Volunteer refugees on Chios island make a difference for their communities

The “Hygiene Team” participates with other asylum seekers in a cleaning exercise in an area inside the reception center of Chios, with the support of UNHCR and the RIS. © UNHCR/Afroditi Stavraki

Fabrige from Congo pushes a cart filled with bags and empties them inside the garbage bins. Lana from Syria reminds a woman, victim of domestic violence, her rights and advises her to ask for help from competent actors.

Amal from Somalia gives instructions to people waiting in line for the relevant service, managing the queue and urging them to keep necessary distances from one another in front of the Info Point, where people can request information about services at the Registration and Identification Center (RIC) on Chios island. Faiz from Afghanistan places information posters about the coronavirus at various places at the RIC. Bernadette from Cameroon briefs people from the refugee community about the proper use and maintenance of sanitation facilities.

These are all people who make a difference, people who together with another 76 asylum-seekers participate in five thematic volunteer groups, with support from UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the Reception and Identification Service at VIAL RIC on Chios island. These groups address women rights issues, health and personal hygiene issues, water and sanitation (WASH), and information provision (Info Point). Volunteers come from 13 different countries: Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Palestine, Iraq, Congo, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, Gambia, Guinea, Burkina Faso, and Haiti.

Despite the difficulties and problems they face in their daily life while they are waiting for a decision on their asylum claims, these people are trying to help and contribute to finding solutions both for themselves and others.

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“Women's Volunteer Committee” in a commemorative photo after the completion of a training by UNHCR. © UNHCR/Afroditi Stavraki

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Discussion with women in the reception center of Chios on women's rights facilitated by UNHCR and EODY (Hellenic National Public Health Organization) on the occasion of International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. © UNHCR/Afroditi Stavraki

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Discussion with women in the reception center of Chios on women's rights facilitated by UNHCR and EODY (Hellenic National Public Health Organization) on the occasion of International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. © UNHCR/Afroditi Stavraki

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The “Hygiene Team” participates with other asylum seekers in a cleaning exercise in an area inside the reception center of Chios, with the support of UNHCR and the RIS. © UNHCR/Afroditi Stavraki

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“Health Volunteers” put up posters in Chios RIC in order to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. © UNHCR/Afroditi Stavraki

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Info Point Volunteers supporting queue management at "Info Point" in the reception centre of Chios. © UNHCR/Afroditi Stavraki

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Info Point Volunteers supporting queue management at "Info Point" in the reception centre of Chios. © UNHCR/Afroditi Stavraki

“I used to wish to become a politician, in order to help people. Now I am here at VIAL and I am trying to contribute through this group. Anyone can prove to be useful to the society and make a difference, as long as one wants to and believes in one’s self,” says Faiz from Afghanistan. He studied pharmacy back home and now is actively engaged in the “Health Group,” which was born out of the need for residents of VIAL to be updated on health issues due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For these people, daily struggles can become an obstacle to securing their safety but can also be a motive to participate in the community life and its awakening, through their mobilization about issues that concern the whole community. “I participate in this group to remind all of us that we are human beings. No matter how much we have suffered in our life, we should seek help and never give up. None of us should remain silent about anything that involves our rights,” stressed Lana from the “Women’s Group”, aiming at the empowerment and expression of women at VIAL.

Wearing their vests with a Volunteer’s sign, the members of each group are now recognizable and trustworthy figures that make a difference, promoting in practice the right to live in dignified conditions. Ottang, who participates in parallel in two volunteer groups, reminds us: “Volunteering to support a fellow human being brings balance and makes all the difference in a society where everyone needs each other.