Pikpa camp is located in Lesvos, on the border between Greece and Turkey. Lesvos has been featured in newspapers around the world during the last couple of years. Millions of people came to the beaches of Lesvos travelling from Turkey to Europe with rubber boats. Dead bodies came out to the shore when the boats did not make it to the land. A pile of a million of used life jackets still remains on the beach.
Lesvos became a pole for hundreds of thousands of volunteers coming from all around the world to help. An island that hosted simultaneously a strong local community of solidarity and Moria camp: the place that was burnt down a few times and where people died in tents covered with snow in winter 2017.
On this island Pikpa is located. A former children camp, it was occupied in 2012 by a group of women who wanted to provide a resort and a resource to refugees. Especially the more vulnerable groups: people with mental health issues, experiences of torturing or kidnapping, families with children with special needs. Pikpa camp is created with and organized by volunteers. It is run with the values of solidarity.
A series of wooden huts surrounded by trees. A communal kitchen and bathroom. A shop for food and clothing. The donations are stored there and the refugees are organizing themselves their resources of food and clothes. Regular meetings take place between volunteers and residents. Volunteers and residents run together the camp. Running together the camp, they get to know about each other and who they are other than a refugee and a volunteer.
Pikpa camp is usually called our Pikpa camp. People find a place in this difficult moment of trauma and transition in their lives, a place to make it theirs and start again with dignity. Volunteers from all around the world come to help and they bring Pikpa back to their homes and their own circles of solidarity.
One of the initiatives organized by the residents of the camp is the making of bags out of used life jackets. These bags are made by the residents and sold around the world, supporting financially the activities of the camp.
I volunteered in Pikpa camp for two weeks in July 2016. As part of an international group of volunteers we organized activities with the residents. In collaboration with others from the team we organized a women group and a children group. More important than that, we ran the camp together. We cleaned and cooked and had lunch together on a big table in the yard.
After lunch each day we were meeting with the children to play in the garden. As for the women, we asked them what they would like to do and they said: a spa. We brought with us nail polish and cream and organized a spa in the church. We got together three times a week. We formed a group that started with 4 people and gathered 14 along the way. Women from various different countries from Middle East, Africa, Europe, speaking in between us in 4 different languages. We did not know each other’s language and we still played together. We created bracelets, draw, danced, talked and had tea. The outreach for the group was made by our youngest group member: Saggida 10 years old from Syria. She used to go around the huts with me and shout: Women! Women! until everyone opened their doors.
My strongest memory from Pikpa Camp is sweeping the floor of the yard every morning, gathering the fallen leaves in big plastic bags.
‘The first group of volunteers has arrived. We are all cleaning as the community of the camp is waking up. People are passing through the yard on their way to the toilet, carrying white towels on their shoulders. You can hear good morning in different languages coming out from different corners of the camp. Children are playing in the yard. I stop for a few minutes sweeping and watch the children play, thinking what they have seen on their way to here, where they were just a few days, often hours ago travelling through the sea to save their lives. Nehad comes around. She is from Syria. She is the same age as me. She came a few days ago to the camp with her husband and 5 children. We talk about food that reminds us of home. And then we start sweeping together.’