Lilian Hollidge, a parishioner of Our Lady of the Assumption Parish, Stainforth, has previously given the Hallam News an account of the Moria Detention Centre in Mytilini, Lesvos Island, Greece. This month Lilian gives us the background to her voluntary work.
The organisation which welcomed me into their long term mission is The Sultana Foundation, who focus on the most vulnerable refugees who are women and children. The Sultana Foundation were the first to establish a Women Only safe space outside the Moria Refugee Camp in Lesvos in October, 2017.
Thousands of refugees continue to arrive in Greece every month. Many of these refugees arrive after suffering years of war and strife in Syria and other countries, looking for safety and sanctuary.
On arrival, a large majority of these refugees, including vulnerable women and children, are placed in over-crowded, insanitary camps, fed sub-standard food lacking nutrition and given inadequate shelter. The Sultana Foundation focuses on identifying the most vulnerable women and children via their network of contacts in Lesvos and assists refugee women by providing food and some of their basic needs.
Recognising the recent history of just some of the vulnerable refugees in Lesvos, dissatisfied with the media support of just one specific Detention Centre and anxious to learn whether there were any positive changes to their situations, I returned to Moria for just two weeks. I hoped to carry on as The Sultana Foundation had begun to support vulnerable women and children, not to make massive steps of change but to continue to support and to assist in developing their projects. The following steps were not taken lightly nor in humour; my approach in no way lessens the plight of vulnerable women and children.
Passing alongside Moria Centre daily, with its broken fencing, I saw mobile toilets, large outside sinks and running tap water, used for washing clothes, for personal hygiene and for filling water containers for cooking, drinking and washing utensils. Visibly there seemed to be something missing though. It took a while to register – the enormous multi-bunk “Marquee” that previously housed African refugees had disappeared. Replacing it there were smaller 2 family tents provided by UNHCR charity. These were sited closer to the front of the entrance area.
There were other volunteer agencies servicing the many communities in and around Moria, trying to make a difference for the refugees, new and long term; for example the ‘START’ organisation who would entertain and play with the many children on an open area at the entrance to the Detention Centre and the adjoining ‘Tent City’ – enjoying games, music, craft and painting paper and fabric, as well as singing and making music together.
‘Medecin sans Frontiere’ support refugees with medical needs when needed (and also made a welcome cup of tea to be shared with us and with others at the end of the afternoon) in the high temperatures of the early summer.
‘Refugee with Refugee’ volunteers were constructing an Adventure Playground – with climbing walls, swings, climbing frames, monkey bars, slides etc, to provide some distractions and entertainment for the children, amongst the bright, colourful stones interspersed amongst the dry soil, rocks, withering grasses and olive trees.
I spent some mornings exploring the narrow, steep streets of Mytilini harbour town. Sometimes knowing exactly where I was going and other times walking for what seemed miles admiring the beautiful architecture and cafes as well as spotting some places of worship – a beautiful domed Cathedral; an unused Mosque and a small Church which made me smile! Thousands of miles of travel and I had stumbled across Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church- I’d found home again!
Next month the Hallam News will carry further details of the work that Lilian became involved in during her time supporting the Moria Detention Centre.