Guest Blog Post – From Dumfries to Arsal

We love hearing from our volunteers about their experiences of working with Massive Outpouring of Love, and encourage any of you who feel inclined to put pen to paper (or fingers to keys!) as we’d love to feature your piece.

Today, we’re very excited to present our first Guest Blog Post. It’s from the lovely Jane Baxter who recently took up a van load of aid from Dumfries to Edinburgh Direct Aid; it’s really nice to get the whole picture of what happens to the items you kindly donate and process once they leave the depot in Dumfries. It’s also nice to have some positive news to focus on in light of recent events in Calais.

“Having been a MOOL ‘Facebook liker’ since the refugee crisis hit the headlines last year, and a periodic scarf knitter-er for about as long, the time came to step up the help a notch.

We met Barbara when we visited the depot at Marchmount for the first time recently, whilst handing in the latest batch of knitted scarves (mostly from my mum in Edinburgh, whose needles rattle faster than mine).

Conversation turned to deliveries and, as we visit Edinburgh regularly to get my dodgy eyes ‘seen’ to, we arranged to take a load up to Edinburgh Direct Aid [EDA] in our trusty wee VW camper van, Freddie. (We did miss our ferry in Orkney due to a minor engine-related hiccough last week – an adventure that included the police blocking the road for us to roll back down a hill and an extra night (spent on a T-junction), however that was an exception to his otherwise reliable character).

Yesterday morning, we met the amazing Moxie, who had taken on legendary status in my Facebook world. She took us on a guided tour of the depot and spoke with endless enthusiasm about the terrific work of the volunteers and the critical importance of this effort. I was struck by the inclusive, holistic approach of MOOL – writing notes to pop in pockets is as valuable as donating, sorting and packing boxes. The depot is also now ‘child friendly’, so parents can come and help, there is an area where children can draw and folk can sit and have a cuppa and a chat.

We ranted a bit about the state of affairs, ridiculous reporting and comparatively insignificant political aid and chatted about how interested we think people would be to find out exactly what happened to their donations after they handed them in to the depot.

Moxie then located the specific boxes of sorted, donated goods for us to deliver to Edinburgh Direct Aid and we set about packing as many as we could into Freddie VW.

After a couple of meetings in Dumfries, we set off for Edinburgh with our precious cargo. We had arranged to meet David of EDA at around 8.30 pm, and arrived shortly after to their depot (leased from the Council for a minimal charge) in Granton. The doors were open and the depot was already brimming with bags and boxes of donated items.

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As we started to unload the van, we asked David about his work with EDA, the charity who have been delivering aid to people in desperate need since 1992. He has travelled all over the world helping people fleeing wars and since 2013 has regularly distributed aid to Arsal – a Lebanese town near the Syrian border – whose population of 35,000 has been swollen by up to 100,000 refugees escaping from the ruins of Syria. They are now crowded into tents and makeshift dwellings. David impressed upon us just how readily the inhabitants welcomed the refugees into their community without batting an eyelash.

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This is where the bags and boxes (of mainly ladies’ clothes), children’s clothes, shoes, scarves, walking sticks, duvets, sewing machines and medical equipment we brought from Dumfries will be heading very soon. (The 2 sewing machines we brought were added to the 3 or 4 already at the Edinburgh depot to be checked before being sent on.)

EDA aim to process deliveries every 2 to 3 weeks – so your donations should be heading out to Arsal by the beginning of November!

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David travels to Arsal where he helps with the distribution of the donated goods. All costs are covered by volunteers themselves – only local staff in destination countries are paid. Some of the refugees are employed, and make a small wage from organising unsorted donations. He explained that the refugees are proud people who may not like asking for help. Arrangements have been changed so that the donated goods are available without anyone having to come to approach anyone to request aid.

As many of the refugees are professionals, their skills are being utilised for the good of the camp. One particular story stood out…

David told us about the traumatised children (between the ages of 3 and 6) who can’t let go of their mothers – they physically cling on to them 24 hours a day for fear of losing them. Refugee psychologists and psychiatrists from the camp have found a treatment that works to help the children separate from their mothers. The mothers have to be kept in a different space from the children (but in a place without any exits – bar the one into the treatment area) so that the children know they are there and won’t leave them, so that they can begin to spend time apart. The mothers at first were just having to spend the day sitting waiting, so requested knitting needles and wool to be usefully occupied instead. This is why you may have seen knitting equipment etc on the list of donations needed.

The sewing machines will be used by refugees to make their own sanitary towels from donated towels.

EDA have facilitated the building and furnishing of 3 schools so far in Arsel, thus the request for stationery items – paper, pens, pencils, school bags etc. I asked David about children’s books (as I have an attic full!) and he said that only picture books with limited words are useful.

He showed us boxes of other items that are taken to Arsal and said that sanitary towels (no tampons) in particular are in high demand.

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Malcolm and I later chatted about how we could start collecting some of these toiletry and stationery items (toothbrushes and paste/ wet wipes and nappies/ shaving gear/ first aid items/ soap and shampoo hairbands etc) when they are on special ‘buy one get one free’ type offers (i.e. donate the free item). I’m not sure if this is something already initiated through MOOL.

Interestingly, we learned that while duvets are appreciated, blankets are preferred as they are more familiar. David spoke about the climate in the mountains of Lebanon – where in the summer the temperature is scorching, within a predictable fortnight (the first couple of weeks in January), the temperature instantly drops to -10°C. Thus the need for warm jackets, waterproofs, woolly hats, gloves, scarves, socks and boots.

We came away feeling somewhat blown away by the small insight we had of the generosity, goodwill and sheer determination of the many people involved at so many different levels in getting aid to people who need it the most.  It felt good to be a very small link in a very much larger chain.”

leaving-eda-for-arsalETA: 28/10/16 – David from Edinburgh Direct Aid sent this photo of our D&G banana boxes being packed into a container heading for Arsal on the Syria/ Lebanese border.

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