The AWB Refugee Support Project
Since May 2016, AWB has offered trauma-healing treatments in Greece where over 60,000 people from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries live in 50 refugee camps. Many refugees experience significant trauma from war, displacement, dangerous migration, and loss of friends and family. Immigrating to EU countries like Germany is not a possibility for them because they migrated to Greece after the border to the rest of Europe was closed in March 2016. They are stranded in Greece until they receive asylum there, or are likely to be deported back to the Middle East. Greece cannot provide an economic future for them (many Greeks have no work) and deportation can mean death.
AWB is the first organization that we know of that has brought trauma reduction acupuncture to refugee camps in Greece. Our mission is to create as much “capacity” as possible, which is why we are now training Greek acupuncturists to offer treatments. In October and December 2016, AWB trained 20 Greek practitioners who are working in teams to offer treatments twice weekly at the Ritsona and Oinyfyta camps. Since May 2016 AWB has sent five volunteer teams to Greece. A sixth team is leaving in late February to provide treatments and train more local practitioners.
Here’s what we have planned for continuing and expanding refugee support work in 2017:
- Create new refugee support projects in the US. AWB already has affiliated clinics in Tucson, AZ and Cleveland OH that provide weekly treatments to refugees who have recently immigrated.
- Continue direct service in the refugee camps we are currently working in and expand services to five more camps in mainland Greece.
- Train more Greek acupuncturists to provide treatments. We are supporting them by offering training, transportation and supply stipends.
- Train acupuncturists in European countries such as Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands who are working with over 1 million resettling refugees.
For more information on the AWB Refugee Support Project, contact Carla Cassler at email@example.com.
August 2016 Update!
AWB Trauma Healing Work (and Zumba!)
at the Ritsona and Oinofyta Refugee Camps in Greece
This August, AWB trained volunteers Amy Schroeder, Sarah Fields and Lisa Lourey (AWB’s third team to Greece) have been providing ear treatments, massage, yoga and Zumba classes in the Ritsona and Oinofyta refugee camps north of Athens, Greece. Yes, Zumba! Now a wildly popular part of the day at the Ritsona camp’s “Women Only Space” due to Lisa’s amazing Zumba teaching skills and ability to speak Arabic.
Ritsona camp houses 600 Syrian and Kurdish refugees, while the Oinofyta camp provides shelter to almost 800 Afghan refugees. There are more than 25 other camps throughout Greece where over 50,000 refugees wait for asylum or deportation back to Turkey. AWB has been working with NGOs at Ritsona and Oinofyta including Lighthouse Relief, ECHO, I Am You, and the Seventh Day Adventists to provide treatments to relief workers and camp residents.
Camp residents have been extremely receptive to AWB’s treatment offerings. The healing service work of this team has created strong connections between AWB and the refugees and volunteer relief workers at both camps. The way is now open to send a larger team to both Ritsona and Oinofyta in September-October 2016. Here are some of team leader Amy Schroeder’s descriptions:
Oinofyta Camp, August 16:
We met John and his wife Paulina. They head the medical team with the Seventh Day Adventists at Oinofyta. They are very open to us treating in the camp. They offered a small space, their storage room, where the dentist (that comes periodically) treats people. Lisa and Sarah treated volunteers in there.
While Lisa finished up with volunteers, Sarah taught a yoga class in an 8x10ft room…I think she had 8-10 people in there! It was quite a sight! The women had hijabs off so no photos were allowed. Later, Lisa and Sarah were in that same small ‘yoga’ room, now with about 14 women lined up against the walls, with peaceful music playing, a small candle burning in the middle of the room and needles in their ears. Again….quite a sight to walk in to see such a full room of beautiful women that Lisa and Sarah gathered up!
Living conditions for camp residents: There are open rooms that residents can stay in inside the big warehouse but the people (that live) in tents outside prefer to stay in the tents (in view of the highway) because they want the people of Greece to see that they’re there. If they all go inside and take down the tents, then no one will see them. Everyone is dehydrated it seems (at both camps). Lots of headaches. Paulina concurred…
Nahid’s husband (who AWB met at the Piraeus makeshift camp in May and is now at Oinofyta camp) slept for ten hours after his treatment today.
Later at Ritsona Camp, August 16:
After the peaceful ear seed treatment in the Women’s Only Space, then Lisa did one Zumba song because they were begging her……..again, so many women in a small room. Everyone is just hungry for things to do.
AWB will be sending a fourth team to Ritsona and Oinofyta in September-October 2016, and will be meeting with Greek acupuncturists to connect them with service work at the camps. We are working on long term service provision so that ongoing support can be offered to camp residents. AWB is also developing training for European acupuncturists who want to create trauma healing support projects for refugees in countries such as Germany. Projected training date will be March 2017. Stay tuned for updates!
SOS From The EKO Station Refugee Camp in Greece:
“WE NEED MAGIC HERE!”
Children at Pireaus Port refugee camp in Athens, Greece
AWB staff Diana Fried and Carla Cassler with volunteer Amy Schroeder have just been in Greece to provide treatments for refugees and help set up opportunities for AWB volunteers to do the same over the coming months.
Click the link to watch the video about the relief effort: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZygSdQn0Bkg&feature=youtu.be
If you would like to be on a list of people who may be interested in volunteering in Greece as this effort moves forward email firstname.lastname@example.org.
50,000 refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq are stranded in over 30 camps on mainland Greece. The “boat’ route from Turkey to the Aegean islands is now shut down and the border to the rest of Europe is closed.
These refugees are waiting to see if they can apply for asylum without any knowledge of what is going to happen. The million plus refugees that made it through Greece last year are resettling in Germany, Sweden, France, and other EU countries. Many have been dispersed by these governments to communities throughout their host countries.
AWB is responding to the global refugee crisis in several ways. We are providing direct service to refugees in Greece, and we plan to help train practitioners in Europe who want to provide trauma healing clinics in communities where refugees are resettling.
Praying by the water
Life goes on in the refugee camp
Makeshift tent at refugee camp
Here is a report from Carla and Diana at what they have done in the past few days…
May 12: Piraeus Port Refugee Camp in Athens
We take the metro to the makeshift camp of over 1,000 people. No signs of people except tourists. We walk to the end of the port and suddenly we begin to see tents. Children playing, men praying, women holding babies, dumpsters of putrid trash, portable toilets, hundreds of tents set up inside an old warehouse to create a tiny measure of privacy. In the middle of a modern European city, out of public view, next to tourist cruise ships and industrial tankers, men, women and children are waiting, waiting, waiting after months and years of war, dangerous migration, and trauma. How could this be happening in our modern world with so many resources available?
As we enter the camp we start to hear the stories: 16-year-old Masoud, a karate champion originally from Afghanistan, who escaped alone to Iraq and came to Greece via Turkey. He became our translator and friend. Nahid, a makeup artist from Afghanistan, targeted by the Taliban. Pregnant, she left with her husband and toddler and traveled through Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Turkey to get to Greece by boat. She miscarried once she reached Piraeus camp, where she has been for four months. Nahid showed us a tattered sonogram picture with bittersweet tears. These people, many from middle class backgrounds, are in a state of limbo with no idea of when they will be able to continue their journey to a new life.
As we walked away to hop on a bus to return to our hotel, we were suddenly “world’s away” from this despairing place. We could leave…Masooud and Nahid could not. It is very hard to understand.
May 13: EKO Station Camp
We came to the northern Greek-Macedonian border which is sealed to the refugees. Thousands are in two makeshift camps: Idomeni and EKO Station (which is a gas station, thus its name). We connected with several NGOs including Lighthouse, a Swedish group that focuses on safety for women and children, and a medical care group sponsored by the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS).
As we approached the SAMS yellow mobile care vans, doctors were triaging several emergencies. The team was awesome as is their medical set up. We immediately offered an ear treatment to the on-site medical manager during her break. She described the secondary trauma that many volunteers are experiencing, particularly the volunteer translators since they hear the most brutal stories from refugees day in and day out. The need for emotional and physical care for relief volunteers is high, and we are happy to be here to help.
As we walked through the camp, we felt the heat building. Women sitting inside their tents to avoid the sun, men smoking and playing cards, young men charging their cell phones at a makeshift charging station with hundreds of cords. Besides the pain and obvious sadness, there was a palpable feeling of deep boredom that comes from waiting.
And also creativity and joy: children playing soccer, singing “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes,” women cooking on wood fires so that families can eat more traditional food. Dignity, grace, empowerment where it’s possible. All of this is at EKO station camp.
A city of tents within the larger city
At the entrance of the refugee camp in Pireaus (the port of Athens)
Connecting with the children at EKO Station refugee camp
May 14: Today we are returning to EKO to treat volunteers and refugees. Our goal is to establish opportunities for volunteer practitioners to come to the more “permanent” camps in Greece over the next months to provide trauma healing treatments. We are deeply grateful to the Mayway Corporation, Institute for Clinical Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, Five Branches and numerous individual donors for making this work possible. People here feel forgotten. They told us this again and again. AWB is showing up to change this message, along with NGOs like Lighthouse and SAMS. Please show up with us-we can’t do it without you!
May 15: We returned to the EKO Station refugee camp this afternoon and greeted new friends, including Nour, a 12 year-old budding magician, and his older brother Shahein, who agreed to be translators for today’s ear seed clinic for children in the camp. The life history and resilience of these brothers is deeply humbling and hard to comprehend. Here is a bit about their lives…
“Growing up in a village outside Aleppo, Syria, Nour lived with his two-year older brother Shahein, their big sister Lilaf and their parents, Hivin and Hakan. All three children attended the same school. Every day, the children would look forward to breaks where they would play football and share lunch with their friends. When the war began, their school was one of the first that was destroyed. Their parents decided to take the three children home and only leave the house when absolutely necessary. Hakan would walk out once a week to purchase food and other basic necessities for the family.
One year after Nour’s school was bombed, their father did not return home from his walk to the store. Hivin and the children waited for information about Hakan for over a month. One day, the body of their father appeared in their village. ISIS decided to make an example out of him and hanged his body as a warning to men who refused to fight for them. For two years, Nour and his family did not have the money to leave Syria. When their chance finally arrived, they escaped from Syria and walked through the mountains in to Turkey. From Turkey they paid to be smuggled to Greece on an overcrowded fishing boat. They landed just as the Greek – Macedonia border was closed. The family has been camping in EKO ever since. It has been two months.” – An excerpt from “For Nour” which can be found at https://www.facebook.com/For-Nour-598058317035419/.
In the early evening we invited children, some who came with their mothers, into the children’s’ activity tent run by an amazing group of volunteers who serve in the EKO Project. We used ear seeds and beads as many of the children colored in beautiful books donated by children in the United States. It was not a calm. It was chaotic and challenging, and yet, in the midst of restlessness and tension there was a shift for some of the children we treated. This is why we are here.
“When I think of the service work that we do I realize how intimate it is. As I treated the children and their mothers seated on the floor of the tent with a platform floor, I felt energetically intertwined…so aware of the physicality of our treatments…treating the mothers with curious children pulling on my arms and knees to be able to see what I am doing. So much mutual love.
Nour,Shahein, and all the other people in the EKO camp are foreigners here in Greece-just like me. In theory they can leave this place, but they are not free. I can drive away, use my passport and fly back to my home. They have no status here – no connections, family outside the camp, options to get a job or make a choice of where to live…they are essentially in prison. And yet we are similar in almost every other way.”Amy Schroeder
While the situation may seem overwhelming, we can absolutely do something to make it less so. AWB’s goal is to help bring more volunteer acupuncturists to EKO and other Greek refugee camps where 50,000 people are stranded. The level of trauma is very high.
As Nour says,” We need magic here.”
If you would like to be on a list of people who may be interested in volunteering in Greece as this effort moves forward, please email email@example.com.