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


Day 1 of volunteering at the 'We are One' Centre on Samos

Updated: Nov 18, 2019

Photo by Glocal Roots

It was a restless night and I was woken repeatedly by dogs barking, and doors banging in a strong wind. When I got to the We Are One centre I was told that after nights of bad wind or rain there is always slow attendance for the first part of the morning because families in the ‘Jungle’ have to take time to repair and reset the tents or other shelters they are living under.

But the day certainly seemed full. Here’s a taste of some of what I’ve done as one of the team of 17 refugee and non-refugee volunteers currently making the We Are One centre function:

*first thing in the morning, helped to sweep the outside space and set out café-style furniture for the 159 women who then came during the day to the drop-in centre for food, classes, company or other support

*registered with the Greek authorities as a volunteer

*helped to mop the yoga studio and children’s noses

*learned to count to 5 in Farsi

*learned how to make lice shampoo from salt, glycerine, lavender oil and vinegar

*joined in a yoga class for refugee women (more in another post about the tears and lactic acid that built up from that)

*read Brown Bear, Brown Bear more than once (Brown Bear, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, Brown Bear) to the under-3s whose mums came to the centre.

*smiled a lot. Sometimes because there were great things to smile at - a group of women refreshed and energised at the end of a yoga class, a child with his nose buried in an orange segment, a woman who came to tell us that her daughter-in-law had had a safe and successful birth. But sometimes despite there not being things to smile at, but because We Are One are really big on smiles. In the WhatsApp video call I had with their founders which formed my interview for this work, they seemed scarcely to want to know the reasons I gave for why I wanted to volunteer with them. 'We like to do this by video,' they said, 'because we need to see people's smiles. Yours is a good one and we hope you'll come to Samos.' And since my arrival I've been reminded by the We Are One team that the refugees here may not often have people smiling at them, and that this is one thing we can all easily give.


Thanks so much for all the smileys as well as kind wishes and other forms of support sent by people reading the blog and my social media posts. Now, time for bed… Tomorrow I hope to be able to introduce you to one of the refugee volunteers at the centre who shared her story with me. In the meantime, I hope for her - and for all of us - a quiet night.

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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