During the years 2017-2020 our ‘bathhouse’ on the Greek island Lesbos was open for women and children from the refugee camp six days a week. With ShowerPower we wanted to give a clean and safe place to take a shower to as many of them as possible. Throughout the years this was made possible by hundreds of volunteers who flew to Lesbos from all over the world. We provided towels, new underwear, toiletries and a van to transport people to and from camp Moria. More than 20.000 times the shower faucets were turned on. More than 20.000 times women and children could, just for a short moment, escape the grim reality of the inhumane camp Moria. We got the chance to pamper these women for a short moment. It may sound simple, but a warm shower occasionally makes a big difference. The warm water soothes and finally being able to wash your hair or bathe your child helps you to escape reality by feeling human for a short moment.
Now that the mission on Lesbos has ended, we really want to share our story of our ‘Lesbos- chapter’ with you. The story of the women we met, of the volunteers who dedicated themselves with heart and soul, but also the story of all the supporters who set up actions to make this safe place possible.
The initiation of our foundation
ShowerPower starts at Pieter’s kitchen table. Together with Dinne and Liesbeth the plan and mission for ShowerPower were worked out at this table. On 21 December 2017 the foundation was officially registered with the Chamber of Commerce.
‘Other organizations focus on providing clothes, education and medical care. The ShowerPower Foundation believes something must be done about the hygienic conditions and will, for the time being, concentrate on establishing showers in a safe environment.’
Soon after furnishing the house, we welcomed our first guests. From Tuesday through Sunday the cosy old Greek house is open to women and children. There is an intimate atmosphere and it is safe. EuroRelief, an organization active within camp Moria, hands out shower tickets on behalf of ShowerPower on a daily basis. This creates tranquility and track of the situation when the women are picked up at the ShowerPower ‘bus stop’. Each and every day we are visited by 25 to 30 women and children.
The volunteers receive the guests the way they would receive their friends at home. They take care of the children when their mothers are taking a shower. They help when necessary, prepare, serve tea and freshly made soup, play, listen, talk (sometimes with hands and feet), sing, transport the guests back to the camp and tidy the ShowerPower House for a new group.
‘It feels like home’
A woman from Afghanistan writes in our guestbook: “It is the first time I’ve come here and I found this place like home. Indeed, they’re amazing people and they know the meaning of humanity. I thank them from the bottom of my heart for their kindness.
Liesbeth shares her experiences of a rainy day with a golden lining. “Protected by my big umbrella I climb up the slope of Olive Grove. The water gushes down from the tents. You can’t see anybody, but I do hear numerous voices. On top of the hill I see a child’s face in the opening of a tent. I walk towards her and say hello. In the tent is a mother with three little children. Next to her is her sister, she is 19 years old and 7 months pregnant. I tell them who I am and offer them a warm shower. Their eyes begin to shine. When they explain it to their children there is a loud cheering, as if I offer them a trip to Europe’s largest swimming pool.
Love and compassion
Time and again we drive, with great pleasure and gratitude, to and fro the airport on Lesbos. It is so special that women from all over the world keep on travelling and often come back here to help the women. “Every day we give to many, but what we get back is so much more. It’s a collection of emotions, stories about pain but also about resilience, hope and the wish for a new beginning. Every day we prepare the fire and make tea, we welcome the women and children, we embrace, we listen, we braid hair, we play, we share, we cook, we clean, we laugh and we cry. We mostly do this together because essentially we are all women and we are all the same, especially when we are together in the lounge. ShowerPower is a story about sharing love, friendliness and compassion” , Gaye Ford (52) writes from Australia after her experiences on Lesbos.
From Canada, Brazil, New Zealand and 22 other countries volunteers take the plane to Lesbos. During these past years the work has been made possible by almost 130 volunteers. Each week 3 to 4 volunteers are staying in the house, some of them as long as three weeks in a row. Curious about more experiences from our volunteers? Click here for more.
The support for our work is overwhelming sometimes. From all over the world we receive messages from people, organizations and companies that support our work. It’s too much to mention all actions, although we would like to do so. We do remember that, in our first year, a school in Groningen initiated a gigantic action. Pupils, teachers and even parents were committed to it. Also the support from church councils was enormous. On their own initiative money is raised or we are invited for a presentation. Our work is also brought to the attention in a sportive manner. Swimming, cycling and running. Four students from Amsterdam did all three and collected a wonderful amount of money. It’s heartwarming to experience that so many people bear a warm heart towards our work. Together we make it possible, whether you’ve been on Lesbos or not.
The team of volunteers changes regularly, but a constant factor in the house is ‘My Friend’, our beloved red cat. Every week we share a picture of the ever-growing cat on our Facebook page. Not only is she much loved, but also very active. Since her arrival there are no longer mice in our bathhouse. No matter how small she was in the beginning, hunting mice is her specialty. The fact that she has survived a double pneumonia proves that she is very strong.
For one week during those three years our bathhouse was not a peaceful place. Because of tension in the camp between various groups, 900 Kurds left camp Moria. House of Humanity offers hundreds of men, women and children a safe place to sleep. We open our house for a quick and warm shower. That week Peter is on Lesbos and remembers the situation very well: “There are regular fights in the camp, but this was the first time that a whole community left the camp. We have supported House of Humanity by letting the women, children and a lot of babies take a shower with us. Also a group of men, who were in a terrible state, could take a shower.” No extensive coddling, but driving on and off with two cars to offer everyone a shower.
Petitions and demonstrations
#ENOUGHISENOUGH, #KIJKNIETWEG, #SOSMoria and we could mention many more slogans and campaign slogans. In addition to our work on Lesbos we support every action that deserves attention for the inhumane situation at the European borders, because, in spite of the valuable work, we are aware of the fact that this is not a long term solution. The situation in the refugee camps must be improved structurally and it is most important that a fair and speedy asylum procedure will be realized. We sign petitions, invite our supporters to do the same and speak at demonstrations. That’s why it is so terribly painful to see that the situation hasn’t changed, but has deteriorated.
End of our activities on Lesbos
Since March 2020 our house has been temporarily closed due to a) the reactionary violence against refugees and volunteers and b) because of the Covid 19 lockdown.The fires of 8 and 9 September 2020, which definitely ended refugee camp Moria on Lesbos as it was, likewise ended the activities of the ShowerPower Foundation in its old form.
Fire and COVID19
After the fires a new and closed camp has been set up hastily. People who stay there can’t get in or out, NGOs are not or barely admitted entrance. In addition to this Covid 19 still plays an important role and ShowerPower definitely doesn’t want to cause a further spread of the virus.
In the meantime we have started to increase our financial support to local NGOs that are able to give some support to the locked up refugees. Organizations like Stand by me Lesbos, Attika and Mosaik can count on our monthly support. We will continue to do so. Besides that, our red and white bus are used again, we have been involved in a breastfeeding campaign at the beginning of the year and at the moment we support Moria White Helmets by collecting bottles. Garbage in the camp is a huge problem, but when inhabitants return plastic bottles they receive vouchers with which they can get dried food and other groceries. By now they collect thousands of bottles each day. These bottles are sold on Lesbos and shipped to Athens. This way things have come full circle and a win-win situation for all parties.
In spite of the end of our activities on Lesbos we continue our mission, which is far from finished. Early September 2020 the foundation started looking for alternatives to give shape to the mission when it became clear that it couldn’t function anymore as it had done before. Since then the board has been considering legal actions to denounce the European refugee policy with an independent judge. The aim is to examine a policy which causes dehumanisation for compatibility with existing laws, international treaties and agreements. Because: enough is enough.