„A part of my heart will stay here with the people…“

What an energetic person Emma is! We were lucky enough to have her in our team as a longterm volunteer, totally motivated to keep on sharing OHFs spirit as well after she was leaving and already organized a Christmas market stand to raise funds for OHF by selling the amazing postcards made at the art table by one of our regular visitors.

Emma wasn’t only responsible for our daily art table but also for our lovely cat Steve. She amazingly introduced the “waste saviour” with being part of our cleaning working group, a.k.a. installing our recycling bins and system. Also, daily shuttles were often done by Emma and her daily helpers English class went so well with so many students each day, teaching for example how to do a CV – another of her tasks to support our helpers. But of course, you could find Emma as well doing many, many other daily tasks.

Read more about Emma’s volunteering experience:

This is my most memorable moment:

I will always remember this breakfast one day, where the kitchen team prepared homemade falafel wrap for all the helpers and volunteers. The general euphoria, the music, the smiles. So much commitment from this kitchen that, at the same time as providing a thousand of meals for the visitors every day, manage to surprise their colleagues with edible love.

This struck me the most:

What struck the most is, I think, all the knowledge shared between the visitors, helpers and volunteers. All those random (or organized) languages lessons like the times when I talked with an 8 years old girl who is speaking better English than I do. But also, when, even though we don’t speak the same language, this man taught me pottery. And this whole team of football players from all around the globe which includes me and taught me how to play from 0. It’s so divers and everything goes so naturally.

One Happy Family is…

One Happy Family is this place that just bring back as much happiness and humanity as possible to our everyday interaction wherever you are from. Everything is organised and thought for the better, as much for the visitor as for the volunteer. So many stimulating activities for free, so many basic needs are provided here every day in the most inclusive way. It’s all about working with them instead of for them.

This is what I would like to tell other people:

I think it’s a very important involvement that everybody should experience once in his life. In the big picture you’ll be part of a project that brings a lot to people in the necessity, you will bring a lot to this project. Even though you don’t feel it, people will remind it to you. It’s about them and this should be the first motivating purpose, but it will also bring a lot to you. I felt empowered to be active in this cause, I learnt a lot and I’ve reconnected myself to the essential. The motivation I have now is limitless, and I think it does that to a lot of people. Once you started to get involved, your wish to be helpful never really ends, this feeling stays and it’s good. For everybody. The old one and the young one. The bilingual one and the «not so comfortable with English» one. The one with «disabilities» and the one that does not feel so self-confident. Everybody is needed and everybody is able to do this.

My tasks in One Happy Family are…

I have started with the basic daily tasks that One Happy Family offers us to do, my favourite ones are the bank(distribution of the daily drachma, the One Happy Family currency to access certain services) and the cafe. But I also really enjoy the diverse lunch tasks to facilitate the distribution of thousands of meals, the playground, the art table and the cybercafe, without forgetting the special training to do the barbershop registration.

I offer my services to teach English to the helpers at the end of the day.

Quite fast after that I had my formation to be part of driver team and do the daily shuttle between Moria and Mytilini.

I also participate in a group of green cleaning that take care about reducing waste and recycling.

I have become the art table responsible, it’s mostly about organizing the supplies needed at the art table, but not only, we created with another volunteer, Martina, a collection of post card out of the drawing made at the art table by our dear visitors to organize fundraising when we go back home.

I also took part of the CV and Work Certificate team, that make official papers for the helpers before they leave the Island, it’s such an interesting task that leads me to know better my co-workers but also having some fun with them besides our daily tasks.

To sum up all of that, I’ve participated in all the daily tasks, taught English, drove, made CVs and Certificates, took care of some Art Projects, did some French translations, rose awareness about recycling and for a short period took care of Steve the cat of One Happy Family.

What do you think makes One Happy Family different from other similar organizations?

I don’t know really another similar organization, I never saw such a place before. Instead of working for them we work alongside, together for the better, it’s such a more human way to approach this crisis. We see some of them getting so empowered and so committed to their job, it’s a place where they can escape from the terrible condition of the camp. That allows also to be closer to them always in a respectful way but again a warmer and more human like conduct.

What motivated you to stay long term and why do you think it is important that volunteers stay for a long time?

I have extended my stay here, and I already think about coming back like a lot of the volunteers that came here before. There is a lot to do and a lot of volunteers needed for this period of the year, as the situation is getting worse and worse in the camp, One Happy Family needs more and more of the positive attitude. I can’t solve the crisis but I wanted and still want to give 100% of myself to help. It’s also a deeper experience when you can stay for a longer time, you can get involve in more projects and see the finality of some of them. It’s also a good thing for the visitors that are used to see new people all the time, that gives them a certain stability to see faces that they recognize weeks after weeks, months after months.

And Emma adds…

Thanks to One Happy Family, to let me be part of this project, it raised so much awareness in me, about the crisis, the people but also myself. I am so glad to have been able to put my energy there and it gave back so much to me. A part of my heart will stay here with the people, I wish for the best.

Chamame, falafel and cup song.

Yours always

Emma

„All that is needed is the collaboration of everyone doing their little bit to support“

Today’s volunteer story is about Freddies experience at One Happy Family. He stayed with us for three weeks in summer. As a teacher Freddie was involved in the Adult School and did a lot of teacher training to all of our teachers – those who learnt teaching here and those who came with a background in teaching from their home countries.

Thank you, Freddie, for your energy and all your very good advices!

This is my most memorable moment:

One of the most memorable moments was during one of the open stages. First afghani men were dancing and everyone was chanting them, there then was a very loud cheer for someone because he is a very good dancer. And this man, he is from Congo, so then the music was changed into Congolese music. The energy in the room was amazing, equally for both music genres – that was a very beautiful moment to watch: seeing how everybody wants to be together, a community here in One Happy Family.

This struck me the most:

The beauty and strength of human endurance. The fact that the visitors are able to still be positive and people, when they are at One Happy Family.

One Happy Family is…

A community of love and hope!

What I would like to tell other people:

That everybody can help with the so called “refugee crisis”. Because all that is needed is the collaboration of everyone doing their little bit to support. No matter how small or medium the job is.

My tasks in One Happy Family are…

Every day I was teaching in the adult school, I helped to design a curriculum for the different levels and I ran teacher meetings and facilitated the peer support for the short-term volunteers, but I also helped out with daily tasks.

What do you think makes One Happy Family different from other similar organizations?

I don’t have experience but I think something that struck me was how open and humble the coordination team are – which makes it very easy for people to help and to suggest ideas to improve the organisation.

„I hope that OHF will be able to continue having this wonderful spirit!“

Rebekka has been with OHF for the last four months: After starting at the playground she joined the school after one week and “never left”. ☺ 

And Rebekka made an huge impact in the Adult School – thank you Rebekka for all of your heart and soul leaded actions that you let us participate in & a big thank you for being who you are!

This is my most memorable moment:

I have some nice moments. The first was the African culture day because I felt like a visitor that day – I could just enjoy myself. I talked to all the people, like for example with my students, we were all just dancing and talking. It was very nice to experience OHF like this. 

All of my other great moments are from being in the school: to teach different English levels was really nice. We had a lot of fun and I enjoyed every single day. We had good talks in English and they also tried to teach me Farsi, which was most of the time funnier for my students than for me!

Also the work with Abdul and Aien, the school directors, was very nice. Supporting them in their work was very important to me and they do such a good job. I learned a lot from them and I hope they learnt something from me as well. 

There are special moments every day, today was with my women only class. When we started the class, they didn’t even know their ABC’s and now they can hold a conversation in English. This is very amazing!

The best part is that I’m still in contact with a lot of my old students and to see their progress makes me really proud!

This struck me the most:

To come here and to see the situation for the people here. To not only hear it via the news, but to hear the individual and really dramatic stories – not always easy to handle but this struck me. Or sometimes you feel exhausted – everything here can be really intense and I had some doubts or not feeling useful. But this place and the people can give you also a lot of power to continue. And I mean if they can… 

One Happy Family is…

A great place and a great opportunity for all the people from the communities to forget about their hard lives and struggles in Moria. OHF tries to provide a nice, friendly atmosphere for everybody – it’s a nice happy bubble where you can just dive in and forget the rest. 

This is what I would like to tell other people:

It’s an amazing experience to volunteer here – it makes you happy and sad at the same time. It makes you happy because you can see that you can offer some help and give joyful moments to a lot of people and it makes you sad as well because you, as a white privileged person, just come here to volunteer and at one point you can leave – this is for me feels so unfair because the other people are stuck. 

But all in all, it was a great opportunity to get to know myself better and it made me think about what is really important in life. 

My tasks in One Happy Family are…

I supported the school directors, I was their right hand. I supported them with all of the daily struggles that we have, getting an overview and some structure for over 300 students. We try to give each student a place in the school and make them feel welcomed. And also, to empower the teachers and build a good team spirit – I was also always learning myself. 

What motivated you to stay long term and why do you think it is important that volunteers stay for a long time?

I extended my stay three times – just because of the relationship I had with the school, with the team in the school and with the students – people who come everyday, walking for an hour just to be in my class – that is an incredible feeling. So, it was definitely the school that motivated me to extend and extend. ☺ 

Also, if you stay long term, you can get to know the people and volunteers better – you can build really good friendships. 

I think it’s important to stay for a long time because if you stay shorter you will have a nice first impression but you don’t really see the whole picture and maybe you don’t really feel part of the centre completely or that you have much responsibility. You see the needs when you stay longer, I wouldn’t go back to Germany if I didn’t have to start my studies now. 

I will miss this place and I hope that it will be able to continue having this wonderful spirit. Every single person here is doing a great job! 

If you want to apply to be a volunteer you can find more information on our website: www.ohf-lesvos.org/volunteer 

„In One Happy Family I have learned more than in any other place before.“ 

Ludovic, 25, Product Manager in Baby Care Company

This is my most memorable moment…

There are so many moments… I will always remember Christmas party with all the helpers dancing all together, no matter of their country of origin. Lovely team!

This struck me the most…

When I saw helpers coming from Moria in the morning for the shuttle, with white and pale faces, like if they almost died in the camp because of the cold… 

One Happy Family is…

The best place to live when you need consideration, love, family, help, warmth, a café or more.

This is what I would like to tell other people…

I feel like we are brothers, I wish we will spend time together soon in Europe.

My tasks in One Happy Family are…

I am a regular volunteer. I wanted to be a volunteer among others, to do any tasks when needed. So far I have worked for every activity at OHF: teaching english, serving food and coffees, playing sports, running the bank and barbershop and so many more. I have even been involved in building the Shisha Lounge Roof and the new volunteer office. At OHF I have learned more than in any other place before. 

What do you think makes One Happy Family different from other similar organisations…

One Happy Family is different thanks to its coordination team and helpers. The coordination team ensures that our values are respected and the helpers run this place as if it was their own family.

„I’m struck by the strength of human kind; OHF visitors and helpers are admirable and they are forever my heroes!“

Sandrine, our dear friend from Canada!

You arrived at One Happy Family and – since the very first moments – you were completely part of it. It was impressive to see how quickly you had a very good overview of what is happening on this Island. You were always around, and – even if we had to ask you for the thousands time to pay a bill – always had a smile for everyone. No task was too small for you, you always jumped in wherever needed.

At the same time, you took your time to sit down with us if you had questions running around your head and you were just such an important part – for all the helpers, volunteers but also for our coordination team.

It’s been a real pleasure getting to know you, dear Sandrine, your heart touched our souls – you’ll be – forever – part of this family! Thank you & Merci (of course in our best Quebecois accent 🙂 )!

Read about Sandrines stay at OHF in her Volunteer Story:

To me, OHF is…

An extraordinary place to be with open doors to every cultures, genders, ages and differences. It is truly a happy family caring for one another while providing a safe environment for everyone to find some peace and dignity. And oh! some fun too! OHF is a wonderful example of doing so much with so little. I am very proud to be part of this family.

My tasks in OHF are…

What I do at OHF is a variety of little tasks to which I sign up for every morning, that goes from playing with the kids, greeting and registering visitors at our ‘’bank’’, cleaning and picking up trash in and around the site, etc. And, as simple as they seem, I find myself finding meaning and satisfaction in these tasks as I have come to witness that every small action does count in the end. Of course, smiling has also been my number one task as it seems to do well and one gets so much back from it!

As a long term volunteer, I am also given some more responsibilities, so I get to handle treasury or « the wallet » which gives me a sneak peek into OHF daily costs and a better understanding of its operations as an organization. I’m very humbled by their trust and can’t help but being very serious when doing it!

Doing certificates and CVs for refugee volunteers is also a task that occupies me during the week and that I take great care of, in order to help them be prepared for their future life. I feel privileged in taking part in those many little duties which make every day go by way too fast!

As a long term what motivated you to stay long and why do u think it is important that volunteers stay for a long time?

Staying long term allowed me, amongst other things, to start recognizing visitors and be able to greet more and more people by their names which made all this feel like a more familiar place to be. After all, it’s called One Happy Family!

My most memorable moment:

My most memorable moment is actually repeating itself every single day at that very moment when we’re all gathered together for lunch. I look around and only then do I realize that again about 1000 people walked the extra miles to eat that amazing food the kitchen team cook. Adding to it I get to practice my Persian or Arabic greetings while serving the plates to then receive hundreds of thank you and smiles, or laughs at my pronunciation! It’s a great moment to be all together.

This struck me the most:

How strong human beings can be. Every day I witness how our visitors are incredible, given such harsh conditions they live in, with Moria being now at about 16 800 people with a capacity of 2800… That said, they find somehow a way to smile and be positive, they are patient and kind to us volunteering in a sometimes clumsy way! I’m struck by the strength of human kind; OHF visitors and helpers are admirable and they are forever my heroes!

And Sandrine adds…

As my work here is coming to an end and I am about to leave this wonderful place, I reflect upon it all and realize how little we all need in life: security, food, health and a good shelter with people we love is what every human being deserve to have. There are 70 millions of refugees in the world today and 50% of them are children… I can only hope wonderful organizations like OHF continue doing their incredible work because they do help the world be a better place.

Tashakur! Shukran! Merci One Happy Family!

„OHF tries to create a space where everybody can feel safe and welcome.“

Felix, 26, Airfreight clerk

This is my most memorable moment… 

There are plenty of memorable moments. But the new years eve celebration with all the helpers and their families was fantastic.

This struck me the most… 

The dedication that all the involved people show every day to make this place to what it is.

One Happy Family is… 

A truly special place that brings happiness when needed the most.

This is what I would like to tell other people… 

When you hear about refugees always remind yourself that we are talking about humans just like you and me.

My tasks in One Happy Family are… 

Coordinating the Youth Space, logistics, and helping everywhere else where I’m needed: At the bank and barber shop, in the coffee, washing dishes, being in the kitchen. 

What do you think makes One Happy Family different from other similar organisations… 

OHF tries to create a space where everybody can feel safe and welcome. Plus, it is working with the people not for the people which I think is very important. But I’m sure all the other organisations try to do that as well. 

„OHF’s goal: reactivate people’s strengths and their desire for joy“

After volunteering with us for around 2.5 months, we had to say goodbye to our most motivated kitchen supporter – Anton!

Anton, who will start studying “Geography of Africa” now, will be very deeply missed at OHF!

This is my most memorable moment:

I can’t think of only one moment, because most of the moments are memorable in a way. So is the organic dynamic of an usual day at OHF, people know how to act and react and  everybody contributes something to the place, but the place as well provides to everybody – this dynamic is felt in most of the memorable moments at OHF.

This struck me:

The hard contrast between the people from the communities and us as volunteers. Not sharing the same conditions makes it hard to work together in an insightful way. Sharing same perspectives would be very important for this place but it wasn’t always easy to focus on what we have in common with all the people at the Centre. Sometimes you define the relations here by the differences and not by the similarities.

One Happy Family is…

A very colourful and crazy place. Crazy in a good way 🙂

OHF is providing a very meaningful environment for the people, an environment that allows everyone to socialize in a peaceful way, to engage in activities, to feel ownership and to escape this horrific “vacuum” they have to live in in the camps. And also for international volunteers it is a very suitable platform to engage in this weird situation for people being stuck on the islands. The ease and happiness occurring on people’s faces after having them at OHF for only few days make their situation bearable to a degree accomplished by themselves. I assume that’s where to find OHF’s goal: reactivate people’s strengths and their desire for joy. Hard to achieve but facilitated for many people.

This is what I would like to say:

Don’t hesitate to be friendly and greet people with a smile. For many people, like those who have to live on this island, it means much more than just a gesture. Welcoming them wherever they are sounds big but can be done in small things and that’s where we should find ourselves involved in people’s struggle of being homeless in hostile conditions. Many of them went through a traumatizing past, live in an unbearable present and so they deserve any better for those years coming. And as far as I can see Lesvos and its camps are anything but the right place for all the families, children, women and men living there and watching their future passing!

My tasks in One Happy Family are…

Being the most motivated kitchen support! 🙂 No, I’m kidding. My main task is being an English teacher in the Adult school as well as for the Helpers English classes in the evening. Besides teaching I jump in wherever needed.

What do you think makes One Happy Family different from other similar organizations?

Of course the motto of working with the people instead of for the people must be an immediate idea after seeing how the asylum seekers are forced to live. Many people are given the opportunity to work at OHF and they are the ones providing such a diverse range of activities, providing food for so many people and even education in terms of teaching English. Most of us are aware that many cultures, background and stories that are not only compatible encounter at OHF. The challenge of enabling people to continue living their lives with their cultural backgrounds and allowing them at the same time to escape their current situation and the past in their home countries is totally faced and in 99% embraced.

What motivated you to stay longterm and why do you think it is important that volunteers stay for a long time?

I wouldn’t have liked to come for only three weeks because after four weeks I started feeling the place, I began hating and loving the place – I was then on an emotional level which is one of my personal prerequisites for such work. For me it was very important to stay longer because I wouldn’t like to do “volunteering with refugees” as a stopover thing. Paying respect to this situation and the people means, in my opinion, as well to offer time. And it came through that I personally could achieve much more in a longer time.

„The cooperation between volunteers and helpers is one of the things that makes OHF unique.“

Melanie, 25 from Switzerland, student of Social Work, volunteered at One Happy Family for nine weeks.

Thank you Melanie for all your energy, happiness and your support!

This is my most memorable moment:

This is a question I can’t really answer. Every day is in its own way very exciting and interesting. It’s the daily encounters with all the different people that enrich each single day very much.

This struck me the most:

The whole situation on Lesvos. It’s different to see and feel the precarious situation of the people stuck on the island and forced to live here with your own eyes.

One Happy Family is…

A beautiful, safe and familiar place where everyone can meet at eye level and spend time together. The various subprojects offer the opportunity to be together and escape from the daily life in the refugee camp.

This is what I would like to tell other people:

The situation is difficult to describe because it’s very complex. However, I think that it’s important to know and realize that each small contribution from every single person counts.

My tasks in One Happy Family are…

I was active in many different tasks. Most of the time I was in the café or in the bank. I liked these two tasks very much, because I was in contact with many different visitors and sometimes I even had some time for a chat.
Besides the daily tasks I was responsible for the registration of the volunteers at the Municipality. Therefore I passed by the Municipality several times a week and got to knew the Greek way of dealing with administration. 

What do you think makes One Happy Family different from other similar organizations?

For me, the cooperation between volunteers and helpers is one of the things that makes OHF unique. The different subprojects are managed jointly by the volunteers and helpers. In addition, the internal currency gives the visitors back a piece of self-determination.

What motivated you to stay longterm, to take over responsibility and why do you think it is important that volunteers stay for a long time?

Understanding certain contexts or processes takes some time. I am therefore glad that I was here at OHF for a longer period of time. After a few weeks I had a rough overview and was able to get involved in a different, more intense way.

„The role that OHF plays within the greater context of Lesvos and activism on the island is invaluable.“

Today you’ll meet our spicy fermented sauce inventor – Sam!

Sam has been first with our partner Better days and was for everyone “Garden Sam”! But then, he decided to join our kitchen team where he spends most of his days at OHF now: preparing food, inventing spicy sauce, speaking with Fifie about sustainability and ways of improvement, discussing ideas for new recipes and – as well – organises our cleaning cupboard and supports like this sustainability at OHF.

We’re very happy to have Sam as part of our team and even happier to share his volunteer story today with you.

Thank you, Sam for everything but most importantly for having a very huge and wonderful heart and for being part of this One happy-crazy-singing-dancing-smiling-amazing family!

This is my most memorable moment:

There are truly so many beautiful moments on a daily basis in OHF that it isn’t easy to pinpoint a specific instance, however one memory that will stay with me for some time is that of making falafel with the kitchen team in lieu of the tradition helper/volunteer breakfast. It was a rather clandestine operation if I’m being honest. With some coordination and much collusion, we were able to borrow the van the night prior, soak dried chickpeas and blend tahini without suspicion. Arriving to OHF shortly after the sunrise, watching the first moments of the day from arguably one of the most beautiful vantage points in the center, hurrying to make sure everything was perfect and as tasty as possible was one of the most remarkable moments for me and my time in OHF (well, second after tasting the falafel).

This struck me the most:

What has really taken me aback in the context of this project in its entirety – from the daily interactions with which I am privileged, to the wonderful colleagues with whom I work alongside, as well as the unique setting  – resides in the feeling of inclusivity and love. From dancing shamame and evening English courses, to bike repair, computer courses and pottery workshops, there has yet to be a moment of exclusionary comportment. The privilege I have for such emotions is extraordinary and is held dear to my heart.

One Happy Family is…

A space built from necessity and incessantly transforming itself and others in serendipitous splendor.

 This is what I would like to tell other people:

Allow yourself to love and be loved and remain present through each action.

My tasks in One Happy Family are…

My tasks in One Happy Family revolve principally around food and hygiene. I am volunteering as kitchen support and have recently been appointed the task of hygiene manager. Through food I am best able to communicate intention, hence spending my days in the cornerstone of OHF is where I feel best.

What do you think makes One Happy Family different from other similar organizations?

What makes OHF different from other organizations with similar intention is its nuance. Overlooking Turkey’s Western coastline, there is a strong sense of borders and their implications. Oriented rather longitudinally, OHF, when walked from one end to the other, requires you to pass by the same individuals with great frequency, facilitating conversations, pleasant glances and warm handshakes. Additionally, the kitchen lies more or less central to the greater space and most volunteers and visitors will at some point in the day visit to say hello, rooted in feelings of curiosity and/or hunger — both of which are immensely welcome.

What motivated you to stay longterm and why do you think it is important that volunteers stay for a long time?

I am indeed a long term volunteer. I have been volunteering in/around OHF for just about five months now, and I am more than content with this decision. During my time in the community space, I have had many hellos andgoodbyes, it’s the nature of volunteering in this context. For nearly all the refugees on the island, this is also a reoccurring facet of their lived experience. Staying for a longer duration allows for trust to root itself in relationships and experiences, and I have found so much beauty watching these rapports grow and grow.

And Sam added: 

The role that OHF plays within the greater context of Lesvos and activism on the island is invaluable. I feel happy and grateful to had the experience to watch this space and myself grow in unison.

„With them instead of for them (…) In my opinion this works perfectly – it IS possible!“

Ramo – a happy, positive minded teacher and barber shop manager – but also a dancer, cleaner (yes, we know that dish washing wasn’t your favourite daily task) and on his last day he even joined our security team!

In total Ramo stayed with us for around 2 months – but it felt like he’s been with OHF a lot longer. Thank you Ramo for being such a good support and for all of your energy!

Get an insight into Ramo’s volunteering experience at OHF with the following interview made during the end of his stay at our Community Centre:

This is my most memorable moment:

There are many, one of them happened just yesterday. I’m currently helping in the adult school as an English teacher, but my students didn’t know that I will be leaving in two weeks. Yesterday I told them that I’ll be leaving when they asked me about the registration for the next class. There was a family, they’re all students, but it’s a family: a mother and two daughters, they cried because they wanted me to be their teacher for the next level. I felt like I will be leaving them, I’ve never been a teacher before, but me being here and teaching them English is so important for them. I will never forget this moment.

This struck me the most:

The so called “Life-jacket graveyard”: When I saw this place, I was with 4 other volunteers. We went to see Molyvos and other nice places – quite a touristic weekend but on the way towards Molyvos we wanted to see the view. We then saw the life-jacket graveyard, I hadn’t heard about it before. Seeing all these life-jackets dumped onto hills felt like a huge slap in the face in terms of humanity!

One Happy Family is…

For me its one of the things where the name explains it best. It is seriously One Happy Family! I understood it just recently. I thought a lot about the system with our partners, of how we work with the helpers, of how the food grows in the garden and then we use it for the kitchen. The plastic spoons from lunch are reused for some art and garden projects.  Broken machines from the barber will be brought to the makerspace and they fix it. All of this is One Happy Family, it’s like a life-circle.

This is what I would like to tell other people:

As a volunteer there are many duties when we go back to our homes: not all of them have to be about One Happy Family but I really would like to tell the reality of the so called “refugee crisis” here. There is nothing more on the media and yet they are thousands of people seeking asylum here, living in one of the worst refugee camps in the world. I heard about Lesvos and Moria before my stay here, but I had no idea how bad the situation really is.

We will have a special presentation on our faculty at university because this is my internship, so I will use this presentation to explain to others:

I will explain the system of OHF, how it functions: “MIT ihnen statt für Sie, with them instead of for them” – I want to explain this system. In my opinion this works perfectly – it IS possible! So this model could be applied elsewhere where migration and immigration are a topic.

My tasks in One Happy Family are…

The first three weeks I did only daily tasks, I liked the bank a lot. They offered me then to teach in the adult school and we reopened the helpers English classes. I’m thus mainly busy with the school. Between this time I try to help with the other tasks: I like the bank, so I do it as well.

I’m also serving food for the kids – It’s easy and fun for me.

I also now have the responsibility for the barber shop: so I’m in close contact with our barbers.

What do you think makes One Happy Family different from other similar organizations?

Working WITH the people, but this is maybe the most common answer.

It’s an NGO working with many partners on one place. I can imagine that this is very challenging: working with many but not having conflicts. It’s amazing how it functions!

And working with 65 helpers at the moment, they take their jobs very seriously and they know their work so well. This willingness of the helpers, to improve and to produce something impresses me as well. Also the visitors, this connection between volunteers, helpers and visitors: people take care of the place of OHF, they want it. I see many visitors taking care of the place: helping with cleaning etc.

What motivated you to stay long-term and why do you think it is important that volunteers stay for a long time?

Long-term volunteers take over more responsibilities: for example if the teacher changes every two weeks the students will be confused. It depends on the tasks, the daily tasks can be done as well by short termers, but there are many tasks that need more responsibility.

You can make the place better than before only with the long-term volunteers. And you’ll understand everything much better than the short termers, you’ll know as well the short cuts for many things, which makes you more helpful for the organization. 🙂

And Ramo added… 

It’s gonna be probably one of the unique experiences in my life, even though I used to live in a refugee environment almost all my life. I wasn’t expecting to have such an amazing experience where I learned a lot, I’m very grateful for this.

I saw the migration crisis with my own eyes now.,plus in addition I could do it in an NGO that makes this experience much more valuable. Thanks to EVERYONE!

‚I am confronted with the reality now‘

Brigitte Fredriksen

As an English teacher, Brigitte Fredriksen decided she wanted to use her education skills somewhere else. Her experience in One Happy Family has moved her and opened her eyes.

‘The people I’ve met in the community center are so open, friendly and welcoming. The daily life of the refugees is so different from mine, but still I was able to relate to them. It was a very intense experience, but also so valuable.

I decided to go to Lesvos, because …
‘I wanted to learn more about the situation there. First, I was thinking to work with refugees in Libanon. But then I realized that there are also a lot of refugees in Europe. The fact that we have refugee crisis here is interesting. I felt like I needed to help, since I am a citizen of this part of the world. I wanted to do something meaningful. But I also wanted to see if the crisis was still going on. Unfortunately, I now know it is.

What were your expectations of One Happy Family?
Before I left to Lesvos, I read a lot of information about this community center on the internet. The philosophy of this organization – not for the people but with them – really appealed to me. I believe humanitarian aid is not only about helping, but also about empowering. I was hoping to see this in One Happy Family. And luckily I did. This is a really vibrant community, where refugees are given the chance to use their qualities. It makes them feel human again.’

My task in One Happy Family was …
‘Teaching English to adults. This was interesting. Back home, I am very strict during my lessons. But here I had to be more flexibel. The people have to walk one hour to visit this place. When they were late for classes, I decided to let them in. This is something I wouldn’t do in Norway.

Although it was sometimes difficult to explain certain things, all the people were really motivated to learn. There are many people with different language backgrounds and some of them are not educated. But still, I did not had to stimulate them myself. This was wonderful to see. ’

What struck me the most was …
People telling me how they cannot sleep at night. I wonder how long it will take before they go mad. It also got to me that I was not able to do anything about this situation. Imagine how the people themselves feel. This is one of the many reasons why there is such a need for a place like One Happy Family. The people can relax a bit and enjoy themselves.’

What I would like to tell other people …
At this moment, lives are being destroyed. This crisis is still going on. And the fact that this is happening in Europe, is mind-blowing. The way we treat refugees is not according to the human rights. The politicians have made a major mistake.’

I am confronted with the reality now. You can think, talk and reason about this crisis. But when you meet the people and feel their pain, you feel the obligation to do something. When I am back in Norway, I will start raising awareness about the situation in Lesvos. It’s impossible for me to accept this any longer.’

Age: 43

Country: Norway

Occupation: teacher

Stay: March 18 – April 1

‚I didn’t know I could learn so much from other people in just a few weeks‘

Anja Otth, 25, social work student from Switzerland

After working with refugees in Switzerland, Anja decided to come to Lesvos to see things from a different point of view. She wanted to see what the people here are going through so she could use this experience in her work in Switzerland. ‚Working here as a volunteer on Lesvos taught me to see things from another perspective. In my time on Lesvos I learned so much from the people that are here.‘ 

This is my most memorable moment…
The thing that I really liked to do was the cleaning day. All the volunteers and helpers were working together to make One Happy Family even more beautiful! We started the day with some yoga to relax our minds and bodies and I really enjoyed this because it was also a kind of team-building thing. Days like this make the team grow even closer to each other.‘

This struck me the most…
When I worked in Switzerland I had a very professional role so it was easier for me to keep my distance from the people. Being here, working as a volunteer so close with the people is different. I heard a lot of personal stories and the whole situation comes so close! When I talked with people who have been here for a long time, I heard many rough and touching stories. I knew living here was hard before I came here, but I didn’t realise how many things are actually going wrong here, on this island.
One moment that is really stuck in my mind, is my visit to the lifejacket graveyard and realising that the inside of the lifejackets actually suck up the water instead of making them float, because of the cheap quality.‘ 

One Happy Family is…
‚A safe place were people can learn from each other and where people get the opportunity to use their skills and share this with others.‘

This is what I would like to tell other people…
I think it would be good if everyone once experienced how it is to work here so they can see what is actually going on. For the 1,5 years that One Happy Family now exists I am so surprised by how it grew and how it is still growing and helping the people in such a positive way! I hope that more people will come here and spread the idea around so more places like this will appear.‘

My tasks in One Happy Family were…

I was coordinating the adult school, the youth space and the guitar classes for the youth and the adults. I also helped out wherever my help was needed.

‚My impact starts now‘

Tina Leiser

She decided to go to Lesvos because she felt the need to know what refugees in Europe go through. After this experience, Tina Leiser is ready to raise awareness in Switzerland.

‘I know my impact in Lesvos was really small. But I needed to come here to understand the whole situation. Now I can take the next step which is raising awareness. My impact starts now.’

My tasks in One Happy Family, were …
‘Teaching English and translating for the doctors in DocMobile. The English classes were very interesting. Even though I was the teacher, I also learned a lot of them. I learned about their language, their culture but also about their powerfulness. These people are so strong. And most of them also have a good sense of humor.’

‘Translating for the doctors was a bit more tough. I have heard a lot of horrible stories and I had to protect myself by setting a distance. You cannot get to personal, because it is terrible to realize that everything they describe truly happened to them. Despite this, I did feel very useful doing this job. As there are many Africans in Lesvos, a French translator is necessary.’

This struck me the most …
I did not realize that the refugees are stuck in Lesvos for such a long time. Some of them are here for months or even years. And they are living in an overcrowded camp with more than 7000 people. A camp where they are treated like animals. These people experienced the most horrible things but look how we welcome them. I feel so ashamed of this.

One of the hardest things for me was how the local people treat the refugees. I will always remember the night when greek people attacked refugees who were having a peaceful demonstration. They threw stones at families and children. This was the first time I experienced something so violent. It showed how tough life can be for refugees. They are not seen as human beings. It still makes me so sad.

One Happy Family is …
‘A bubble. But this is a good thing. The people need this. Over here they can rest, relax and maybe even enjoy their days. I really like how this community center is being run. It means a lot to me that we work together with the refugees to reach something. Also all the volunteers are involved in the projects. We all carry this wonderful center.

What i’d like to tell other people …
We are all part of the same world. We are all equal and we all have the same rights. The people I’ve meet here deserve it to have a life which they can enjoy. Not a life where they are worried whether they will get asylum or not. Think about this. And care about everyone. Not only about your own friends and family.’

Age: 28

Country: Switzerland

Occupation: project officer

Stay: 1 april – 13 may

Giulia-Berti

‚One Happy Family teaches you how to be kinder‘

Giulia-Berti

Giulia Berti

She wanted to go to Lesvos before, but her family told her not to. It was a friend of Giulia Berti (25) who told her about One Happy Family and made her decide to volunteer at the community center. ‘My family thought it would be too dangerous to work here. But when my friend told me about his experience, I just knew had to go.’

‘What I’ve learned here, is that it is so important to create a place where people feel safe. You always think that people who suffer need clothes, money and food. But we forget about the importance of the mental condition. One Happy Family takes care of this. And that is so important.’

This is the reason I came to Lesvos …
‘A friend of mine who volunteered in One Happy Family told me about his experience. He told me about the situation in Moria and how horrifying it was. But he also said that, despite this, he was able to make people smile when he worked in the community center.

I decided to contact the coordination team of One Happy Family to get more information. It felt safe. I trusted my friend and the people who are volunteering in the center. Then I decided I just had to go.’

My tasks at One Happy Family, were …
‘Working in the cafe, boutique and kitchen. At the beginning I found it difficult to tell the people to respect the rules we have here. That they cannot have more food than other persons, for example. But after a while I realized I had to tell them. In Moria they don’t have rules. The people are treated bad over there. It is the responsibility of the volunteers to show them that this is not the case in One Happy Family.’

One of my most memorable moments during my volunteer ship, was when we were serving food. We were all singing and dancing. It wasn’t just about distributing meals. It was about giving them a good time and enjoying the moment. It brought tears to my eyes.’


My experience in One Happy Family was …
Special and emotional. I thought I would come here to help the people. But now I feel my stay here is a gift to me, not to them. The contact I had with the people here is different from the contact I have with the people in Germany. It is more true, more authentic. They are so friendly, even though they are in a situation where other people would go crazy. They are all so strong.

I had the expectation that I would have to do a lot of physical work. But in the end, I wasn’t needed for this. The people from Moria who work here want to do it themselves. And that is amazing. They have a task. This gives them strength and self confidence.’

One Happy Family is …
‘A place to have a break from the cruel reality. A place where you can meet your friends and have a good talk. In here, the people are not alone. It’s really a community. It also prepares you for the normal life, how it should be. Unlike Moria, were the people are treated like animals.’

This is what I would like to tell other people …
‘I would recommend everybody to come to One Happy Family. Not only to help the refugees, but also for themselves. We should be kinder to each other. That is what you can learn in this place. It was the best decision I’ve made this year to visit this place. The connection you make with the people is real. I will come back for sure.’

Age: 25

Country: Germany

Occupation: studying

Stay: 24 March – 6 April

‚Refugees are not from a different planet‘

Gaelle Dietrich

Gaelle Dietrich volunteers in a center for refugees in Germany. To learn more about what these people are going through, she decided to go to Lesvos. ‘I wanted to go a little bit further in the work I am doing. I felt the need to see where the people I work with have lived and what they’ve experienced. In Germany I wasn’t able to get fully confronted with this.’

‘When I heard about One Happy Family it sounded like a perfect place for me to work. There are many different activities and you also have the time to talk to the people. In this way you can understand the situation they are in much better.’

This is my most memorable moment…
‘What has impressed me is all the love and solidarity I’ve received. The name ‘One Happy Family’ is not just a brand mark, it is a reality. It is so easy to talk to people and to have a good and honest conversation. The trust they have in you is amazing. I met a boy who suddenly told me he missies his mother. That he opened up to me and told me something so personal really touched my heart.‘

This struck me the most…
‘The refugees in this center have so much energy and are so joyful. But at the same time there is a lot of pain in the background.  You can see this when someone is sitting on their own and is thinking. Or when they tell you something personal.  There is a big contrast between joy and reality.  And there can be so much feelings in just one hour. This must be exhausting for them.’

One Happy Family is …
A world apart. A place where people can escape from life in camp Moria. It is surprising how calm and restful the people are here. Some adults are drawing flowers the whole day and are so peaceful in that moment. This is amazing to see. One Happy Family provides this place, where  people can express their feelings and relief the stress they are experiencing

This is what I would like to tell other people …
‚I would like to tell the people who are living in Moria that I am proud of them. I am proud of their strength and their wish to stay alive at any price. Please continue in this way.

I would like to tell people who are living in other countries to visit Lesvos.
A lot of people think it is difficult to talk with refugees. But it is not. We are all humans and we can all communicate with each other. A lot of people are afraid of refugees and they don’t know how to deal with this. But when you visit this place, you will see that they are just like us. Human beings. They are not from a different planet.’

Age: 34

Country: Germany

Occupation: project manager

Stay: 20 April -22 May

‚Sometimes a Mandala can save a life‘

Dilan Siper

I came to Lesvos, because …
‘A feeling of powerlessness overwhelmed me. I am active in a left-wing student group, but because of my study I didn’t have a lot of time to focus on it. Added to this, political work is very frustrating. You put so much effort in it, but you barely see any results. I was at a point that I wanted to work somewhere where I could see the effects of the work I do. I contacted a German organization and they connected me to One Happy Family.’

My tasks in One Happy Family were …
‘Working at the boutique, giving out drachma’s at the bank and organizing the art table and other activities. The visitors really need to be occupied. Especially the art table was surprisingly succesful. Many adults – which were also men –  enjoyed it.

I learned here that, when you are in so much pain, a simple Mandala can bring you so much. The visitors might not like to draw one if they had a normal, stable life. But in this situation they are looking for distraction. They want to be focussed on something else, rather than thinking about the situation they are in. I never realized as much as here, that the little things are the most important. Sometimes a Mandela can safe a life.

My experience in the community center was …
‘Intense.This community center is a happy bubble. At the beginning this felt wrong, because it is not the reality. I sometimes asked myself what I was doing here. I wasn’t changing anything about the situation. But I came back from this. I realized that these people need a place to forget the reality. And if that is just for six hours, than thats’ ok. Changing the little moments, are as important as changing the big situation.

All of my friends have asked me about my experience here. It is hard to answer their question, because it’s a feeling and not something rational. I knew about the situation before I came here. But it feels different now. It is like reading the newspaper. You know what has happened to someone, but you don’t know the person.  Now I know these people, with their personality and the look in their eyes. They are human beings now. Not just names.’

This struck me the most …
All of the stories I heard were horrible. But what struck me the most, was when someone was thinking about their future. The past is also hard, but it has ended. Their future still has to come and it is already terrible. You can’t tell them everything will be fine, because you don’t know this. Everything is uncertain and that is awful.

What I would like to tell to other people …
I would like to tell  people that they should try to do something about the refugee crises in their own country. Because that is were you can make the biggest change. If you have the ability to visit this island, you should. The feeling that this experience gives you is so important. It makes the difference.’

Age: 23

Country: Germany

Occupation: psychology student

Stay: 21 march – 30 april