Volunteering with Refugees in Northern Greece: Help Refugees

It looks like any other warehouse in the greater Thessaloniki area; drab, dreary and really quite dull. If you read Greek, you’d be forgiven for thinking you might pick up a bargain on your industrial furniture or carpets. The signage is outdated and it seems as if the building hasn’t had much love in a while. When you’re volunteering with refugees in Northern Greece, however, it’s possible that you’ll become quite familiar with the Help Refugees warehouse and that you’ll soon learn that appearances can be deceiving.

Help Refugees

Once inside the doors, you’ll find that it is anything but dull. Help Refugees is a UK charity who fund and support organisations providing emergency or vital services to refugees in Europe and beyond. They have had a presence in Greece since the summer of 2016 after Europe’s borders were closed and the Balkan route no longer offered safe or easy passage to refugees and migrants. Tens of thousands of people found themselves stranded in Northern Greece, living in squalid makeshift conditions at Idomini, near Greece’s closed border with Macedonia. While there was an active volunteer community in the area, operations were a little haphazard and, well, Greek. Help Refugees expanded their operations from Calais and came to where help was most needed to assist with coordinating efforts, identifying gaps and supporting grassroots organisations in caring for the refugee communities in Northern Greece.

It’s a fitting place to start my time volunteering in Thessaloniki.

Volunteering at Help Refugees

My first day was spent in the Help Refugees warehouse, where donations made by the people of Europe are collected, sorted and distributed. I, along with the other new volunteers, spent my day sorting through clothes to make sure all were correctly sized and stored to make for more efficient distribution.

Before I left Ireland, my friends and neighbours came together to help with sorting and packing clothes for delivery to Calais, so many of you know that it’s not the most exciting job in the world, but it can be a lot of fun when you’re working with other people. My first day with Help Refugees was no exception. The warehouse may have been huge, but it was filled with chatter and camaraderie. After my less than impressive introduction to Thessaloniki (you can read about my First Impressions here), this was exactly what I needed to lift my spirits. Just like that weekend in Leitrim before leaving for this adventure, I felt like part of a community who were working together to achieve something that might actually be worthwhile.

It felt good.

That’s the general feeling that’s stayed with me. As time goes by, I learn more and more about the work of Help Refugees and the groups they support. It’s not all about unpacking trucks and vans and sorting through clothes. Beyond the warehouse, the charity provides aid by funding (or part funding) voluntary projects, by providing space to some based at the warehouse, by recruiting volunteers to help on those projects and by coordinating amongst a network of voluntary organisations to make sure that the communities they serve in Northern Greece are provided for as best as possible.

Volunteering with Refugees in Northern Greece

I’ve been spending my time volunteering with some of these groups. I’ve taught English to children in Filoxenia, a housing project for refugees in Thessaloniki. I’ve helped at a mobile library visiting various camps in the region, I’ve chopped veg and helped cook hundreds of hot meals, I’ve distributed food to refugee and local homeless communities. I’ve spent time learning about the asylum, relocation and reunification processes from a dedicated information team. I’ve gotten my hands dirty (or, at least, made some tea for the guys whose hands are really dirty) working in construction and carpentry for the camps and housing projects.

Over the next six weeks, I’m going to be telling you more about these teams, what they do and why it’s important. So check in here every Wednesday evening from 6pm (UTC) for latest posts. Or follow the Facebook page so you’ll never miss what’s going on.

Get involved

If you are inspired to get involved as a volunteer, you can contact Help Refugees by emailing northerngreecevolunteers@gmail.com and let them know how long you can commit for and what kind of skills you have so they can find a suitable placement for you.

And if you’re feeling super generous, you can donate on the Help Refugees website.

As always, I love to hear from you so if you want to know more, don’t be shy. Get in touch or leave a comment below.

49 Comment

  1. Sounds amazing. A fantastic opportunity to give something back. Well done!!!

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Thanks Breifne. It’s been such a great experience so far. Hopefully I’ll catch up with you in a warehouse somewhere soon!!

  2. Mark F says: Reply

    This is such an inspiring post. The work and dedication of organisations like this is really making an impact on the lives of ordinary people who have been subjected to a hellish road on their escape from their homelands. I love the authenticity and realism of your posts. Keep up the great work, and of course promotion. Well done!

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Thank you Mark. Yes, they’re doing hugely important work. Thanks for supporting. X

  3. Jo says: Reply

    A great blog providing real insight into the work undertaken by volunteering agencies. Looking forward to more updates.

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Thanks Jo! Looking forward to writing them.

  4. Laura says: Reply

    Fair play Ruth..an absolutely eye-opening experience I’m sure. Such an interesting read. Proud of the work you’re doing and glad to know you’ll be keeping us all updated on your journey. Giving is the greatest thing we can do in this world

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Thanks Laura. Sure I took my inspiration from the best

  5. Enda mc donagh says: Reply

    Amazing work Ruth, you are an inspiration and so proud of you and everything your doing! It was so good to be part of the team helping you before you left on your journey. Looking forward to your blogs. Keep up the amazing work and keep safe!

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Thanks Enda. I wouldn’t have gotten very far without you and the crew. Love to all ❤️

  6. Shauna Flynn says: Reply

    Another great read Ruth, we don’t hear much anymore about what’s actually happening in Greece or about these charities that are helping the refugees. So you are doing them a great service by opening our eyes to what’s going on over there now. Keep up the great work …. and keep educating people about the refugee crisis afterall as a very wise man once said “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world” NM.

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Thanks Shauna. You’re right – as was NM! There’s a lot of really good work being done here. Will keep ye posted. Thanks for coming on the journey with me 🙂

  7. Tammy says: Reply

    Thank you for helping those needing help. We could all learn from your experiences.

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Thanks Tammy

  8. Ann Harman says: Reply

    Wonderful work Ruth.
    Well done for giving up your time

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Thanks Ann

  9. What a geat heart you have! This warehouse is amazing at how they sort the clothes.

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Thanks Tara. Yes, they do a heck of a lot of work and always with a smile!

  10. This sounds like a wonderful thing to do. You are wonderful for helping.

  11. Very inspirational article! You are Amazing . This is just a great opportunity to help others

  12. Leila says: Reply

    I’m so delighted for you that you are experiencing all of this. Its lovely to think this is all happening around the world and making a difference to those who need it. So proud that someone from our neck of the woods is there too! They’re doing great work, keep it up! ❤

  13. Elizabeth O. says: Reply

    It’s been a long time since I volunteered for charity or to help out in disasters and the like. It’s nice to be able to help refugees especially during these days when the situation seems to be getting worse.

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Thanks Elizabeth. Yes, the helping hands are certainly needed at the moment.

  14. I love that you’ve gone out of your way to help those in need. That really says a lot about you.

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Thanks Fatima

  15. Its been so long since I have volunteered. My dream is to own land and build homes for people who are in need temporarily and help them get on their feet since I’ve been in similar situations.

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Wow! That’s an amazing dream. Go you!

  16. Jay Simms says: Reply

    I think it is great you are doing this and giving back! If everyone volunteered even an hour of their time a week, the world would be a better place.

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      That would be a wonderful world!

  17. Echo says: Reply

    Giving back is so important and I think one of the most valuable things you can give back, is time. Great job!

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Thanks 🙂

  18. This is so inspirational! Thank you for all of your hard work helping these refugees! We need more people like you in this world. Can you imagine if EVERYONE would help out their fellow man? There would be NO poverty, NO hunger, NO homelessness.

    But, since we can’t have that, I’m super thankful we have kind people like YOU!

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Thanks Erin, yes, wouldn’t that be a nice world to live in!!

  19. Leigh Anne Borders says: Reply

    Sounds like an amazing way to give back. I know that they can certainly use the support.

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      That’s for sure. There are some incredible people here and around Europe doing some amazing work

  20. Andrea says: Reply

    It’s so great to get involved and donate time and energy for worthy causes. I try to get out with my children to volunteer, as frequently as we can.

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      That’s brilliant. It’ll really stand to your children in the future

  21. Bel says: Reply

    It’s so lovely that you’re doing this. They need all the help we can give.

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Thanks Bel.

  22. You are one amazing person. It is disheartening to hear about the things going on in the world. In your own little way, you shone your light and helped to bring a little sunshine to our brothers and sisters who are caught in the middle of this crisis.

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Thank You, that’s very kind of you

  23. You really do have a kind and selfless heart, It is amazing that you are out there making a difference. I am sure the refugees must be so grateful for everything you and the other volunteers are doing for them x

  24. It’s amazing that you are doing this! It will help those people so much and also gives back so much to yourself at the same time. Well done! If I had more holidays or some time off I would consider doing the same!

  25. God bless you more for doing this amazing opportunity. I am sure God sees all the things that you do 🙂 Keep it up!

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Thanks Ayesha

  26. Misty Nelson Dawn says: Reply

    I admire you, You have a good heart and so Thankful that you help them. I wish many people was have a good heart like yours.

    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Many thanks Misty. That’s very kind

  27. Lucy says: Reply

    Hiya. Thanks for this article. Help Refugees are a wonderful, proactive charity, who’ve made a tremendous impact giving aid to refugees. I worked in their warehouse in Calais cooking meals, and it was an experience that will stay with me forever. I’ve started a blog where I plan to publish articles about my volunteering experiences: https://nomadiclucy.blogspot.co.uk
    I’ve published my first post which is about working in Calais.

    Out of curiosity, where did you stay when you went to Thessaloniki? I’m planning to go out there for a few months, and would appreciate some advice regarding cheap accommodation.



    1. Rambling Ruth says: Reply

      Hi Lucy,
      I’d recommend speaking to the Help Refugees team in Thessaloniki about accommodation if you’re planning to stay long term. They may have suggestions. I stayed in a flat with other volunteers who were there for a number of months. For people staying for shorter times, some stayed in hostels or in places they found on AirBnB. The Help Refugees team have a whatsapp group for vulunteer accommodation and transport. It might be worth asking them to add you so you can make arrangements.
      I hope it all works out well,

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