Volunteering with Kitrinos Healthcare was a unique experience for me. Although I’ve worked and volunteered with several local and international charities and humanitarian aid organization helping refugees, my experience with Kitrinos in Greece was special.
For me, the most rewarding aspect of my time with Kitrinos was being directly involved and fully engaged with the refugees we were taking care of at the clinics. Waking up every day to a packed routine of going to the camps to attend to regular new patients, following up on cases and taking others to hospital and polyclinic appointments in the city center, was all very motivating. I also found the opportunity to try and explore new ways of providing better healthcare services for the residents at the camps quite challenging yet interesting at the same time. Trying to help resolve everyday issues – including sanitation, psychological treatment and leisure time and activities for children - that impacted the refugees’ health and general wellbeing meant having to engage an intricate web of NGO workers and government officials.
This allowed me to understand a great deal about the wider issues facing refugees in Greece and other host countries. It also gave me the chance to speak to the residents at the camps about their everyday lives and those of their families regarding matters that extended beyond health issues. I found those opportunities very valuable and allowed me to relate to the many men and women we met at the camps in ways I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.
It was clear for me from day one that all the volunteers had to have the capacity to adjust quickly and respond to situations with a lot flexibility. Being part of a medical team that works in a foreign country and with limited resources to treat illnesses and to emergencies, required a great deal of dexterity. Despite the challenges of working in such an environment, the volunteer program at Kitrinos has been set up in a way that allows newcomers to quickly adapt and be able to deliver on what is expected of them.
Kitrinos has managed to establish a good working system where older members on the team regularly introduce newcomers and provide them with basic ‘training’ on how things are done. The system put in place also allows members of the team who’ve been volunteering for longer to regularly pass down know-how and information about how to deal with patients and certain situation as well as how to navigate the wider healthcare system in Greece. This definitely enabled me and others to get a good grasp of how things work and be able to get involved in the thick of the work soon after arrival.
It is for this reason that I particularly appreciated the morning meetings where the team would discuss everything that was planned for the day and who was responsible for what. Tasks were always delegated to teams, where most of the time, one of the people on the team was a translator to help engage with the patients. There would also usually be someone who is a local and familiar with the way things work in Greece to help with hospital appointment or any errands that had to be run outside of the refugee camps. In a similar fashion, the evening run down of the day was always useful in reviewing things and making sure the team was learning from mistakes and ready for new challenges the next day.
In addition to the valuable experience I had working to help refugees, I found the spirit of the volunteer team very special. Everyone I met at Kitrinos was an exceptional person who had volunteered their time and resources to help people who were in every need of support. Each person on the team showed immense dedication and passion which was absolutely beautiful to share and experience. I definitely believe that it is this spirit which keeps Kitrinos going despite the many challenges it faces.