Food Distribution Program for Needy Immigrants in Ierapetra, Crete, Greece

Project location: GREECE, Ierapetra
Project start date: September 2013 - Project end date: November 2014
Project number: 2013-043
Beneficiary: Crete for Life Onlus

TIMELINE OF THE PRESENT FINAL REPORT: From November 2013 to August 2014

Distribution of  food  for forced immigrants in Ierapetra, Crete is an immediate intervention program providing basic food supplies on a regular basis for those who live in situations of extreme economic and social hardship.  Furthermore, this program wants to be an opportunity to acknowledge and connect with those who come from far away in search of a better life, in a mutually respectful and dignified exchange. 

Initially, the Catholic priest from the local church of Ierapetra had given his availability and  support to the program.  However, he was moved away shortly after the beginning of the program and his substitute, who divides himself among several parishes, has no time for direct intervention. The program is thus mainly developed by two volunteers of Crete For Life. Even if indirectly, the presence of the Catholic Church helps to justify and comforts those beneficiaries who are embarrassed or dubious about accepting charitable support.

At the start of the project, one male volunteer had befriended one Pakistani man, Mohammed, who was regularly cleaning car windscreens at the local supermarket. Before he had to flee his country, he was a professing medical doctor.  In Crete, not only was he trying to help his fellow Pakistanis but he was also lending a helping hand in matter of health  to other immigrants of  different nationalities as well as some of his Greek neighbors.

From this initial contact, in time, the network of local immigrants has slowly opened up to Crete For Life volunteers. In the small town of Ierapetra, especially in the winter months, many immigrants don’t feel at ease walking around, unless it is strictly to or from work. The rest of their time is spent indoors. The majority live in groups of four or five persons in very small, basic accommodations. “The Food Distribution Program” caters for households as opposed to individuals because, very few immigrants find jobs and these are usually occasional, or at best seasonal. Each group/household therefore shares expenses, accommodation and food.

The first step was to understand the habits and diets of the beneficiaries. While initially it was thought that general dry food, such as pasta, rice and tinned meat and fish, would have been an obvious choice, it was immediately clear that the best help to the beneficiaries would have been to support their own diet and habits. The majority of forced immigrants have health issues and the possibility to have access to their own food is essential to their well-being. In town there are two shops that import Halal meat, various flours and pulses, as well as spices and other products. Our volunteers buy and deliver food in each household, as well as gas cans and other essentials household goods.

The main result so far has been a trust-based relationship with a number of individuals of different ages, the majority of whom are from Pakistan. The relationship is reinforced by the donation of essential food, but what matters most is the time spent by the volunteers  in the different households, exchanging conversations, joking, listening and even sharing food together.

The beneficiaries of the program are greatly helped by the basic food  supplies: those who have jobs have more energy, strength  and are able to work better, freeing more revenues to send to their families; those who do  not work have some relief in their difficult predicament.

A further result has been that of helping out the initial contact, the Doctor/beneficiary, in looking after his community. Moreover, one very important result has been that several beneficiaries suffering with serious health problems such as Hepatitis C, and tuberculosis, have been “escorted” and introduced personally to the hospital by the volunteers, to receive tests and therapies of the case. Alone, they probably would have never summoned the courage or would have never been heard in the local community.

The rented space has allowed Crete For Life to collect and distribute donations in kind such as fruits and vegetables but also clothes and second-hand household goods, thus increasing the help available to the beneficiaries.

The monthly allowance allows to ensure that a number of households, and individuals, (about 30 to 40 people) regularly receives basic food staple. It is hard to count how many people are helped because food gets shared around their community.

Because of the trusting, friendly relationship that was created, many more forced immigrants, of the over one thousand strong community, could be helped and supported by continuing the program and increasing the revenues and food available to them.
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