Monday, March 7, 2016


There are so many long term residents at Better Days for Moria, and even though (unlike the main registration camp) there is community space--a children's play area, benches around the fire barrel's where we all gather to get warm at night...--people are bored. The few guitars that live in the camp seem to all have broken strings, the only drum has a broken head (it was a cheap plastic head), the balls are worn out in a matter of days. Toys are scarce.

But volunteers are getting creative.

There are two pizza ovens in the upper part of the camp, made out of clay mixed from the mud that we walk on and a pile of sand that somebody dumped. Here, most evenings, vegan pizzas are cooked in the traditional wood burning clay ovens and distributed throughout the camp. You can usually find refugees eagerly awaiting the fresh hot pizza, a real treat, though the daily food the Skipchen makes for refugee meals is delicious.

Another group, who don't work exclusively at Better Days, come and hold workshops on how to make their recycled rubber dinghy back packs. You can check out a video here.  The Dutch designers provide tools and materials and the refugees get to make their own water resistant, lightweight, and stylish backpacks. Since backpacks are not plentiful in the distribution tent, this project not only gives the refugees something to do for an hour, but leaves them with a much needed backpack. The only drawback is that a team of 2-3 working on a pack only leaves one in possession. However, plans are afoot to scale up the operation and I've never seen a refugee who worked on a pack begrudge it going to someone else.

There are several people who are offering English lessons. Someone--I'm not sure who--thoughtfully provided a big bag full of small notebooks, and yesterday somebody brought two boxes of pens. Volunteers and refugees sit in small groups, or one on one, anywhere they find a quiet space (something at a premium in a small over-crowded camp never meant to be a long term housing community) and work on English--a valuable skill no matter where the refugee ends up.

Two young women who worked on shoe cleaning (washing and drying the wet shoes refugees arrive in to recycle them and replenish our stores of dry shoes to distribute) during their volunteer time built a shoe shine stand for the camp which now stands below the tents and near the distribution area, offering supplies and a place for refugees to clean and polish their own shoes. It's a popular place. People are into having clean, shined shoes.

My own projects are still in nascent stages. After a few sleepless nights (boat duty and other things keeping me awake) I slept well last night and am refreshed, but had to come into town today in order to access the internet and get these posts up. I'll get back to projects tomorrow.) The first one I started involved making rag dolls for the children to keep. So many of them are traumatized, I thought something cuddly of their very own would be nice. The first day I set up, I had a number of people working with me--girls and boys, men and women, cutting the patterns, sewing the edges, stuffing the toys, and finally drawing on faces. But the space where we worked is not really optimal, and many of the women don't really hang out in the communal spaces much. I've decided I need to go up and sit among the tents, with "kits" ready--the cut out pieces, a needle, and thread and stuffing ready to go. Then they can work at their own leisure to make the dolls.

My other project is really more my kind of thing. Sitting with a group of Iranian men, it suddenly occurred to me that a backgammon board should be easy enough to make, and culturally, backgammon is huge. So we gathered some cardboard and started to work. We managed one board but cutting cardboard with a razor knife is a pain, and making the dice was a bit of a challenge. Nonetheless, we now have a functional backgammon board. Since it took us all afternoon to produce one board though, and it's not easily transported, I thought about the project some more. The Dutch artists' backpacks inspired me though, and from now on the boards will be made out of recycled life-jackets. That way they can be rolled up and stored and carried in a small bag we will sew for each. We will make the pieces out of two or three layers of life-jacket vinyl (there are lots of colors available) and draw on the points as we did on the cardboard one. I cheated on the dice though. I went to town and bought some. Another volunteer who bought some playing card sets to distribute gave me the dice that were included in them, so I now have enough supplies for about 10-15 backgammon boards. Cool. I won the first game I played with an Afghan refugee. He seemed surprised. Ha ha. Little did he know he was taking on a champ.

Finally, on the bus in to town today, I decided we need to make some simple two piece wooden jigsaw puzzles for the little ones. Maybe with numbers and pictures--for example an apple on one side and the number 1 on the other, two balls and the number 2, etc.  Feel free to leave suggestions in the comments section, and as always, thanks for reading.

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