#ToTheFuture: Zilzal, zelzale, seismos, earthquake, fires... what has this meant for NGOs on Samos?

On Friday 30th October, just before 2 pm, Daniele and I were preparing for a post-lockdown reopening meeting. The agenda was set and we were waiting for our team of volunteers to arrive. I was standing near the window and he was next to the radiator, we were talking over the small details of reopening and placing bets as to when all the volunteers would actually arrive.

I was mid-sentence when the table in front of me started shaking side-to-side. I looked around and saw that the walls were doing the same. Daniele and I took one look at each other and without speaking, ran for the exit.

The rest of the afternoon was a bit of a blur, but it featured a mini-tsunami and some rapid decision-making about the adequacy of our volunteer houses. Alternative arrangements were sought for many, including a group who camped in a football pitch with the Greek army.

It became pretty clear that we would not be reopening on Monday as intended. It also became clear that things in Samos would not return to normal for quite some time. It did make us ask important questions about how we, not just as NGO workers or volunteers, but as people, could support anyone who needed it in Vathy and across Samos. The following days were spent visiting what remained of many seafront restaurants and shops to see if they needed spare hands, checking in with other organisations to share accommodation ideas and space where possible. Soon groups were set up to aid with food distributions across the island. We are lucky on Samos that our network of grassroots NGOs is already strong, but it certainly strengthened it, just in time for another catastrophe.

On 2nd November, another fire broke out in the camp. The smoke and smell spread across the town and the impact on many Banana House students was immense. Over 300 tents were burnt.

Sadly fires are nothing new in the camp here, so there was no panic or evacuation, but there was an immediate need to support our students. The next few days were spent contacting everyone to see who needed emergency support and working with Drop in the Ocean who supplied incredible emergency packs for those who had lost everything, including clothes, shoes and jackets. Banana House became a mini-distribution centre and though at times things seemed a little hectic, we realised how nice it was to at least see our students again and check if they were ok, given that our centre had been shut since mid-September.

If there is one positive thing that can be said about the aftermath of both these catastrophes, it’s the collaborations that came out of them. Banana House volunteers have since run a lockdown distribution featuring some incredible food packs from Just Action. With winter finally hitting Samos, we were also one of eight organisations helping to prepare and run Drop in the Ocean and Refugee4Refugee’s Winter Distribution for over 3000 residents. Before the earthquake and fire, but after the lockdown, we had already collaborated with ARSIS to reach 10 families living in remote housing, something we continue to do three times a week.

What has the last quarter of 2020 meant for NGOs? Resistance, resilience and collaboration. Perhaps this has only intensified what we already knew: though there are many things we cannot control, when we act together, we are stronger. We won’t give up. We can make a difference.

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