Wellbeing, health and education: hand-in-hand

The Pampers & Female Sanitary Products Support Group Supporting refugee education projects on Chios Island, Greece

When news organisations report on humanitarian crises, it is easy to be left with a sense of helplessness. Scenes of devastation and human suffering are so far removed from our day-to-day realities that it seems impossible to meaningfully contribute and make a difference.

In Greece, the sight of vastly overcrowded and unsanitary camps can provoke exactly this reaction. When thousands of asylum seekers live in improvised shelters, spread across poorly-equipped islands at the edges of Europe, how can individuals kilometres and countries away stand up and support?

At Action for Education, we witness the continuing humanitarian crisis on a daily basis. In our education centres across the Aegean Islands, we’ve spent years working with people on the move. Our students come from all over the world: Iraq, Somalia, Syria, Palestine, Congo and Eritrea to name a few. But here in Greece, they are all subject to the same challenges.

Alongside a gruelling asylum process, these asylum seekers must fight to access even the most basic human rights. Showers, toilets, clean clothes and nutritious food are in short supply. For many, finding a decent lawyer, accessing quality education or reaching a compassionate doctor is a dream come true.

Yet in the midst of this crisis, there are solidarity actions that stand out. Actions that offer support where otherwise there is none. Actions that make a real difference. The regular distribution of sanitary pads and pampers on the island of Chios is one such action. Hygiene packs, given out to female students and young mothers, make a real, tangible difference for many women living in one of Greece’s worst camps.

Whilst this distribution might seem far-flung, taking place out of sight and mind, it is instigated and made possible by a group of people far, far away. The Pampers Project, led by Catarina Caldeira da Silva, is a group of committed supporters whose continuous efforts set in motion a chain of events that greatly impacts the daily lives of asylum seekers far away. In 2019, Ana Caldeira recognised a need for hygiene items for women in the camp whilst volunteering with us at Action for Education. She communicated this need to her family and friends, and as word spread, so did the support for the project.

Since 2019, this group of friends and colleagues have not just made a one-off contribution, they have identified, defined and sustained a project that makes a continuing difference. This is the most powerful kind of community support. Individual citizens, coming together and taking on responsibility for the provision of such basic items allows non-profits to best carry out their operations.

“The Pampers Project has made a consistent difference to the lives of many asylum seekers here on Chios. So much support is given one-off. But this group recognises that ongoing, monthly support is the only way to truly make change happen,” says Jacob Warn, Director of Action for Education. “If more groups were to gather around different basic needs in such a way, we could cover many more gaps. But as an organisation, we’re often strapped for cash and whilst we’re able to trial new initiatives, we often don’t have the ongoing financial commitment to sustain them. Because of this, we often can’t even start. Starting and then stopping initiatives on a whim is disrespectful to the community we’re here to serve. It builds false expectations and can do more harm than good. We’re hugely grateful to everyone in the Pampers Group for their steadfast, loyal and highly ethical approach to aid-giving.”

Bruno, a key member of the Pampers Group has been donating regularly since 2019 says, “I wish projects like this would not have a place in our world, but unfortunately they do. I am thankful for its existence since it not only provides invaluable assistance to our fellow human beings, but it is also a reminder of who we can be. It is a wake-up call for change.” Delia, another major donor to the group, has this call to action: “Every modest contribution counts as most of the basic things that we take for granted are luxury products for some. Change starts with every single donation and with the hearts of those who volunteer to be every day by the side of those in needs. Let’s help them with everything we can!”

The contribution of the Pampers Group has and continues to assist many female asylum seekers on Chios each and every month. As we enter 2021, we must renew that commitment and commit to growing this and similar initiatives of community action, that meets provides basic support where it’s needed most. As Massimo, another member of the Pampers Group, puts it, “My donation is a drop in the ocean, but by supporting small initiatives like this one, I know the money is going straight to those who need it most.”

Find out more: www.actionforeducation.org

Email: catarina.caldeiradasilva@gmail.com

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