Another impactful Emergency Smile mission to Greece’s largest refugee camp
Our two-week mission to the Greek island of Lesbos brought the longed for emotional support to countless beneficiaries whose situation in the Moria refugee camp and its surroundings is dramatic beyond imagination. The RED NOSES International team from Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland worked together with Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Refugee4Refugees and Light Without Borders to alleviate the pain of vulnerable groups in deep despair.
The controversial Moria refugee camp
As we conducted several missions in Lesbos, we sadly observed that the humanitarian crisis there has never been more severe. The hopelessness of the traumatised groups in Lesbos (estimated at *about 15,000 people, with 2,000 more arriving during our first week there) is a heavy burden for both the affected individuals and for the organisations helping them. Moria is overcrowded to “boiling point” and those living there do not know how to handle the distress of their existential crisis. The humanitarian organisations bringing relief are overwhelmed with the seriousness of the present situation. Hence, they were very thankful to receive joyful clown visits, which maximised the impact of our mission. Both our beneficiaries and our partnering humanitarian aid organisations were encouraged by the fantastic work of the professionally trained clowns. Our team brought a carpet of joy to that devastating place as they were going through the camp, singing from the heart to a vulnerable and needy audience.
Since the children were so hungry for attention and play, our clowns had personal encounters by making eye contact with one person at a time. Oftentimes, the little ones hugged our team members affectionately, this revealing their deep longing for touch and undivided attention. The RED NOSES artistic formats offered in Moria, distance the children from their difficult reality and reconnect them with fun, creative and joyful elements of their childhood. Our team had a beneficial impact on the entire community in Moria, but the immense power of one encounter, as we touched the heart of one person at a time cannot be underestimated. We strongly believe that the greatest long-term impact of our project in Greece is the positive memories that the children keep of their time with the clowns.
Through its flexible, interactive nature, the clown parades also offer chances for individual interactions with adults. They were sometimes observers other times recipients of unforgettable moments of happiness. Many adults were amazed and very grateful that someone took time just for them. Our Head of Missions recalls unique stories of beneficiaries whose hearts were touched by the transforming power of humour.
Circus Smile in the School of Peace
The School of Peace is a beautiful initiative run as a small school, creating a safe space for about 100 children of different ages and cultural backgrounds.
“Our team offered several workshops there and all kids attended enthusiastically. One child was particularly gifted at performing little clown pieces and magic tricks. His skills, but much more his story, impressed the team, as Said (name changed) was in Lesbos without his mother, whom he missed a lot. The end of the last show meant having to say good-bye, which made Said cry. Thus, one of the clowns immediately comforted him with a big, long hug. Telling the kids that our team was going “home” was extremely hard. Home is such a big word for them, because home is now just a memory and a place that does not exist anymore”, remarked our Head of Missions.
Empowering MSF and Refugee4Refugees
It is equally important to offer support to humanitarian aid staff in Greece, so they can develop strategies to cope with the highly stressful working environment they experience in their everyday professional lives. Having better relationships with aid workers who are themselves in better mental condition creates an overall more supportive environment for children.
Because of the immense pressure under which our partnering humanitarian aid organisations were working, we realised that the staff had no minute free for humour workshops. Nevertheless, our clowns brought much joy during their visits to the MSF clinic, whose coordinator told us upon arrival: “I am so happy to see you! Thank you for coming!” The patients there benefitted from unique encounters that MSF valued very much.
Refugee4Refugees works at the front line of the humanitarian crisis in Greece and they desperately needed encouragement. Sophie, a brave young volunteer, uttered these farewell words as she hugged our clowns: “Oh how I needed this, I just feel so happy! I think my whole day is going to be better today!”
These two weeks spent among some of the most destitute group of people in Europe, whose situation remains precarious, showed us that there is a real need for sustainable, long-term solutions. RED NOSES International will continue working towards bringing a lasting change so that these priceless human lives can experience laughter, joy and lightness once again.
- *Source: UNHCR Operation Portal – Greece