing. We cried tears of joy when we hugged each other again after seven months of chatting daily. We have had time to deal with many issues during these months, I can promise you that. It was just as many tears when we said goodbye to each other after a whole day together. The next time we meet, I sincerely hope it will be in Germany. Her dad is waiting there for her for over a year and is longing to be reunited with all his children who have been stuck in limbo in Greece.

Faten with the study books Chloe and I sent to her for her brothers and sisters so that they can study. The Oxfam camp is world’s apart from camps such as Softex.

 

Hellhole conditions – ”…worse than Idomeni”

I am now back from Greece after a very intense trip with so many impressions and insights to share with you. I don’t know how I’m going to begin to describe it all. It was only a short trip with a lot of very positive news, but unfortunately there is also some desperately sad news to report.

I’m starting with the bad news, so that I can finish off with something more positive.I visited three of the many refugee camps which are controlled by the military around Thessaloniki. More than 16,000 – 20,00 people were displaced when the Idomeni camp by the border of Macedonia was closed down in May.

It was a shock to see how terribly miserable these new camps were. In one of them, the Softex camp, volunteers are forbidden to enter without a special permit, which, incidentally, is almost impossible to get. The Softex camp had had so much negative reporting in the media that they are they trying to keep outsiders out and have a strict ban on photography. Instead of trying to solve the problems inside the camp that is causing negative reporting, the strategy is to simply stop reporting from being possible. We managed to get into the camp through the back door and talk to one of the families who live there. I think it’s important to show some pictures that we managed to take, but the pictures, in the bright sunlight of Greece hardly show how hellish the conditions are there.

The families said the experience in these new camps is worse than Idomeni. After volunteering at Idomeni, I could hardly think how conditions could possibly be worse. The Softex Camp has more than 800 people and is clearly the worst we heard about. We sat and talked for a long time to one of the Syrian families inside one of the tents. Only a year ago they fled their homes, and started the dangerous journey via Turkey seeking safety in Europe. Unfortunately, they arrived at the Greece four days too late, after all the borders were closed and now they are stuck here indefinitely, like so many others.

Having spent four months in Idomeni, they were transported to this hellhole where they have lived the past five months – in a crowded tent with four children. Their youngest daughter Clara was born dramatically in the camp for three months ago and have had to start her life in these extremely squalid conditions.

The family owns only the clothes they have on their body and they gave nothing at all to change into. They wash their underwear and sit in the tent while the laundry dries outside in the cold. They are only just over 16 cold water showers in the camp, which means 50 people per shower. The tents do not have any mosquito nets which is a big problem, especially now that it’s getting more humid and the autumn weather means mosquitoes are thriving in puddles. They are also plagued with rats and snakes because of all the garbage. The day before the mother had found a snake in the tent while her small children were asleep. Many of the tents lack any type of floor, which of course means that it will be hopelessly muddy when it rains.

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The food is scarce and consists of tin cans with the Greek military logo on the front. The family showed us one of these tins containing grey, flaccid vegetables and something that looked like processed meat. Only very rarely they could get fresh vegetables and fruit. No NGOs or other organisations are based there, some were allowed to visit some days during the week we were there.

Because of the conditions there is a heavy atmosphere of widespread desperation, and tension building up more and more and turning into riots in many of the camps. The Father, Hesso, told me that for a while it felt so unstable and threatening that he chose to sleep with his young family out on the street for two nights rather than to be there in the camp. Women are feeling increasingly vulnerable as well when it gets dark, as tension runs high. They and the children need to stay inside the tents at night and be protected. Ir is reported that pregnant women are giving birth early due to the extreme stress of living in these conditions. This is a military controlled camp in one of the EU member states. It is completely unacceptable and inhumane.

The Father Hesso asked me, ”I don’t know how long we will stand living like this. We are not animals, we are people too. Our children feel really bad.”

I just didn’t know what to say. I felt deeply ashamed that this is allowed to take place in one of our EU countries.

Joanna

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