ELIZABETH ON SAMOS

volunteering with refugees at the We Are One women's centre

 
 
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Amal's story: it's not just about the food - it's about finding a place to eat it

Updated: Nov 18, 2019


'I first came to the We Are One centre when I was looking for somewhere to eat my shawarma!' Amal is an eighteen year-old refugee from Somalia and we are sitting talking at the women's centre on the Greek island of Samos where I am volunteering.


She calls it shawarma, but the Greeks would call it gyros. The Turkish equivalent is a doner kebab - the dish is common across all the former Ottoman empire. I'm thinking how this is proof that we are all connected, but Amal brings me back to reality.


'I bought my shawarma in a cafe and I wanted to sit down there and eat it, but the owner said "You can't eat your shawarma here. You're a refugee!" So I left the cafe and I was looking for somewhere I could sit down to eat it, and I found the We Are One centre'.


It's a good reminder of the layer upon layer of needs in the refugee population here. Not just food, but somewhere to eat it. Not just calories but human warmth.


And not just a centre, but people to staff it... Amal is now one of the team of refugees volunteering at the We Are One centre. She says 'The We Are One centre is my family. It’s a beautiful place. It’s clean, there’s fruit, and yoga, and the people who work here smile.'


Amal's English is good and she helps with translation at the centre as well as giving out food and looking after the babies of the women using services here. 'I like helping people,' she says simply.


She says she has a message for anyone interested in volunteering - 'As a volunteer you give respect to people. These women and children need help; they need your smile. Come, you’re welcome.’


One could only wish that the shawarma seller of Samos shared her attitude.



Elizabeth Gowing is a storyteller for those making positive change in the world. A writer and presenter who shares her stories on BBC Radio 4, she also offers training and consultancy. Use the contact form if you know stories that need to be told and want her help in telling them.

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