Personal experience of our volunteer
I woke up at 5:30, had quick breakfast and some exercises to warm-up a bit. It is going to be a hard day, I think to myself. Didn’t sleep well, still thinking about today – what to expect? It is my first time going to the borders, volunteering with the refugees. We are going to Dobova, a border between Slovenia and Croatia.
At around 7 a colleague picks me and another intern up with her blue Renault Clio. Hour and a half later, we arrive at the place. So, here we are, I keep thinking, tiny little stone of fear in my stomach growing a bit bigger. I keep thinking to myself: don’t fear, fear is the worst enemy, it prevents you from clear thinking. I breathe deeply while we approach a guy in a yellow vest. There’s an infopoint, the guy is from Slovenska filantropia, an organization that takes care of refugee crisis, among others like Red Cross or Karitas. We have to register with him, go through some formalities. But the guy is really nice, speaks good english and seems to be supportive. There are four other people except us also registering, they are Italians and as I get to know later, they are a family. At least two of them are brothers, one is their father (in his fifties!) and the third guy is either a brother or a neighbour, not sure about that. They are making a trip from Italy to Turkey, just as refugees but the other way around. Writing a book and making a film about it, as I also get to know later during the day.
It’s cold outside, we are freezing. But that changes quite soon, it’s gonna be a hot day. After we register we come to the place, the camp itself. There’s a road full of police cars, further I see army cars and more are just arriving. They are so armed, it makes me scared a bit. I guess… safety first?
There are three big white tents at the site. They are for the refugees to rest while waiting, but empty now, the first people will be coming later. There are piles of blankets inside and the first task that we (altogether 6 volunteers in yellow vests) get is to sweep the floors of the tents. Second task is to pick up the trash from the whole area (it’s really not that big). I choose the second task, together with a guy who later shows to be the father of the boys. I get a better look at the area now. There are three other tents except the big white ones, one is for registration of refugees, full of computers and policemen. Another is a hospital and one is for red cross, there’s also where we keep our belongings and where we later eat during a break. Except the tents there is an info point for people who lost their family members, one for police and some others.
The first round of refugees comes at about 9:30 with a bus. First they have to pass along the soldiers, guarding the entrance of the camp. Immediately they pass the red cross where employers and volunteers from Red cross distribute food. Two pieces of bread, cheese, bread spread, tuna, apple, some biscuits and dried fruits, juice, milk and bottle of water for everyone. There are many families with children, have to say that men predominate but still the mass is quite diverse, there are even few rather old people.
After they are distributed the food they move quickly towards the registration. After the first groups of people have gone through all the bureaucracy, they come to one of the white tents that is closest to the red cross part and they can rest there for a while, eat something or just sleep a bit. Some of them seem really tired with their glass-like eyes, lying on the floor looking blankly at me.
In the meanwhile, our job is various, from taking the cardboard boxes to the trash, to helping with food distribution, refilling the supplies and finding clothes for the refugees. My personal engagement is quite small at first, I don’t get exact orders what to do, I have to watch and notice whatever is needed. When trying to talk to refugees, I am happy to find anyone who speaks english good enough to tell me if he or she needs anything and can tell me the size as regards the clothing they require. I wouldn’t imagine looking for shoes no. 32 for a little girl would be such a problem! But it takes me ages, and anyway, I couldn’t find any that would be satisfying enough for the girl or her parents. Anyway I find shoes for other people in the meantime, some jackets, jeans and baby clothes as well. It’s not surprising for me that the people are picky about what I bring them, but still, it is a bit annoying. So I try to pick up good quality stuff for them. We have plenty of clothes and shoes! Some of them really really nice and new, while with some of them I can imagine the previous owner being very happy of getting rid of them, probably thinking about a noble cause that they can now serve.
There’s also plenty of food and water, and the Red cross people are not reluctant to give. Among that there’s also a lot of hygienic supplies like soaps, napkins, diapers or ladies pads. Great, somehow I didn’t expect that.
After an hour or so, this group of maybe 200 people leaves. It wasn’t such a mass as I anticipated after hearing about the previous days, but later I am told that most of the people from the train that brought them to Dobova stayed to register at the station itself which was pretty horrid because of lack of space there. “It’s Beverly Hills here on the camp, compared to that station,” says Nikola, a guy who’s in charge of the volunteers. And it really is: calm, peaceful, fast and smooth. So far so good.
Other group comes in an hour or so, in the meantime we clean and prepare the food portions for everyone, take a break for ourselves, quick coffee or tea, apple, biscuits (later we even get a soup). Altogether it was only three groups (from about 9:30 to 15), the last the biggest, maybe 400 people. Must admit, was expecting a lot worse than this. The best experience at the end was a guy playing a violin. He was from Syria. Taking his violin all the way back from there, must be really fond of it.
To summarize, everything seemed to go pretty well today. Except some situations where police were shouting at people with no real reason, and all those situations when I felt completely useless, being there first time and not able to provide the people with any information…yes, apart from that the day was okay and I am sort of looking forward for the next time.