Summer Stories from Starfish
It’s time for another update from our team here on Lesvos!
At the time of writing this newsletter, change is- as always- in the air, both within Starfish and across the island. As the summer season draws to a close, a number of our long-term team members are finishing up their roles with us, heading off to further their studies and apply what they learnt on Lesvos to situations across the globe. In their place, we are grateful to have several new members join us who we will introduce you to in the months to come.
On Lesvos, the summer months have brought rising temperatures, new COVID rules and a change in the political landscape and population on the island as many asylum seekers and refugees continue to transfer to mainland Greece and beyond. The camp population (as of 17th August) was 3799.
Below we will update you on our projects, as well as providing a brief overview of the situation on Lesvos, but if you would like to know more about anything we mention- please feel free to message us.
Soaring temperatures across Greece
As many of you will have seen on the news, Greece has been experiencing one of the worst heat waves in over 30 years. Over the last month, soaring temperatures led to devastating wildfires across the country, and thousands of people were forced to evacuate their homes. Lesvos, thankfully, did not experience the wildfires that impacted many parts of the mainland and the island of Evia, but the high temperatures could still be felt across the island.
Iliaktida, an organisation on Lesvos that focuses on accommodating vulnerable people, began to coordinate items that could be sent over to the parts of Greece that were most heavily impacted by the fire. To add to their efforts, our team at Starfish compiled items to give to Iliaktida: including baby milk, baby bottles and over 30,000 protective masks.
Temperatures have now started to drop slightly, but for those living in the camp, in tents and with limited access to any kind of air conditioning or supplies to make the heat bearable, the situation can be felt much more harshly. When temperatures were at the highest, activities within the camp were paused due to the heat: causing additional boredom and frustration for many of the residents.
However, with activities now resumed, we have been busy with several of our ongoing and new projects- both in the camp, and at our community building in Mytilene, OpenSpace. Have a read below to find out more:
Children’s reading hours are underway
As an extension of our multilingual library project we recently started “reading hours” with children residing in the RIC Lesvos camp.
These storytelling sessions happen twice a week, and under the shade of our gazebo, children can switch off for a moment and listen to someone read tales and story books in their own language, or they can use the time to simply relax on the cushions provided.
In the first week, the sessions were held in Farsi and French, and some of the resident volunteers who work on our #SafeHands project kindly read aloud to everyone; Elnaz, a wonderful volunteer read “The Man and the Fox” to the Farsi speaking children, who all started doing impersonations of the animals featured in the book. It has been brilliant to see each child interacting with the books: making up their own stories, reading along, and reenacting different parts of the tales with their friends.
Each week, we are seeing more and more children come along to listen in, and due to this increased demand we are currently looking to receive Somali books for children and adults. If you, or someone you know, can support this you can either click the button below to contribute to the project, or reach out to us via email at: email@example.com.
Additionally If you know anyone interested in bringing their children along to the reading hours, please do pass on this information to them. The sessions are held on Tuesday and Thursday each week, starting at 3.00PM. Thank you so much for your support.
Mother and baby swimming classes continue!
One ongoing project that has helped us all cool off in the past few months are the swimming lessons that happen twice a week for the residents of Folia: the women and children’s shelter we manage.
In a secluded beach outside of Mytilene, trained swimming instructors from the organisation REAL (Refugee Education and Learning) have been working with the women to do both individual classes and specific mother and baby lessons since early June. In addition to teaching vital skills for staying safe in the water, the swimming lessons have been important in helping the participants build their self-confidence; many of the women expressed concerns about the sea, and it has been wonderful to see them overcoming their fears and finding enjoyment in the water.
In this week’s mother and baby class, the women supported their children in going underneath the water for the first time! There was lots of laughter all round as the babies played around in the sea, and credit has to go to instructors Michele and Deborah for making everyone feel so relaxed.
The first Folia birth
In more shelter-related news, we have a very exciting update to share with you!
Recently, a woman who was heavily pregnant and had been living in the camp moved into our shelter. Not long after getting settled in, she went into labour and delivered a beautiful baby: we are delighted to say that both mother and baby are doing well. In addition to the support she is receiving from the local hospital, the team of midwives and coordinators in the breastfeeding initiative we run with MAM Beyond Borders have been on hand to answer any questions and chat through any concerns, when needed.
There is no average day at the shelter: from arranging referrals to legal or medical actors, ensuring the house is maintained, coordinating activities and classes, and now, getting the house ready for a newborn to arrive, each day brings new joys and challenges.
We thank you so much for the kindness and generosity you have shown us towards the shelter so far, it has been a huge help in the support we have been providing the women and children residing in the house. If you would like to contribute, you can do so here:
An open space for all..
At our community building in Mytilene, we are delighted to have been able to restart many of our classes, as well as offer our coworking space to people, now that the COVID regulations have relaxed slightly.
We offer English language classes for Farsi speaking adults, as well as Greek classes, and all of our classes are offered outside in our garden to ensure everyone’s safety with the Coronavirus, and to make the class as relaxing and enjoyable as possible!
Our leafy garden provides shade under the hot Greek sun, and it is also the location of the stress relief group that we host every Monday at OpenSpace. The medical organisation, Boat Refugee Foundation, provides stress relief classes for women that support them with breathing exercises and techniques to cope with everyday tensions. The classes are held in Farsi and English (6PM) and French and English (7:15PM) every Monday: please do feel free to come along.
Sewing classes continue at OpenSpace and the participants were delighted recently to see that nearly 50 of their bags sold overnight thanks to a marketing campaign in Switzerland! The bags that the participants make are all crafted by hand by refugees and asylum seekers on Lesvos, and are made using vegan materials. You can find out more about the project here.
Last, but not least, we have been welcoming people through the doors at OpenSpace to use our co-working space for the last few months. From individuals using the space for their own work, to groups and organisations hosting meetings and conferences, to theatre groups renting the area to practice: it’s never a dull day at the office!
In addition to the projects mentioned, we continue to offer our multilingual library in the camp and at OpenSpace, our #Safehands project runs in the camp 6 days a week, we still give out baby boxes to new mothers, and the breastfeeding initiative has expanded to include antenatal and postnatal classes.
We will be sure to update you all again soon, but in the meantime- we want to send a sincere thank you for supporting our work here on Lesvos. Your contributions make it all possible.
If you would like to support our projects, you can do so here: