St Albans volunteer visits Athens to help refugees and returns more concerned than ever

Sumita and some of the children

Sumita and some of the children - Credit: Archant

A volunteer who has made numerous trips to help refugees has spoken of her concern following her latest visit to Athens.

Sumita (right) engaging some of the refugee children in a dance class

Sumita (right) engaging some of the refugee children in a dance class - Credit: Archant

Sumita Shah, of London Colney, has years of volunteering experience and has been making multiple trips to Greece over the past six months to help with refugees stranded in Athens.

Following her most recent trip she spoke of their initial progress in transforming a disused high school.

She set up English lessons, a play area for toddlers, dance workshops, and a makeshift beauty salon/hairdressers.

Sumita, who developed a lesson structure to cater to all abilities, said: “As we progressed through the week, more and more adults started to attend the classes which were delivered with Farsi and Arabic interpreters.”

She continued: “Having missed a lot of schooling in their journeys, there were some really bright kids who were obviously craving learning. Gosh how much we take it for granted here in the UK.”

After setting up English classes, Sumita and other volunteers also put together a beauty salon and hairdressers. Sumita explained: “An Afghan woman turned out to be a manicurist so we decided to let her work with us.

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“My plan was that by the end of the week some of the structured activities could continue after we left. Therefore at the end of the week we handed over the running of the beauty salon to the Afghan lady. We found a young lad who could cut hair so the haircutting scissors went to him.”

She added that, through networking, she found some local teachers to help carry on teaching English and that some of the brighter children had now been enrolled in a local school.

But as more refugees seek asylum in Greece tensions continue to grow. Sumita said: “While all of the above is positive, the overall reality of the situation in Greece is far from positive.”

More than 5,000 refugees are stuck at the port and Sumita said unrest had been building between different refugee communities.

Sumita said: “This is not surprising given the inhumane conditions that they are being forced to live under, in nothing more than a tent, on top of each other, line after line, row after row.

“These are good decent people caught in wars not of their making, forced to make dangerous journeys to find better lives. Now being forced to beg for absolutely everything: food, water, shelter, warmth.”

Sumita raises money for each of her trips so she can provide essential aid including food and cooking utensils directly to the refugees.

If you would like to follow her journey and donate click here.