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The mission didn’t start as we expected. Our flight was late and we were forced to an almost sleepless night in Istanbul. When we arrived we were so tired and so much in need of rest.

The temperature was over 40 degrees and it was very difficult to keep concentrated and not give in to fatigue as we worked from 8 in the morning until 11 in the evening.

Time is always running out, even when you think you have enough days to carry out all the activities planned. There are always so many things to do and now we support 111 groups  of orphans. It takes us at least three days, on different occasions, to look for them, gather and hug them.

Slowly we are witnessing significant improvements in their conditions: small things such as a few more kilos, a bigger smile and a little more trust in the world of adults that has brought to them so much harm.

Many children attend the Rainbow Tent, which really plays a vital role in the small economy of the camp. Unfortunately, not all of them, but the teacher is trying to introduce more and more children to that oasis of peace and colors.

We brought two huge suitcases from Italy with materials for the Rainbow Tent. They are a gift from very close supporters, that we had the chance to meet thanks to a series of exchanges of love and prayer in the most varied and wonderful forms. Near the camp we bought a piece of furniture that will be used to put all the tent materials in order. Now the children have backpacks sewn by the volunteers of ‘Little Dress for Africa’, a lot of school material and a place to store everything.

Every month we reward the two most outstanding children with a gift and this time the prize goes to two girls: Malek and Alham. This little incentive helps us to bring more children to the Rainbow Tent and this is our primary purpose. The method may not seem orthodox, but those children live in the middle of nowhere and often have no parents to tell them to go to school and explain how important it is for their future. We need to find a way to light a sparkle and give them the chance for a better future.

During this mission we also met the new owner of the market where children buy goods for the value of their distance support Vouchers. He seems to be a good and precise person, so we hope this time we don’t have to replace him because of various misunderstanding, as happened with the previous owner. He provided the shop with a good supply of powdered milk, that we were able to buy and distribute to the mothers in need.

Thanks to the fundraising launched before leaving for the camp, we were able to cover all the expenses for the milk supplies. A large donation from the Acquaviva association, a group of wonderful people, helped us to collect the necessary amount.

We also spent a lot of time cooperating with our referents, in order to analyse the various problems of the camp and plan the actions that we believe are useful to solve them.

Finally, we dedicated time to the most vulnerable children and families, the ones who need a closer support, and we delivered the donations destined to the operations of Farah  and Amina. The moments spent sitting together and talking, listening to their stories, exchanging dreams, is always the best time that makes every sacrifice worth making.

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When I think of this mission, I think of flowers.

I have been covered with bunches of small colorful flowers and kids put small rings and bracelets around my wrists. Receiving flowers is always heartwarming: in the camp there is only sand and dust and children must go a long distance to pick up flowers. When I see them running back from the fields with short breath and sparkling eyes, I understand these gifts come from their hearts. Their eyes want to be seen and their hands need to be hold.

 

I left Italy with Anna (the doctor) and Paolo (the photographer).

We had to make a Covid test before leaving and upon arrival. Some of the flights back were canceled and we had to postpone the arrival home.

Missions are always different, even when you do the same activities and everything is wisely planned. The unexpected is on the agenda, but we have a very cohesive team and we have well learnt how to reinvent times and ways of responding to unpredicted events.

There are moments when you need to wait and others when you have to rush. Sometimes you get stressed because you have to struggle in a difficult environment, or you have to quickly change plans. And most of the times, you didn’t get enough sleep or you have to suffer extreme weather conditions, flies, thirst and the sensation that you should always do a bit more, even if you have done all you can and you have met the schedule despite the unpredictable.

The doctor visited patients for five days with almost no breaks. We bought and distributed medicines to those in need. We took care of malnourished children and distributed milk powder to dozens of small kids. Without this milk they would simply die. We identified three children in severe conditions and we will organize and sponsor therapies and surgical treatment.

The distribution of vouchers to the orphans is always the most challenging activity: there are so many of them and we need to gather, take pictures and take them to buy the food at the store. Finally, we collect the pictures and send them to the donors.

We also distributed food packs to the families of the camp. This is also a difficult task, because people are usually very hungry and chaos easily takes over. Fortunately, our referents at the camp are well trained for this situation and they work on lists that are prepared in advance.

 

Our Rainbow tents are fully operative and it is such a joy to see that kids are learning to write and read. We have a computer and run different classes for the older and the younger ones. We bought and distributed some school material, together with some games donated by Italian supporters.

For the first time we connected with a primary school in Torino (Italy) and started a didactic twinning with our small tent. The contact between these kids, thousands of kilometers away, was incredibly emotional: it was so touching to see how easily and naturally they communicate.

We always spend a lot of time in the tents, listening to stories and trying to support the most difficult situations, even though we are aware that we’ll never be able to fix everything.

 

We always cme back full of life, aware that we did all we could possibly do. Nevertheless we are accompanied by that sense of emptiness that comes from getting in touch with so many little invisible creatures. And our mission is to do all we can to give them hope and future.

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We left from Milan taking all the precautions and safety measures imposed by Covid pandemic, still when we arrived we got stuck in Istanbul because of snow! We had to wait until 4 o’clock in the morning before we could leave for our destination. 

 

It was me (Arianna) and Paolo Messina, a photographer. We had 5 really intense days ahead of us and we couldn’t wait to hug “our” kids after 3 months.

 

When we arrived at the camp the weather was finally sunny after two weeks of rain. Still we could feel the cold. 

 

We had to wait the whole day for the truck full of mattresses we bought for the ones in need. It was supposed to arrive in the morning, but it was delayed by the snow. While waiting, we bought and distributed milk to dozens of children, checked the water well and the five pipe fittings around the camp. The well is fully functioning and the inhabitants of the camp can refurnish patiently at the little fountains. Patiently because the water comes out slowly, but at least they have clean water and it’s a huge improvement.

 

We spent some time with the children in the camp and in the tents of the families. We also talked to the camp referents in order to better organise the activities and understand what was needed the most. The truck arrived when it was dark, but we manage to distribute all the mattresses anyway.

 

In the next days, we distributed food packs to the families and vouchers to the orphans. We support more than a hundred groups of orphans at the moment. We also distributed medicines, support for the most fragile families and materials for the Rainbow tents (school materials, backpacks and computers).

 

We spent a lot of time with the families we know best. Every evening we had dinner with some of them in their cold tents. The ones who have a stove burn nylon, that gives five minutes of heat together with a terrible and toxic smell. Still it’s all they have to face the cold winter nights or heat some water for washing. It’s not acceptable that in the year 2021 infants, kids and elderly people have to live in such poor conditions of misery and indigence, struggling to survive.

 

The Rainbow tents are also striving to survive. There are a lot of problems that require a continuous and significant effort. But we are happy of struggling to keep the tents going, because it is the only place where the children of the camp can experience a normal life. This is all they need and all they want.

 

We spent an entire day following children’s activities. Discovering their progresses was really touching and they were so proud to show us what they learnt!

Some of the older kids are evidently hardened by their conditions, but they suddenly become as sweet as puppies if you only show them approval and understanding. When children grow up, it’s hard for them to understand and accept they don’t have a future. That’s why the tents are so important to give them hope and throw a seed in that direction.

 

There are many children and we know by name a lot of them. I see them growing, share their stories and talents… and I would like to save them all. All their stories and sorrows have a place in my mind, but the will to be there and see them growing and blossoming is stronger than pain and difficulties.

Arianna

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In October we go to the camp twice: in mid-October and at the end of the month. Since our last mission in August, we have worked tirelessly to the project of the water well for the camp. We have developed the project through many contacts, quotations, video calls and we have run a fundraising campaign.

The works started at the beginning of October and now me and Luca are there to monitor the improvements and deliver the funds collected.

We check the excavations and notice that they have already reached the water. We assist to the building of the internal coating and buy the extraction pump.

We spend few beautiful days at the camp and we are deeply fulfilled by the awareness that this project will change the life and health conditions of hundreds of people and children. The children’s happiness is immense after they see the water coming out of the well.

During this mission we also provide support to the most fragile people of the camp, as we always do, and we start to buy the materials needed to re-open the Rainbow Tent. Lastly, we organise the creation of a second school tent as we realise that we cannot fit all children just in one.

 

At the end of October we go back to the camp, together with the doctor (Anna), the teacher responsible for the tents (Elisabetta), and the photographer (Paolo).

The building of the well is finished in one part of the camp. The water comes out and people can take it manually, but our intention by the end of the year is to install the filters, the accumulation tank, and build other points of supply throughout the camp.

For two entire days doctor Anna visits and cures everyone who is in need. She examines the conditions of malnourished children we are used to follow, as well as the new cases.

Together with Elisabetta, we select 4 teachers for the two Rainbow Tents. She also organises the activities that will take place over the next months. The opening of the school activities is a touching moment of happiness.

Later we distribute the supplies of milk powder to the malnourished children and the vouchers to the orphans supported by Italian donors. Again we find new kids and families in need that will have to be associated to new donors.

We finally distribute food packs to all the families (following as usual the lists prepared from the two coordinators of the camp) and we take care of supporting the most fragile and unlucky people in the camp.

Me and Luca stay at the camp two more days in order to organise the widespread web of support that we really want to provide.

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The Covid19 pandemic caused the closure of all borders. As a result, four months have passed since we last visited the camp. During this time we have been able to keep up our projects (food packs, wood and coal supply, monthly vouchers for the orphans in the camp and the families in the urban area) thanks to a network of wonderful local partners. During the past years they have become devoted and fraternal friends.

Me and Luca finally get back to the camp in August. Moving across the country is more complicated than usual due to the safety measures, social distancing and masks, but we try to be respectful and responsible.

The situation in the camp is difficult too: misery and desperation are suffocating and often cause tears of helplessness.

The weather is so hot that the risk of feeling sick is tangible. There’s no water, food is scarce, kids are really thin and parents exhausted.

Families or alone children continue to flee from the bombings and come to populate this desperate place, that is very close to collapse. While counting the groups of orphans supported by our donors we notice that their number has severely increased. I start to panic thinking that we will have to find new donors willing to help these sons of nobody.

Under a merciless sun we distribute food packs, milk powder for malnourished children, and medicines (while talking on the phone with the doctor in Italy).

The Rainbow Tent is closed by police order due to the pandemic, but I’m happy to know that it’ll be able to open again in one month. Children keep on asking about the tent and I feel like I’m disappointing them.

We decide to rent a bus and take a good number of children to spend a day by the sea. It is a wonderful day where children that usually never laugh had the chance to play, splash and have fun. I have never felt so good and I’ve never seen more fragile, still bright, eyes. Luca, my husband, plays and swims next to us.

After the trip we go to visit some very vulnerable families that we have supported in the past years: Salema who is sick, two children who have thalassemia and few other very difficult situations, like young Youssef.

This time again we cannot go to the urban area because of Covid19 restrictions, so we have to leave the donations to our co-operator who will take care of distributing the vouchers to these families that leave in very rundown accommodations .

Going back home is always painful.

Arianna

 

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We leave at the end of February in a moment of deep uncertainty due to Covid19 world pandemic. It is me (Arianna) and Luca. We are not frightened by the situation, nevertheless before leaving we collect all the information necessary to ensure we have a safe journey and we don’t find ourselves unprepared.

Malpensa airport is strangely desert. We embark on the plane and our trip will end late at night.

When we arrive in the camp the weather is cold but we always have a very warm welcome, full of hugs and smiles from our kids as well as from many adults that have become a genuine family to us. We soon get ready to start our activities. There so much to do and we only have two days before we get back.

We realise that it is a very difficult moment because of bombings. Besides, moving around is dangerous and complicated because of the curfew. Still we manage to distribute food packs to all the families of the camp, milk to malnourished children and vouchers to the orphans supported from the Italian donors. We also assign the funds for the Rainbow Tent, that we supervise, and we find it full of children so much willing to learn and show us their improvements.

In addition, we leave medicines and sustenance to the most fragile families and we buy a tent for a family that has just lost theirs in a fire, while trying to keep warm.

We cannot go to the urban area, where we support 25 families, since the curfew doesn’t allow us to move across different regions. Therefore we leave the money destined to those families to our local co-operator, who will take care of distributing the vouchers and sending us the pictures of the distribution.

The last day of the mission we realise that we are stuck in Turkey, because the Turkish Government decided to cancel all flights to Italy due to the pandemic. We contact the Italian Embassy, that kindly tell us to try and find a way to go back on our own, but actually there are no flights to Italy available.

Fortunately we find our way back home after a long trip and many stopovers.

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In January and February the weather was cold and the children of the camp were all barefoot and had no jackets. Only me (Arianna) and Luca made it to the camp this time, but we managed to buy and distribute 2 tracks full of boots and jackets to more than 1000 children. The organisation of the distribution is never easy, but this time we have been able to hand out boots and clothes of the right size to every child, thanks to the support of many people in the camp.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t afford distributing food packs to the 800 families of the camp: money is never enough and we can only rely on the spontaneous contributions from the donors. Still we were able to give milk to malnourished children and vouchers to the orphans. These young children live in very harsh conditions, they are alone in the camp and the older ones already work in the fields nearby for a few euros per day.

The contributions from the generous donors help children to cover their basic needs, but we strongly believe in the importance of education as the most important instrument we can offer them to change their life. SSCH relies on the school tent (Rainbow Tent) since it is the only place where children can spend a few peaceful hours, learning how to write, read and count. The management of the tent activities is not easy because the kids don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to games and instruction, even though this should be their everyday life. Still they are really willing to learn and play and have a break from a life made of hard work and sacrifice. Life has deprived them of their childhood, but in the tent they can live a moment of peace and light, and we are very proud of that.

Just a few drops in an ocean of grief and indifference.

 

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I write about this mission only three months after. I don’t know if this is good or not.

Emotions settle down and change, but never leave you.

It’s six years now that I (Arianna) go back and forth to the camps and sometimes I don’t know which direction to take in my life. Still I keep on going there. If I can change the destiny of just one of the children I meet, then it’s worth it. My dream is to give hope to these kids whose future have been taken away.

 

This is a very busy mission. We distribute food packs and visit malnourished children. Lorenzo, the doctor, spends the entire day visiting, checking the progresses of the malnourished kids and distributing milk and medicines to those in need. Pietro is also with us at the camp. He is a volunteer who launched a fundraising for us and then decided to come and help. Together with the doctor, they start creating a database of medical records that will be very helpful in the future missions. Thanks to this archive it will be a lot easier, for the three alternating doctors, to follow each patient. It’s an immense job, given the extreme working conditions of the camp.

In the meanwhile, Luca and Andrea build the school tent and the teacher (the interpreter who always supports us) starts counting the future scholars.

It’s going to be a small and modest school: there are many children and they have different ages and characteristics, but basically we’ll try to teach them how to read, write and count. Most of all, we want to create a peaceful and colorful oasis for children who have seen nothing but hard work in the fields.

The school opening is one of the best moments I have ever lived: pure joy and euphoria, but also order and self-control.  I hope we will always have the resources to keep this school running.

While some children have their first informal lesson, we pass on to distribute the checks to the orphans. Andrea takes pictures of each child or group and we’ll send them to the Italian donors. Sharing the children’s stories with the people supporting from Italy is very touching.

We finish our work late in the evening when it’s already dark. Some of the children are already asleep, others are still awake because they are happy to stay with us.

We identify a small shop where we make a deal: we give them money for each Voucher and children can go there and buy what they need. It works, but it’s an agreement based on trust.

Staying in the camp is both fulfilling and emptying. At the end of the day you are tired but you still don’t want to leave.

The next day we are back in the car directed to Kilis, where we stay as usual at Majad (The Sons of War). When we give the checks to the refugee families, the atmosphere is full of love and sorrow for the destiny of those people, especially children.  We would like to do a lot more, but at least we give them money to eat, so children are not forced to work and can go back to school.

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The Camp in Moria is the Hell on Earth. During our missions we have seen lots of camps but the atosphere in Moria is devastating. Nowere we have met the exasperation seen here. The families living there do not communicate, there is no mutual aid, and some people suffer because of mental disease. Maybe these people thought of Europe as the land of freedon butthey realized they were wrong, and now they think they haven’t the slightest prospect of future. They just realize that they are alive. In Moria it is almost impossible to . bring some help due to the many rules that an association must or should undergo. And, unfortunately, we are neither accustomed nor prepared to face them.

We left Italy with 2 vans loaded with clothes, blankets, jackets, shoes given by common and generous people.
The journey of Matteo, Marino and Jamal was long and tiring . They drove to Brindisi and then by ferries to Lesbos.They travelled at night and arrived early in the morning at the port of Metilene, on the island of Lesbos. Myself (Arianna) , Luca (my husband) and the Refugee4Refugees volunteers were waitng for us. The volunteers were there to give us support and logistics for the distribution of clothes.
Marino, the doctor, as always , will spend his time at the camp visiting all the people in need, mainly children, who show through their eyes tirederness and hopelessness.
With the logistic support of Refugee4Refugees we will ensure that the majority of families will receive the clothes they need. Families will go to the shop of the association, and get what they need, free, also after our departure, and this makes us very happy. Mothers go the the shop and get what they need for their families. Talking to people, in Moria, we face stories that leave deep signs in our heart. We met Parisa, an Afghani girl. She was asked by Holly (Holly and Andrea arrived a day after us) what was her name and she handed him 8 pages written in Persian containing her own story. There is also the story of a handsome k17 Syrian boy put by his parents on a rubber dinghy so that he could survive. The trauma of being left alone, the stress and deprivation he had to go through during the journey brought him to forget everything. He hardly remembers something either of the journey or of his past, mixes the days of the present and seems to suffer from dissociation. He listens to music and does nothing all day long. His eyes are the ones of a child: full of wonder.
We have met a young Syrian doctor who works in a small clinic outside the camp. Nearby it, some people are trying to do something that might give the idea of life: a school, a canteen, a makeshift gym .
There are other camps on the island, all inaccessible and fenced , to suggest that they do not need anything. But that is not true: when we hand out clothes, blankets etc. the people come near and crowd around in a bitter way to get something. The scene of misery and desperation is unforgettable.
.After 3 days some of us go back to Italy. Matteo and Jamal by vans and we must thank them because they are the ones who gave more in terms of time and difficulty.. Dr. Marino Andolina flew back, I (Arianna), Luca, Holly and Andrea stayed in Turkey for a couple of meetings with our local contacts. We are planning not only to distribute food and basic necessities, but to understand how and if, we can open a school in the camp we have been following since 2014. Then we move to Kilis to visit a family we support, and think about a stable project that involves the “citizen” refugees who have been living in garages and basements for years, without any help and without being able to work.
As we always do, we visit some families and, as always, our hearts are broken by the sight of children, sick people, elderly, disabled, orphans and widows who live in nonhuman and unacceptable condition
Our idea is to give birth to distance support, but also to set down a project that might allow the baking of bread to be handed out regularly. We might also think of setting up some job to foster single women to work. Our contact has submitted us some valid projects. We are ready to take them into consideration and set them up, if only we receive some donations, or would win some financial support from the government and/or foundations.

After 3 years I succeeded in crossing the border and returning to Syria; the situation is that of a humanitarian catastrophe : beyond any description!
There is nothing left: no houses, roads, lack of infrastructure. Syria is a vast sea of tents , refugees, surrounded by mud and debris. These people, mostly widows, elderly and children, receive almost no help and the children beg on the streets instead of going to school and play. They have been deprived of everything and it is unlikely for them to be able to go back to their homes. Their children will be the next generation of illiterate, angry and ready to be recruited by any sort of fanatics.

I came back home with a sense of anger and helplessness. I try to imagine what we would like and could do, but I know they are a lot, thousands and thousands and that our association SSCH can do just a little to help them. There are no funds, no energy, the international community does nothing to give birth to huge projects.

May these words be at least a spark for something important, I will go on telling what I observe when I go to meet the refugees and hope the world community will act.

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For the first time we won’t go to the refugee camp that we have supported during the past years.

We will meet two contact persons in Gaziantep camp, in order to give solid ground to our future activities. We will then move to Kilis, where we intend to run a project to support families facing extreme conditions.

The meeting in Gaziantep is very important and cannot be postponed.

The camp has no organization and no NGO is there to support, apart from few occasional activities. We are the only ones trying to provide a regular supply of food, medical care and essential goods, critically needed in winter time.

Within the camp we are supported, but outside we don’t have many connections.

We decide, together with the two contact persons, that we will start the following activities: we will bring food packages every other month with their support, we will start a school project and we will try to support more closely the orphans (more than 100) living in the camp.

During winter time we commit to provide what is needed to stay warm.

This is an extremely big challenge, in financial terms, since we are a small organization. I personally (Arianna) am really concerned, but we do want to give this project a try, since no one else is there to help. We will try to cover more than 1000 children and almost 500 families facing conditions of real deprivation and despair.

In order to achieve our goals, refugees will be divided into small groups and we will look for donors who will take charge of each group. We will also write down a project in order to increase financial support.

In Kilis we selected 22 vulnerable families and we will connect them with 22 Italian families who will provide them with food and school supplies for children. These are usually families where mothers, often widows, don’t know how to feed their children and have no solution rather than sending them to work. Some of them have to take care of disabled children and/or elderly relatives.

Fathers are often missing, or they are mutilated and disabled, so they have no opportunity to work.

Our goal is consequently to support these families by providing essential needs, so they can at least feed the children and send them to school. In Kilis, unlike Gaziantep camp, they do have schools and we want to give children the opportunity to attend them. This is the only way they can save their lives.

 

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