I haven’t really had time to update because I have been kinda thrust into the role of co-ordinator in the team here. The two members of the team who had been here the longest left last week leaving me as the longest running member even if only by a few days. The team is now only myself, a nurse and a doctor (all female and max age 27) but to be honest that is more than enough to manage the situation here. Positively speaking, the number of homeless refugees here in Thessaloniki is decreasing - or at least those requiring our services- but there still tends to be some new faces everyday. This also means NGOs are leaving - we had to alter our main clinic time as we coordinated it with breakfast distribution but the charity that provided breakfast for homeless refugees has left due to lack of funding. Our small team is working well as it’s easy to communicate for discussing clinics and patient plans - especially over our homemade alfresco roof lunches.
|Only myself and those not in khaki tabards are left!|
When I applied to volunteer here I didn’t really consider that the official coordinators might not be here on the ground with us and the volunteers themselves would have to manage the daily running of things. Although, I was initially terrified at this prospect it has actually been quite refreshing. Working for a well established NGO would not give us the same autonomy that working for this grassroots NGO. We get to manage patients, schedule, medication, workload and attend meetings with other NGO representatives that normally a member of management would attend.
After my first week I didn’t feel like I nearly knew the ropes enough to be left somewhat in charge and everything was quite vague before my arrival - for example I didn’t know the address of where I was staying until I’d landed in Thessaloniki. So one of my first jobs I gave myself was to make things a bit clearer. I updated the guidelines and made instruction sheets for how to make referrals to various agencies. My real baby has been making a digital inventory for the ambulance - which was in a a bit of disarray when I arrived.
|Glasgow or Greece?|
The majority of the patients we see are still very much minor injuries. A lot of the work is also psychosocial and we tend to stay behind after clinic for an hour or so talking to refugees and exchanging cultural videos of Afghani weddings and Riverdance. The most relevant patient for me medically was actually another NGO’s volunteers who was badly burnt by hot oil - finally my piles of burns dressings came in useful! I have learnt a lot about managing medications that I often only see at patients houses as well as wound management -all of which should help in my future career progression! I’ve also really enjoyed the pace of not being surrounded by so many stressful situations and only working a few hours rather than 12! The most stressful situations actually involves clothes distribution. There is a whole field of shoe politics that I never knew existed. We are a medical service and are only meant to distribute clothes to those who are receiving scabies treatment or have blisters from ill fitted shoes. However, many people ask us for clothes and with the drop in temperature it is tempting to hand out jackets and appropriate shoes. The problem is we don’t have enough for everybody and we had one day where there was nearly a brawl outside the ambulance because someone was given clothes and another wasn’t. As much as I hate seeing people going without I also hate it when things are unfair and because we can’t give everybody clothes we have had to become stricter and now definitively only give clothes to those who have a medical condition that requires new clothes. It’s difficult especially considering even I am going to bed in a fleece, two pairs of socks, a hot water bottle and two blankets. So if you have some old clothes (especially mens shoes which seem to be in very high demand) or want to do an alternative Christmas gift then think about sending something this way(we get our clothing supplies from Help Refugees). Saying that, we do also have some patients who beg us for new clothes and then we give them some and they throw it back at us and walk away because they don’t like the style.
|"Banana dog" - the surprisingly tame street dog that loves bananas. (If I had my own house I'd have taken him home but a group of refugees have taken him under their wing).|
We also do clinics in community centres in different towns and although most of our patients in Thessaloniki are Pakistani and Afghani these patients are predominantly Syrian. It’s also our chance to see paediatric and female patients of whom we rarely encounter in the homeless clinics. A perk of being the paramedic is that I tend to get the “triage” role at clinics which really just translates as playing with kids and chatting to patients - which I am perfectly happy with. Once again, the talent that some of the kids have astounds me, their level of English is phenomenal - we have kids of 14, 17 and even 8 translating for us. As amazing as it is for these kids to be translating we have to be careful as the subjects are often beyond their years - despite what they have also been through. Many of our patients have fled bad situations but also within their time in Greece. We have had several safeguarding cases with aspects of threats of physical harm as well as honour related violence which have caused us to consider the correct means of referral in an already foreign and complex system. Overall we have been quite impressed at the standard of the Greek health system. Helping us navigate our way through the health system is a wonderful Palestinan doctor called Dr Rahim who came to Greece from Palestine to study medicine back on the 70s/80s. He is often available at the drop of a hat to translate, provide advice and even see patients in his clinic. He is a very kind and generous man and has had us all at his house for homemade falafels on more than one occasion!
Sundays are generally reserved as our day off and last week one of my colleagues organised a football tournament with volunteers and refugees. It was a fantastic idea and went down an absolute storm with eight 5-a-side teams. One of the refugees of the mansion offered to make food for the event and we offered to help so went along beforehand. This was in the mansion which is an abandoned building so the cooker was simply two open fires. Two enormous steel pots were transformed into vats of delicious smelling spicy rice and aloo gobi almost within the blink of an eye. I’m hoping that I will manage to cook for them in return as it is not the first time they have hosted us at their “mansion”and it’s amazing to see such warmth even in such a cold, derelict building.