"These volunteers are the happy faces on the beach when people are landing. They are the first thing people see of Europe - nobody can beat that."
Stijn Aelbers is Team Leader for the NGO Internews on Lesbos. 450,000 refugees landed on the island in 2015 , having crossed the Aegean Sea from Turkey. Volunteers from all over the world have stepped in to help. They do everything from rescuing refugees at sea, welcoming them on the shore, providing them with dry clothes and blankets, serving hot meals, providing medical care and psychosocial support, and helping them with the registration process. Some of them are here for a couple of weeks, often using their annual leave; others are a more permanent presence. Very few have experience of humanitarian work, or formal training.
"These volunteers are re-inventing humanitarian response," enthuses Stijn. "Rather than being frustrated, NGOs should try to help them: they have a lot to learn, and they need help to ensure they don’t make mistakes."
Building on a pilot course developed in late 2015, RedR began 2016 by running training sessions in London, Calais, Belgrade, and on Lesbos. We were able to support more than 100 volunteers who are providing vital assistance to refugees living in camps and improvised settlements across Europe. Over two days, we trained them in the essentials of humanitarian principles and practice, helping them to work safely, respectfully, and effectively.
"The flexibility of the humanitarian system is being tested by this crisis," agrees Siobhán McEvoy of newly-established NGO Better Days for Moria, created when volunteers established a camp to host refugees who couldn’t be accommodated in the official registration site at Moria.
"Grassroots organisations and newly-formed NGOs are much freer than big, well-established NGOs," says Siobhán. "They learn quickly and are humble enough to learn, adapt and bridge gaps. We want to keep improving. When it's busy here, nothing we can do is ever enough. Training like RedR’s can only help Better Days."
"Tomorrow it might be me. We all need someone to give us courage." - Tomy Nicolade, Cypriot Maritime Security Guard and volunteer on Lesbos’ beaches (pictured above). Find out more:
- See our Facebook album
- RedR Refugee Response Training: "I have learned to put an emphasis on needs and dignity"
- Better Days For Moria