Emergency Smile mission to refugee camps in the Greek islands of Lesbos and Samos

18.June 2019

Emergency Smile mission to refugee camps in the Greek islands of Lesbos and Samos

Around 950 beneficiaries were reached last month during our three weeks mission to the Greek islands of Lesbos and Samos.  Our international team from Austria, Germany, Hungary and Slovenia worked in cooperation with the organisations Light Without Borders, Refugees 4 Refugees, Circus group and Still I Rise to bring psychosocial support to the refugees living in these islands.

In both isles, Lesbos and Samos, the refugee camps are overcrowded, with poor basic sanitation and insecurity. Some of the refugees prefer to be hungry for days than stay in line under the sun for hours just to get a small ration of food. Outside the camp walls, some improvised extensions, have even worse living conditions. The floor is so filthy that smaller children have to be carried around constantly by their parents, preventing them to develop their motor functions properly. The list of challenges they face every day goes on.

This dire situation is what motivates us to keep going back. Our activities offer the children much needed stimulus; the kids are encouraged to learn and develop new skills. This also gives them something to look forward to and allows them to exercise their play predispositions, thus distracting them from the situation that they are in.

Our healthcare clowns create an enabling and supportive environment that encourages and promotes the children’s active participation. By turning the performances into restorative experiences, and not merely recreational moments, we seek to attenuate the tension and vulnerability to which these children are exposed, giving them vital psychosocial support. Our task is to create this enabling, participatory and creative environment that reduces children’s stress levels and challenges them to find tools to cope with their complicated situation through interactive play.

Shows and Parades

During our mission to Lesbos and Samos, we had several clown shows and parades. We succeeded to conduct two parades inside the Moria camp, thanks to our cooperation with the organisation Light Without Borders, including one in the protected “safe zone” of the camp for unaccompanied minors.

The most inspiring thing about these parades is that the whole atmosphere in the camp changes as soon as the clowns start going around filling the air with songs and laughter. The parades are also the best way to invite all the children to join the clowns’ show and the Circus Smile workshops.

Our parades also work to connect hundreds of refugees, people from different nationalities who almost never mix, to come together as one in a unique moment of pure humanity.

As the camps, and improvised extensions around them, have no child-friendly spaces, our activities come to fill a great void in the life of these children whom always seem eager to participate. At the very least, our activities make people go out of their containers, where some of them spend their days without seeing daylight. “During the parades, we had many adults and parents coming to thank us for our work. This must mean we are doing something right.” said Marko Kalc, one of the healthcare clowns of this mission.

Aiming for sustainability: Workshops for humanitarian aid organisations and local staff members

Year after year, humanitarian organisations provide lifesaving services in critical areas. The healthcare and humanitarian staff work uninterruptedly under lots of stress and tension, quickly leading to burnout syndrome and depression. Thus, Red Noses shares humour expertise with fellow humanitarian aid colleagues to help them cope with the difficult environment they have to deal with every day and to integrate playfulness and humour into daily work routines.

In this occasion, we succeeded to conduct humour workshop for the Moria camp staff, humanitarian workers from Refugees 4 Refugees and volunteers from the organisation Still I Rise and Circus group.   The workshops were a major accomplishment because we manage to bring together volunteers and aid workers from different organisations, creating a space for cooperation.

By training both, local humanitarian workers, as well as staff members of the camp management, our missions have a multiplier effect, and benefit the main target group on a more sustainable basis.

Besides all the challenges we encountered throughout the three weeks we were in Lesbos and Samos, the mission was a total success. We managed to bring psychosocial support to hundreds of people, and ended up doing so much more than we ever expected.

*These Emergency Smile missions to Lesbos and Samos took place thanks to the support of Alta Mane foundation.