TWO young women from Bantry are currently volunteering in Greece and Lebanon and are appealing for support from their native West Cork.
Emma Wall is volunteering in the Lifting Hands International (LHI) community centre adjacent to the Serres refugee camp in Greece. The majority of the asylum seekers attending the centre are ethnically Yazidi (from Iraq) however there are a significant amount of people from Afghanistan, Ukraine, and other countries. She went there after her masters in applied psychology in UCC and is fundraising for the community space where she volunteers.
The centre provides five main services, one of which is a psychosocial support programme focused on children’s well being, others are a space for women, language classes, professional development programme and an arts and recreation programme.
A large part of her work is supporting the children to de-stress and manage their emotions when living in very difficult circumstances in small prefabs enclosed by wire fences next to a busy motorway.
‘Every evening I finish up my work at the child- friendly space exhausted but with a sense of achievement because I know how essential the space is for the children.
'These children were born during wars, while their parents were in captivity, or during the dangerous journey to Europe. Many are in Greece alone, separated from their families during the journey or orphaned during conflict. They attend Greek school but receive no language assistance or classroom support and experience discrimination from their classmates.
'They live in tiny prefabs enclosed by a wire fence next to a busy motorway. At the centre, we try to create a calm, safe space for the children through art, play, dance, sports and so on. The trauma the children have experienced already in their short lives is unimaginable and this motivates me to give my all every day.
'Volunteering has made me see clearer than ever how incredibly lucky I was to have been born in Ireland. I encourage anyone who is interested in human rights, migration issues, working with vulnerable populations or children to volunteer with LHI. Although I've volunteered in various other settings before, including with refugees, this is probably the most rewarding experience of my life so far.’
Amy Boyden has been in Bekka Valley, Lebanon working with Syrians and the Lebanese community since February, after volunteering as a humanitarian aid worker in Greece for five months in 2020.
‘Even though the Lebanese people have been through so much, they are incredibly hospitable and welcoming. I am running two of my own English classes in a local community centre and I help with outreach programmes (medical distributions and food parcels). I also aid with art classes and assist other English classes,’ she said.
Amy is fundraising for medical supplies. ‘As it stands we are only able to buy medication for a family once, even if they require lifelong assistance. Any family that we visit on an outreach programme, and if they need any medication, we are only able to cover up $50.00 worth of medication. The raised money will go towards covering medical costs that go over $50.00. For example, CT scans, extra medicines, physiotherapy, and medical supplies,’ she said.
Despite seeing challenging things and hearing horrifying stories, she would recommend everyone to volunteer. ‘It teaches you a lot. It makes you more of a humble human being. We, as a society, should learn not to judge so quickly and that everyone, no matter of your background, should have the same opportunities.’
For more on her fundraiser search ‘Fundraising Medical Supplies, Lebanon by Amy’ on Gofundme.
For more information on Emma's fundraiser search Fundraising for LHI Refugee Centre, Northern Greece on Chuffed.org