Chios in times of COVID-19

Living on Chios we are constantly confronted by two parallel universes, though they share one distinct reality. There is the one we see in front of our eyes as we walk the streets - the transparent plastic screens now separating customers from cashiers, queues where people take pains to ensure they are at least 2 metres from the next, hand sanitiser on every corner and face masks littering the pavements. The second, less visible reality we now only see from afar through photos and accounts from our participants, our community volunteers and other actors.

What does social distancing look like when you have to queue for hours to receive a meal? How can you encourage your children to wash their hands when there is no running water? Gloves, masks, hand sanitiser, never mind soap, are expensive luxuries and impossible to procure when movement from the fields is prohibited and punishable.

Thankfully Chios has escaped the brunt of COVID-19 with only one reported case on the island. Had the virus made its way into the camp, the losses would have been severe.

This does not mean that the residents of Vial camp have not felt the effects of the measurements. Two weeks ago, the mounting pressure of containment and lack of access to services meeting the most basic human needs led to protests, resulting in huge fires, leaving 400 people without shelter and possessions.

Under the current COVID-19 measures, our team of willing volunteers feels powerless to be able to assist in relieving the situation. Instead of providing safe spaces, education and psychosocial support we have had to re-focus our energies.

In preparation for the month of Ramadan, our volunteer team supported Refugee Biryani and Bananas in the packing of more than a ton of dates and arranged their distribution inside the camp.

Our teachers continue to create accessible and creative self-learning worksheets for the 15 to 18-year-old students of our shared High School education programme at Vial. The worksheets are distributed on a weekly basis and are returned for teachers to mark and comment. The same and further resources are also live on our online learning platform, which students can access by following a link we send them weekly. Though contact is limited, we have managed to maintain communication with many of the students, reminding them that although we cannot come to teach, we still prioritise their wellbeing and are beyond excited for the day we can re-launch the High School.

The team have also invested their expertise and time into creating content for our next fundraising campaign. The campaign aims to provide the funding necessary to enable Action for Education to house our volunteers from the refugee community. Our volunteers bring such energy, expertise, creativity and dedication to our programmes – they are an invaluable asset, without which our programmes would be very different. We want our centres to be as inclusive and community-run as possible, but to achieve this, we recognize how essential it is that those who are volunteering have a safe, warm and welcoming place to live.

Though the pace has slowed, the work has changed and the world also, we still remain here, still supporting and still smiling.

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