During the first days of the announcement of the measures against Covid-19, I was in Athens for a seminar. It was the last time I was in another city. Since then, everything has changed. I think the scariest thing was the picture of people in masks and plastic gloves on the street. Like a scene from a movie. But the scariest thing is that we got used to it.
The quarantine didn’t bother me. Those of us who are parents, there is always a quarantine period when children get sick. It bothered me that for about two months I had not seen my mother.
Then I had to think about work, what would happen at work? Suddenly the group activities stopped, the distances increased, the people were locked in their homes. Some things for us who work in the field have always been self-evident. Antiseptics, viruses, all kinds of diseases. Restrictions on access to services, hospitals and jobs are always present issues at refugee camps. The difference is that now, we all face the same problem. Something that annoyed me was some people’s talks, claiming that refugees and migrants living in the camps have the virus.
The space where I work in Thebes was transformed into a quarantine place for people who may have been infected with the virus. This hurt me a lot, but I overcame it. Now we all work on all fronts, serving immediate needs. Strange as it may sound, all this time we have come closer to people, even from a distance, we have developed relationships of trust, we have helped them and made them feel better.
Among the most difficult incidents, which were and are many, I single out the case of a family with four children, who arrived at the Thebes camp just before the restrictive measures were announced. They came from an island in the Northern Aegean, without clothes or food, and were placed in a tent. The mother was very ill and was taken to the hospital, where she remained for a month. The father, who was visiting the SolidarityNow team every day, was desperate and had to take care of the whole family and their two-month-old child alone. Our team stood by him from the beginning, with constant support and counseling on how to take care of his children. We supported them as much as we could with food and with the necessary transportation for buying medicines. And we were there to see the family reunite the day when the mother was released from the hospital.
All people in the field have lived similar moments and in the end, this is what counts. Nothing can be compared to the beneficiaries expressions and feelings when we fight together to overcome difficulties and problems. .
But COVID-19 had, let’s say, some positive impact. We acquired new technological skills, useful for the post-coronavirus era. We gained a few pounds, but we gave a lot of love. We became better cooks, our babies said new words faster, we wore masks, but we took off the “masks” of everyday life and we all became more vulnerable, but also stronger.
My name is Katerina Stamelou, I am Phycologist and Responsible of the Female Friendly Space at the Thebes Open Accommodation Center for Refugees. I am working at the Child & Family Support Hubs project, which is implemented by SolidarityNow with the support of UNICEF and IOM Greece and funded by the European Commission.