Members of King’s Church, Uckfield, and friends recently spent a week in Athens where they were moved by the plight of refugees.
They wanted to go after meeting refugees in England, hearing their stories and how they had to run away from the war in Syria. The aim of the trip was to take some of the burden and help a local church whose members have been working hard for many years to help the refugees.
Those on the trip were husband and wife Martin and Lesley Roots, father and son Kelvin and Andrew Williams, mother and son Jane and Will Batchelor, Dyah Lancaster, Lauren Coates, Linda Baptist and Kaye Johnson.
1,000 meat balls
One night the group prepared food for 400 people living in a previously empty hotel. They prepared 1,000 meat balls and huge piles of salad and rice, then washed up afterwards in cold water.
At the port the team looked after children while their parents were interviewed for official papers. This meant the children didn’t have to relive the terrible events that led them to Athens. Some days they had as many as 38 children to look after. One time they looked after three-year-old twins while their parents were applying for papers to go to Germany to be reunited with their ten-year-old daughter.
They also helped pack parcels of food and clothes at a huge ex-airport building for distribution to refugee camps across Greece.
One of the group, Kelvin Williams, said conditions were tough on the mainland but they heard it was worse on the islands where the refugees lived in camps and didn’t have freedom of movement.
Lauren Coates said it was sad seeing the difficult lives of children knowing how well looked after their counterparts were in the UK.
Kaye agreed it was a very sad situation. “We could have got really emotional but we couldn’t take sadness in to them. Our aim was to go in and bring joy and positivity. They didn’t need our sorrow on top of theirs.”
Scratch on the surface
Martin Roots said they knew that what they had done was but a tiny scratch on the surface of what needed doing but it was appreciated.
Kaye said they were also pleased to know where money sent in the future would be going. “Sometimes people are reluctant to send money. It makes a difference to see specifically where it is going and how it is used to support others.”
So the group, who paid for their own travel and were accommodated by volunteers at a Church in Athens, took pleasure in the things they were able to do to relieve the burden on other helpers for a short period of time.
Dyah met a man who lived in the hotel for two years who was happy to have found a job working in a shop. He really appreciated all the support the people in had Athens had given him since he arrived.
They also met a 13-year-old girl who had lost her mother and just wanted to go the Germany to be with her father, somehow they got separated. She was also waiting for official papers.
Kaye spoke to a 12-year-old girl who had been living in a tent in a camp. She now goes to school and has a real home much to her delight.
There were endless sad stories of separated families and people forced to flee from war. In the last year the Athens church have helped 8,000 children at the port.
But there was laughter too for the Uckfield group. They enjoyed each other’s company – and even did some Greek dancing in a restaurant on their last night away.
Now home, they plan to keep in touch with friends they have made in Athens and to organise fund-raising activities so they can send money to the church group which hosted their visit.
Kelvin said: “All of us took away something from our time in Athens. It was something completely different, taking us out of our comfort zones. We have a very privileged life here in this country and across the western world. People are living there are in dire need and that really makes you think.”
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