Ritsona Refugee Camp Volunteer
Authored by: Megan Heise
Since launching our Refugee Program in Greece in June of this year, we’ve witnessed the incredible impact of over 100 dedicated CCS volunteers! One crucial project that CCS volunteers contribute to is the sustainable day-to-day operations of the Ritsona camp’s distribution center. We caught up with current CCS Greece volunteer Miranda Coombe, to learn more about her experience volunteering in the distribution center, and the impact CCS volunteers and donors are making there.
Can you tell me a little about the distribution center? What is its role in the camp?
The distribution center is in charge of providing water, milk, and hygiene products (soap, shampoo, etc.) for the residents of Ritsona. We are open daily and have the pleasure of interacting with the whole community, as many come to pick up water on a daily basis, and since we distribute milk twice weekly door-to-door. Every couple of weeks, we restock and reopen our shop, in which each resident is able to pick out clothes using a points-based system. We try to interact with the camp residents as much as possible, and people often stop by our distribution window to talk and joke around with the volunteers even if they do not need to pick anything up that day.
As a CCS volunteer, what do you do at the distribution center?
So far, I have been on water duty. Every day from 2:30-4:30 pm, I sit at a window and hand out water. The most challenging part of this job is making sure that our census of the camp is accurate. We keep track of how many people are in each caravan, their names, and their ages. Based off of this information, we know how much water to give every family. Updating the census during water duty is also enjoyable since it encourages you to talk longer with each person that stops by and often works as a conversation starter. Some other jobs that a CCS volunteer might do at the distribution center include running the shop, keeping an inventory of the stock, distributing milk door-to-door twice per week, assembling hygiene kits, and sorting donations.
What impact does the distribution center have in the camp?
The distribution center is a vital part of Ritsona. We supply all of the basic living essentials for the camp residents. Therefore, it is important that we have staff there every day of the week, and that we continuously check in on and update our inventory. But more than just providing supplies, volunteers in the distribution center also form close bonds with members of the Ritsona community, and maintaining these friendships and interacting with residents on a daily basis are perhaps just as important as providing milk, water, and other basic supplies.
What are some of the greatest challenges at the distribution center? Its greatest needs?
The most emotionally challenging part of working in the distribution center is knowing that we have a lot of one type of product stored in the back but not enough of that product to hand out to every resident. This situation becomes especially challenging when a resident stops by desperately asking for something, and, although it is very clear that they need it, we are unable to give it to them. At the moment, CCS has to fundraise in order to continue providing essentials such as milk, which we give to all children and pregnant women, as relying on just donations alone is insufficient. Often we will have an abundance of one item and not enough of another in the clothing shop, so it is hard to keep all of our shelves stocked since we are not necessarily the ones who get to pick and choose all the items that come into the center.
What is your favorite part of volunteering in the distribution center?
My favorite part of volunteering in the distribution center is forming friendships with and talking to the residents each day during water distribution. On my first day at the camp, nearly all of the people who stopped by the water window exclaimed, "Welcome to Ritsona!" once they realized that I was a new volunteer. Last week, a friend group of three teenage boys would come to see me every day after their English class. They would tell me what they learned that day and would even teach me some Kurdish words as I helped them with their English. Sometimes another young boy stops by to play music for the volunteers. He is currently really into Bruno Mars.
Is there anything else others should know about the distribution center?
The distribution center is the best place to work at Ritsona, as it is the only job where you get to interact with every member of the camp! While providing basic resources can be logistically and emotionally challenging at times, I look forward to going back to the camp each day and sitting at the water distribution window to see who will stop by next.