By Avra Fiala, IFRC
After a year living at Nea Kavala camp, that was all the time Saleh had to throw everything into a bag and give hugs and goodbyes to his friends and fellow Hellenic Red Cross volunteers before rushing off to catch the bus.
Saleh is a 37-year-old maintenance engineer who fled Syria more than a year ago. So many people living in camps across Greece bring critical skills and qualifications with them and are eager to volunteer those expertise to help the camp community.
Saleh started volunteering with the Red Cross’s water and sanitation team soon after arriving at Nea Kavala, helping to ensure people in the camp have access to clean water, and safe facilities. But he played more than a technician’s role and has been central to making sure the Red Cross has a strong relationship with the community and listens to feedback, comments and concerns from people in the camp.
“I collect feedback and complaints from people here,” he explained.
“This feedback really helps us to improve facilities and services including shelter, the water system and toilets, making sure they are accessible and appropriate for everyone.
“We talk to people face-to-face and also through suggestions boxes for people who prefer to give their feedback anonymously.”
Ensuring people have a voice and can communicate about what is and isn’t working, what they need and what they don’t need, providing information and creating a two-way discussion is central to the Red Cross’s response in Greece.
“Information is a vital form of aid in itself,” said Saleh. “People need information as much as water, food, medicine or shelter. We all live with so much uncertainty here. It’s so important that organizations like the Red Cross are providing clear and accurate information, that they listen to what the community needs and does something with that information.”
Marilena Chatziantoniou, humanitarian expert for the European Commission’s Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations in Greece, agrees. She said: “We’re partnering with the Red Cross on community engagement and accountability because it is crucial in providing timely and relevant services and information to communities.”
As Saleh signed off from his volunteer role in Nea Kavala camp, he said: “I have mixed feelings about leaving now. This was my home for the past year. I’m looking forward to the stability of a new longer term home in Europe, but I’ll miss my friends here.”
Take a look at Nea Kavala through Saleh’s eyes: in July last year Saleh and five of his friends from the Red Cross’s hygiene promotion volunteer team documented camp life in a photo essay.