Luck of Birth is a charity set up by Totnes’ Sam and Theo Nelson, who witnessed first-hand the extreme hardship suffered by refugees in both Calais and Greece and refused to turn away; instead going to Greece as a family to put their hearts and souls into the challenge.
After seeing a leaflet of theirs in Sacks one day, I got in contact about a month ago; Sam asked that we hold back a report until a deal they were trying to work through Greek bureaucracy was secured.
They succeeded in that mission! Sam and Theo have recently finalised agreements on good accommodation in a nice apartment block to be used by the most vulnerable families they encounter. This is an amazing achievement for the Luck of Birth Nelson family, and a truly life-changing one for the families who will be sheltered there.
The following is a mix of excerpts from the excellent Luck of Birth blog, including the two most recent posts almost in full, and emails from Sam. It gives a snapshot version of the relatively short but epic story of Luck of Birth:
The story is long … Back in January Theo helped a friend deliver a caravan to the Calais ‘Jungle’ camp, it was taken to Liz Clegg who is another Totnesian working very hard to help the refugee population in Calais – here is her FB page . She has been working to protect and support the women, children and unaccompanied minors there. Theo delivered the caravan to her and the family it was then used to house had the most shocking story Theo and I had ever heard. The impact of witnessing them and their loss made it impossible for us not to do something more. …
We originally planned to do one big trip, Theo and a friend driving two vehicles towing caravans filled with aid in the shape of tents, food, blankets … Riverford farm shop backed us with food from Essential in Bristol and we stopped off at the Taunton refugee aid collection point (FB page) too. Our intention was to drop off aid to Idomeni, which is a border town on the northern border between Greece and Macedonia – there was a huge camp evolving there: 15,000 when Theo arrived, half of the number children. The news coming through was that things were becoming desperate so in Italy Theo stocked up at a cash and carry with lentils, rice, oil, carrots, onions, spices, tea and sugar. …
We were completely unprepared for what he would witness when he got there. It was apocalyptic, literally. No shelter, pouring rain, children everywhere all soaked through and it was freezing cold, even worse at night. …
The shock was huge. MSF were there, as were Save the Children and UNHCR but they were all overwhelmed, so many people, so much need and such awful conditions. It rained continually and the big camp was on a plain so it was fiercely windy. The tents were constantly flooded and everyone was freezing, hungry and wet. Theo stayed there working in the camp putting up tents and trying to get people dry for 5 days straight working through the night getting very little sleep, after 5 or so days he felt everyone was in some sort of shelter. It was a terrible time very shocking to be scooping frozen children out of wet tents and realising that the big organisations just didn’t have it under control. …
Thessaloniki camp – Night is particularly hard, especially for the women and children. They are frightened to leave their tents at night and feel unable to use the toilets for fear of attack, the older children are vulnerable to bad influences in the camp, there are mothers there with 5, 6, 7 children to care for and they are by themselves. …
Can you imagine being that woman with your children? Totally alone and terrified in a camp housing hundreds, how would you survive? Single mothers are extremely vulnerable. How would you protect your children from the infiltration of abusers? …
Hmmmmm….. Consider this one for a while….. Do you help the mother with 5, 6, 7 kids who is so terrified for her children she cannot sleep at night, or do you help the family that is being racially abused and threatened with violence, or do you urgently help the family whose 4 year old son has already been beaten up, or do you focus on the mothers with brand new babies, or do you focus on the heavily pregnant? How can we choose? How would you choose? …
Bear in mind it is hot and some of the camps are completely inhospitable, 40 degree heat with a newborn in an airless tent? or heavily pregnant? or with chronic illness? or with so many children who are bitten by mosquitoes and hungry and bored and hot? …
It is impossible.
We just couldn’t turn away, especially from the families with young children. This is where Luck of Birth really started. We thought we would just do one big trip but we haven’t stopped since and there is still so much need. Things have changed hugely but there are still endless vulnerable families to help. …
We are currently focussed on a big project in Thessaloniki we are in the last moments of negotiating for a building of 19 apartments, we have a case list of the most vulnerable families our apartments can help and we are going to move them out from the camps. …
WE HAVE DONE IT!
Finally after months of work, preparation, negotiation, form filling and banging our heads against the Greek bureaucratic system we have done it! In conjunction with Filoxenia (our sister Greek organisation) we have 10 brand new sparkly gorgeous apartments with social spaces signed and sealed for this first independent housing project here in Thessaloniki!
This is an epic moment for Theo and I (Luck of Birth) our journey since February this year has been fraught with feeling ineffective and feeling swamped by the enormity of the problems faced by the community stranded here in Greece. Many times we have talked about abandoning the cause, feeling how can we ever get through the Greek red tape? How can we ever make any difference to the thousands of people we witness suffering every day while hidden away in camps?
But a wonderful thing has happened we have these apartments, we have 10 and there is huge scope to increase this number. We will be starting right now, to do something amazing for some of these people.
With grateful thanks to Help Refugees, Refugee Start and other private donors these apartments are secured and we can begin the process of moving the most vulnerable cases on our very long case list into safe, dry, warm homes.
We have been through extensive planning and discussing with colleagues and other collaborators to ensure we provide the best possible support we can for those we can help to regain their dignity and comfort.
We will have a social space which we will use to create a “free shop” – a place where everything that is normally handed out to people in queues can be personally chosen by each member of the community according to their tastes – simple human dignity.
We will also have a social cafe which will be a place to relax together, drink coffee (eat cake!) or the children to play, for simple classes/group activities to take place and in the evening sometimes social gatherings or movie nights – huge scope and lots of plans.
We intend to use the social cafe space to welcome the local Greek community too – there are lots of mums living in this area and I am sure they would love the chance of a safe play space with coffee and cake!
We intend to extend our services to include a learning centre – with activities aimed at all ages – the Greek government is implementing a plan to provide school places for all those stranded here so we will not need a school as such but we do want to offer opportunities for learning and social integration.
The inspirational MSF are opening a clinic locally to us so we will be able to access their services for medical needs and we will have 24 hour accessible transport to the hospital or doctors if required. There will be a 24 hour presence at the building to ensure there is always someone on hand if anyone needs anything.
All of these services are essential to the integration, support and community of the project but the most important thing of all is that each family group will have their own home, their own front door to close, their own kitchen to cook in, their own bathroom, their own washing machine, their own balcony, their own bed.
Stop for a moment and consider that for most of these people it has been many months and for many of them years since they last had this very simple thing – a home.
Can you imagine this? I can’t, I really can’t, I can imagine a little but it is unreal and seems so unlikely to happen. I can shy away from the discomfort of it…… Most of those we help here have no home except a tent and have no home left to return to.
I have been missing the UK living here in Thessaloniki but I know I can go home anytime I like, smell the flowers, get muddy and cold, pick the blackberries and make a crumble. It will be the same. Lucky, lucky me.
This is our global collective moment to offer that peace and security back to another person, to another family who so desperately, really desperately need it. I cannot think of any greater gift than a home – sure world peace would be amazing but right here and now I think a door to close and a bed to sleep in is a really, really great gift.
Kindness and Compassion in action!
Can you spare me a quid?
Thank you so much for all the sharing and all the love for our new very exciting project!!! This newsletter has reached nearly 5000 people!!!!! Which is absolutely incredible!!!!! The internet is such a force! I am so happy you guys are so happy – the project really is totally amazing – joy!
But now we really need your help…. Its about money of course….. Can you spare me a quid?
We need to buy mattresses for these apartments – we need 60 they are £29.63 each…. £1777.80 in total… If everyone who read the newsletter could spare us £1 today we could have all the mattresses and all the bedlinen and be a long way towards the all the fridges and cookers – what do you say? Can you spare us £1 today? Or £3 or £5?
It goes without saying that this money will go direct to the project – you will be giving direct to creating homes. We want to see 5 apartments ready to move into by next Friday. I am sure you would like to see that too, photos of homes ready for a family.
No more camp life.
Now fundraising for furnishings to make the flats useable by refugee families as quickly as possible; if you are able to make an affordable donation: https://mydonate.bt.com/events/homesforrefugees/345051
Luck of Birth Homepage: http://www.luckofbirth.org