How is Covid-19 affecting your work?
In Greece, the lock-down measures included the closure of educational facilities. Our Alpha Community Centre therefore had to close. Alpha is our main facility, where we normally provide up to 23 non-formal classes daily, such as English, German, French, Greek, art, guitar, singing, yoga, sewing and fitness. With Alpha closed, all our classes were suspended.
Alpha is the community centre closest to the camp, just down the road from the Samos Hotspot/Vathy RIC. It is an inclusive space where people can meet, drink a cup of tea and charge their telephones. It is a popular hangout open for everyone, with hundreds of unique visits daily. We serve around 5,000 cups of tea per week.
We also run a laundry station, the only place in Samos where residents of the camp can wash their laundry for free. We wash around 450 bags of laundry every week. Due to contamination risks for our service users and volunteers, we decided to close our laundry facility too - all of our services are now suspended.
We have around 25 external volunteers at any point; nearly all of them have returned home. We were about to open a new education centre and a new laundry station, but both projects have been put on hold for the time being.
What does your current day-to-day look like?
Currently, we are trying to support the remaining organisations on the island and have launched an advocacy campaign to attract the attention of MEPs. All our Field Coordinators are still working (from home) and are engaged in various projects - updating our education curricula, professionalising volunteer recruitment, updating our safeguarding guidelines, publishing news updates about the situation on Samos and the Aegean Islands, press interviews etc.
We are continuously re-evaluating our performance and presence on the island. Even our organisational principles and goals are under revision. With little time needed for daily activities, such as keeping our Alpha Centre and Laundry Station running, we have time to reflect more deeply on our organisation, our strategy, our vision and direction. In a way, it is a unique opportunity, though we'd obviously prefer to open the doors of our facilities again.
How do you think it will affect the project long-term?
The long-term implications of Covid-19 on our project are only just starting to show. We expect that a return to normality will take many more months after the lock-down measures have been lifted. We would have to reorganise our spaces to make sure that social distancing is possible, and would have fewer classes with fewer students. Probably our community space would have to remain closed for a longer time. Finally, we would need to rethink our laundry procedure - during all steps in the process (ticketing in the camp, delivery and pick-up at our Laundry Station), we get into close contact with hundreds of people.
Volunteer recruitment would need to be more strict in order to prevent the bringing of the virus to Samos. It is highly likely that an economic recession will follow, leaving fewer people with the opportunity, time and financial resources to volunteer at an NGO. Our work depends 100 per cent on private donations, which may decline in amount and frequency. Access to the remote Aegean Islands will be limited as many flight companies are expected to collapse.
At the same time, we hope that by the time our services open again, most people have been transferred to the mainland. Under the current lockdown measures in Greece, including the closure of educational facilities, Samos Volunteers has suspended all activities and services provided by our Alpha Centre and Laundry Station. We are currently only active on Samos in a supportive capacity, where we are working closely with other actors and facilitating joint initiatives by providing the use of our space, or lending personnel and administrative support. For example, we are currently working with other NGOs to produce masks for the residents of the camp. This project is in the early stages, but if it progresses, Samos Volunteers will supply both mask materials (sewing machines, thread, fabric etc.) and the Alpha Centre as a space for production.
Our Coordination Team is continuing to look for ways to support the community remotely. We have established our “Alpha Online” learning forum, where students living in the camp can find educational resources and engage with teachers around language exercises. We also launched and continue to coordinate a Samos-wide Facebook page that provides information about Covid-19 measures and NGO/asylum service updates to residents of the camp.
A primary focus of our digital attention at present is advocacy. We have recently launched a grassroots campaign targeting elected MEPs of the European Union, and we are running a news series documenting the unprecedented political, societal and public health developments that impacted our work on Samos since February.
Looking to the future, our Coordination Team is continuing to work remotely on internal projects and planning. It is difficult to predict the long-term impact that Covid-19 will have on our work, but we are pushing forward with plans to open a second community centre, expand our laundry service, develop our student services and improve our community engagement. Our Coordination Team is ready and waiting to relaunch our services as soon as the situation allows!