17 Jan

Delivering aid to the people freezing in the Balkans

From Martin currently delivering aid to refugees in Serbia.

I really feel the need to tell all the Re-Act supporters just what a huge difference you have all made to those refugees stranded all across Europe. Re-Act have financially supported so many of my trips to deliver aid and in most cases have quite literally DOUBLED the amount of help I have been able to provide to those who are most in need.

I am no stranger to the Balkans and previously I have managed to operate with some considerable success. This trip is entirely different though. Serbia is a very difficult place in which to operate as an aid volunteer. In fact, it’s the one place where being ‘independent’ is so much more effective than being tied into an NGO or large aid group and being expected to play ‘within the rules’.

The Serb authorities, like most other European governments, want every refugee in an official reception centre or camp. The problem with this is that the Serbs have a very bad track record of illegally deporting them and because of this many refugees would rather take their chances on the streets – even in the bitterly cold Balkan winter weather.

A week ago the weather in Serbia was terrible. Huge snowfall and a temperature of -20 degrees made surviving on the streets incredibly hard for the refugees stuck there. I won’t mince my words – temperatures like this for people living in such poor conditions is a very real threat to life.

I came home from work after thinking about nothing but the refugee situation in Serbia all day and, within 20 minutes had decided I was going down there again, I had recruited a pal into coming down there with me – and then I told him that we couldn’t do it without his Landrover!

After starting a very panicked fundraiser to purchase food stuffs for distribution while I was down there, Re-Act stepped up to the plate yet again! With the donation from Re-Act I was able to purchase even more ex-military arctic grade sleeping bags and a large quantity of thermal hats, scarves and gloves. I had seen photos in the media of refugees queuing for a daily hot meal in some areas of Belgrade wrapped in just a blanket – these sleeping bags are of the type used by Royal Marines in Norway on their winter deployments – these are a seriously good piece of kit and probably the one single thing, in the case of a lack of fire for warmth, that could stop someone from dying in their sleep (if, of course, they were able to sleep in those temperatures!).

So, with the items we already had to take with us, the additional stuff purchased thanks to the Re-Act donation and the generosity of your supporters, – and donations I had received to buy food for distribution when we got here, we set off on a 1,300 mile drive which would see us travel through 7 countries and be intimidated by some very large trucks driven by some very aggressive Romanian drivers as we travelled through the tunnels of the Alps!

Now we’re here. We met up again with a very nice family who assisted us on one of our previous trips. They have been tirelessly doing what they can for refugees since the ‘Balkan route’ first became a bottleneck and with very limited funds and resources at their disposal.

We are in the North of the country – trying to ‘work’ an area between Šid and Subotica. We decided against Belgrade due to the fact that there is already aid being given there – albeit severely limited. There is also help being given in Subotica but it is patchy.

Our ‘host’ family took us to an abandoned school building where there are a group of about 40 refugees. Mostly teenagers/young men but including 6 women and 3 children under 11. The youngest of these is 7.

They have nothing but the ragged clothes they are wearing, a couple of UNHCR type blankets each and a few bits & bobs.

We gave out most of our sleeping bags to them and ensured that they each have a thermal hat and gloves. The blankets they had were as good as useless and the only benefit they were giving, if any, was one of psychological value with the idea that if they were wrapped up in them then they could ‘think’ that they were warmer. The school has been stripped of anything even remotely useful and anything that could burn has already been used on their makeshift fires which, crazily, they had lit in the centre of the room that most of them are occupying.

We’ve done a fair bit in the short time we have been here. We have helped to tidy the place up a bit, we’ve managed to lay our hands on some pallets which are being broken up and used as fire fuel, and we’ve managed to fashion some stoves/heaters using old car wheels.

We initially provided food parcels containing tinned fish, loaves of bread, fresh fruit, vegetables, fruit juice and water – but now we have the fires/stoves sorted out we knew we had to ensure a way for the refugees to cook not only their own meals but the meals that they actually like!

So, late this afternoon I put out a shout on facebook for a little bit more help. We want to buy some pots/pans to be used on the new fires/stoves. On the open fires that they have been using they have been trying to boil water in old tin cans – many of which originally held chemicals of one description or another and pose unbelievable risks to their health – not to mention the burns that they have inflicted upon themselves by trying to pick up a very thin tin full of scolding water with fingers they can barely feel and that are very close to getting frost-bitten!

Re-Act responded to that shout out for help almost within minutes! We are now in a position to ‘go shopping’ tomorrow for large saucepans and cooking pots which will drastically change the quality of life for these people. We are also planning to purchase some hot water bottles if we can find some.

Typically, the weather has got marginally better down here since I decided to drop everything, annoy my boss, upset my wife and disappoint my kids (joking! – about the wife and kids anyway!) with news of my last minute trip. But the temperatures are still very low. Overnight this week it is hitting about -5 degrees and it is forecast to go down to -8 toward the end of the week. -8 degrees is bloody cold by our standards (although maybe not to you Scots!) so I know for a fact that these sleeping bags are going to be the difference between life and death as the Balkan winter progresses. With the provision of decent cooking pots with bottoms thick enough to withstand the extreme heat of these stoves, and hot water bottles to tuck inside their new ‘Gucci’ sleeping bags – I am certain we are providing a better chance of survival than any other form of aid which they are likely to be given this winter.

This is all down to Re-Act and the generosity of your supporters. No matter what they do, how small their donation, no matter how insignificant they think what they are doing is in the big picture of things, it’s important that they know that it’s because of them that I am down here doing what I am doing right now. The refugees receiving these life saving gifts are incredibly grateful, but at this point they only know that some people, somewhere in the UK (I will try to explain about that funny place at the top called ‘Scotland’! ) cares enough about them to try and make a difference! That in itself is amazing!

I will provide more of an update, hopefully with the use of a PC, an edit button and a spell checker upon my return. In the meantime I want to thank you all so much. Thank you for your ongoing support, thank you for your love, your messages of support and most of all, for allowing me to be here doing this on your behalf!

Photos ©AFP/CNN
20 Oct

Collecting Clothes: An Exponential Equation. How one family collected enough donations to fill a truck

Collecting Clothes: An Exponential Equation.
How one family collected enough donations to fill a truck.

This is the story behind our first run with our new truck, please share around and please donate to help pay for the truck and keep it on the roads!
https://chuffed.org/project/re-act-truck-fund

img_3970“At first Mum worried we wouldn’t get anything so she went around to secondhand shops,” Fiona Hamilton said, then laughed. She and her two sisters, Katrina and Jennifer Murphy, her brother Hugh and husband Craig were standing amidst vast piles of 347 boxes they’d just delivered to Re-Act’s premises at Studio24 in Edinburgh. Boxes that seemed to take up the entire dance floor of the club where Kurt Cobain once played.

“We had 4,000 nappies, 1,000 towels, 1,500 bars of soap, 20 strollers,” Katrina marvelled.

It all started when Katrina, a word-working teacher at a special needs school in Dublin, decided to spend a month working with refugees on the Greek island of Samos this summer. As soon as she arrived, Katrina was thrown into games with children. She was put to work helping with Samos Volunteers’ main task – the distribution of clothes and hygiene items to about 1,000 people. Her wood working skills did not go unnoticed as she was soon building things such as swing sets and blackboards.

img_3974Meanwhile, she kept calling her family in Glasgow, who informally raised money for various smaller items needed in the camp. Tennis balls, plastic stools, towels, baby wipes. She took note that at their warehouse, Samos Volunteers was running short of particularly crucial items like mens’ small and medium sized clothing and shoes, joggers with stretchy waists, bras, hijabs. In Samos, she met fellow Scott Janet McCall, who told her that if the family collected clothing, Re-Act could help deliver the donations to Greece.

It was at this point that Katrina’s younger sister, Fiona, and her mother Grace Murphy went to work, organizing what they thought would be a simple church-based appeal. Fiona spoke with the Parish priest at St. Joseph’s in Clarkston. Grace approached Father Peter at Christ the King’s in King’s Park, which is the family parish. They also contacted the Church of Scotland in Greenbank, and the Andalus Islamic Center in the West End.

Soon they had so many donations, they could hardly get into their houses. “Our front room was filled with boxes. We started to fill the second bathroom, then the third bedroom,” Fiona said.

“We were renovating,” Craig added. “We just put that on hold for a while.” Katrina showed photos of her two small nephews climbing in and out of boxes. Her mother’s house was also filling.

img_3983Donations included 100 tennis balls from Newlands Tennis Club, ten footballs from the Glasgow Club, boxes of Arabic and educational books and hijabs from the Andalus Islamic Center, clothes from the Church of Scotland and the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund. A 94 year old Italian woman donated beautiful full length silk dresses and invited Fiona and her family to dinner.

“But it was when people called to say they were collecting from people at work that we realised how big it was going to be,” she said.

Sorting, boxing and labelling took up almost every evening of September, even with husbands, cousins, aunts, uncles and neighbours joining in. Katrina has flown in from her work in Dublin every weekend to help.

When it was all done, the family had collected and packed 347 boxes and 26 black bags of donations, 19 baby strollers and a travel cot.

Re-Act’s fundraiser to pay for the truck and keep it on the road:
https://chuffed.org/project/re-act-truck-fund

Samos Volunteers’ website:
https://samosvolunteers.wordpress.com/

 

8 Oct

Evening News Story on our Truck Fundraiser

truck

The Edinburgh Evening News has written about our Truck Fundraiser.

Fundraising website is here:
https://chuffed.org/project/re-act-truck-fund

 

A GRASSROOTS charity set up in the wake of the refugee crisis a year ago has launched a drive to raise £25,000 to fund a truck to send donations of clothes and goods to camps in Europe. Edinburgh-based Re-Act, which was launched by a group of friends following the news of people from war-torn countries including Syria and Iraq landing on beaches in Greek islands after risking their lives in the Aegean Sea, has so far shipped 600 tonnes of clothing to people living in refugee camps in mainland Europe. Now the organisation needs to buy a truck to cut back on the high costs of transporting the goods in a shipping container. A volunteer who recently spent time helping refugees on the beaches in Greece has paid for the truck up front, but the organisation needs to repay the cost. The group, which collects donations from the public at its base at Studio 24 – the Calton Road nightclub run by Re-Act’s co-founder Gill McArthur – says the truck will allow them to reach crisis-hit areas in three or four days and will cost around one-sixth of the price of a container delivery. Currently, shipping containers cost around £5000 per shipment and can take up to six weeks to arrive at their destination. Ms McArthur, who has travelled to Europe to help refugees on a number of occasions, said: “We have been delivering aid, paying other transport companies for a year and costs are huge. We started this after seeing pleas for help and a need for certain things, so we collect the aid as soon as we can, but sometimes delivery can take over two months. “This way, if an area is in crisis, if we have aid we can leave immediately and not wait until we have enough to fill a container. Also, having a truck helps deliver larger items like furniture to families arriving here in Scotland at very little cost.” She added: “This crisis isn’t getting smaller or better anytime soon and as we are in a position to help and keep collecting – now we can ensure we carry on and do more.” An estimated 11 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of the civil war in March 2011, while people in other countries including Iraq and Afghanistan are also trying to escape persecution in their home countries.

Read more at:
http://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/capital-charity-launches-25k-appeal-for-syria-aid-truck-1-4252627

13 Sep

Donation Day Kirkcaldy 11th of September

The Kirkcaldy Donation Day organised by Sylvia Brown of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was a huge success. We received very much needed baby food, toiletries, baby wipes, nappies etc. Burntisland Primary School brought in an amazing amount of donations from their collection day. Babyland donated brand new buggies, they were shop demo’s. Liz and Dave came over and managed to get most of the goods in their van, the rest we will take over later in the week.
Some of our colleagues from Refuge Fife came to help with sorting and packing.
All in all, a great day.

14258273_187265848363167_2948422939300494677_o 14361279_187266308363121_8502969247946026057_o 14310337_187265171696568_7953309897383643620_o 14352073_187265271696558_7036025279348744694_o

20 Mar

Delivery to Calais 12th of March 2016

Aims for trip

To take 2 van loads of tents, sleeping bags and bedding, blankets and men’s footwear down to the L’Auberge Des Migrants warehouse in Calais. We also had caravans to tow for Jungle Canopy, one from Carlisle to Calais, one from Leeds to Stansted. We also had some time to help out and volunteer down there too.

12874562_10154075058807990_1118467541_o

Logistics:

Van packed on Thursday 10/03 after work at Re-Act’s Edinburgh warehouse. Left house after work at 18:15 on Friday 11/03. Picked up a caravan that was donated to Jungle Canopy at Leeds from Rasheem at 10:50. Rasheem’s uncle had donated the caravan and I was soon dragging it south to motorway services near Stansted airport for Tony of Jungle Canopy to collect and get it prepped for a family and take over to Calais this Wednesday. I dropped the caravan off at 02:50 and continued my trek South. I made good time and had a chance for a power nap at Folkestone services for an hour at 05:00am. Arrived at Dover 06:30, left port at 07:40. Drove off the ferry at 10:00, arrived at the warehouse at 10:30 as planned.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I got unloaded without and delay and spoke to Dan who runs the warehouse about Re-Act possibly being able to relocate some of L’Auberges unwanted donations to other locations. There are far too many women’s and kids things and also a lot of larger sized mens clothes that just aren’t needed in Calais as most of the refugees here are Small & Medium sized and the majority of refugees in northern France are male.

I then met up with Stuart, who had unloaded his vanload of aid from Re-Act earlier on and was about to head into the Jungle with a caravan to meet with the Jungle Canopy team, Tony, Jo, Shelley, and an Iranian refugee called Behrooz who helps them out in the Jungle with interpreting, caravan moving, awning and tent erecting and aid distribution. We took the caravan through the South entrance into the Jungle with no problems (sometimes the police get upset when you are towing a caravan in) and were immediately confronted with the awful sight of an almost completely demolished south area of the camp. On my previous visit this was a densely populated area with tents and build shelters but now it was just a winding track with nothing at each side except the occasional lone standing community space like Baloos centre (a kids activity and support centre), Further up was worse, there were still smouldering remains of tents and shelters, with people trying to pick out any useful items and belongings among the carnage. It was very sad to see.

We met the Jungle Canopy team and took the caravan to it’s new home where a family would soon be moving into. So satisfying. Stuart then went off to other parts of the Jungle to assist people he’d met on previous visits and myself and the Jungle Canopy team spent the afternoon distributing aid to other families in caravans and moving a few caravans around to better, safer locations because of the current demolitions.

We got invited into a couple of the families caravans for tea after helping them and I had my first 2 cups of tea in my life at 37! I’ve never drank hot drinks but to decline would have been an insult. Jungle tea was actually not too bad though I’m in no hurry to become a tea drinker just yet! Another quick caravan move and then it was time to head away, the Jungle Canopy team had a ferry to catch and I was badly in need of some sleep after being awake for over 36 hours except for my 1 hour nap before the ferry. I headed for some food and went to my accommodation for the night.

Next morning I was up and raring to go again. I went to the L’Auberge Des Migrants warehouse in time for their daily meet up at 9am, jobs for the day were allocated for the day. I offered my average building skills and was teamed up with some guys over for the weekend from London and a lovely lady from L’Auberge (I forget her name, sorry!) who had been in Calais for several months building things. We went to the new camp at Dunkirk, authorised by the Mayor there who is defiantly helping the refugees despite the government. The new camp has only been open for a few weeks now but is coming along well, there’s hard ground and almost all accommodation is built structures like sheds, with metal sheet roofing. A vast improvement to tents and makeshift shelters made with tarpaulins and pallets. Toilets and washrooms are in containers and there are communal places to shelter and charge phones. The community kitchens are currently being built so food is cooked out of vans for now but it is in good supply and the people there are in a much better place than the old Dunkirk camp at Grande Synthe. Hopefully this new camp will be allowed to remain in place.

I spent the day with a man called Luca from London, we helped finish off the building of a community dining tent, using pallets as a sub floor, levelling them with scrap wood shims and screwing wood sheets on top. Tables and benches were then screwed down to the floor (they quickly go missing if not screwed!). Once that was done Luca had to go catch a boat and I helped out with some partitioning around a toilet container to give some privacy around the doors. It was now getting late so we headed back to the warehouse and I spoke more to Dan about moving the unwanted donations elsewhere. I put him on the phone to Liz from Re-Act and now plans are in motion to get a container full of clothing of gender, age and sizes not useful to Calais refugees, but useful in other countries caught up in the refugee crisis.

Morale in the camp was getting lower as there is the constant air of uncertainty about whether the Jungle will be allowed to exist at all or now. This week it was announced that the north part of the camp will be allowed to remain for now, but with 4,000 refugees in half of the space there was previously there is a lot of work to be done to get adequate shelter for everyone. Two days in Calais were just not enough for me, I’d happily have stayed all week or even longer but I had to be back for work on Tuesday. Volunteers are so needed over there to help in many ways, be it cooking, building, sorting donations, distributing aid and many other things that I probably don’t even know about yet!

1 Feb

ABERDEEN PUPILS HAILED AFTER LAUNCHING APPEAL FOR SYRIAN REFUGEES

An Aberdeen school has collected 75 boxes of wellies, shoes, clothes and food for refugees affected by the war in Syria.

Kittybrewster Primary School P6 teacher Samara McIntyre travelled to refugee camps in Calais and Dunkirk over Christmas and shared what she had seen with her pupils.

Samara told the Evening Express the muddy conditions meant thousands of people were in dire need of wellington boots and warm clothes.

Pupils in P6 and P5/6 decided they wanted to collect donations to ease the refugees’ suffering.

She said: “The children were really keen to help, so they drew up posters and the school wrote a letter to parents asking for donations. The older children have been explaining things to the little ones.

“Donations started coming in to the school office and the children were bringing in bags of clothes.”

Samara said the EE story had also inspired others to drop off donations at the school, including Queen’s Cross Church and the Hilton Treetops gym.

She said: “It has been terrific. We had little old ladies coming in with hand-knitted hats and scarves and things.

“We have had church groups and mosque groups helping out. This has really pulled the whole community together.”

Samara was also thrilled with a donation of 100 children’s wellington boots from a nursery.

She said: “A nursery contacted me and said they had collected all these wellies for a Vietnamese charity, but then found out they weren’t needed any more. So we have 100 pairs of children’s wellies too.

“We also have dried food like rice, pasta and tinned tomatoes and toiletries.”

Donations were stored in one of the classrooms and have been collected and driven down to the refugee charity ReAct’s warehouse in Edinburgh before being sent on.

 

The teacher said she had been overwhelmed by people’s generosity, which had been a great start to 2016.

She said: “January can be a bit blue when you come back to school because it’s so dark and cold, but this has been so heartening.

“Everyone at school had a real focus and a real drive and it has pulled everyone together.

“It’s quite inspiring because they have started writing to their MPs – they want to do more than just a collection.”

taken from Evening Express 1/2/16