The man who made the refugees happy!
Agony, refugees’ permanent companion around the world. Agony, the only companion beside the steps of every refugee either he had passed through Idomeni, or had passed through our country, even for every refugee who has passed and has remain, here, in our country. One of their agonies is the communication with their intimates, the communication with everyone who is in the front or in the back of their passages.
The framing of refugees holding a smart phone, searching anxiously electricity to fill the battery or internet to communicate, had been a phenomenon of everyday in Idomeni. Seeing packed people around connected cables or in front of the inflow Wi-Fi aerial had been something ordinary.
In Ancient Greek Tragedy the solution at critical moments of the plot is given by “deus ex machine”. In the refugee’s tragedy that took place in Idomeni the solution about “communications” one of the most important domains had been given by “deus ex machine” for one more time.
Elias Papadopoulos, a volunteer, an activist of communications who has made “happy refugees”, as a girl-member of an NGO had told him during her action in the camp, but all the same he hadn’t had such purpose. “Are you the one that has made the refugees happy?”, she said one day…
“I haven’t realize something like that, but OK”, Elias replied to the girl. He is one of many common people who have made valuable actions during the refugee crisis of the last two years without realizing how important that would become for refugee’s lives who were living with agony in the wetland of Idomeni and in the refugee camp.
“When you become the observer of situations which have been developed around you, your point of view about life maybe changes. Everything you consider that it comes first changes as priority. When you feel so much pain, you change forever. I saw refugees passing by, in front of my eyes. I didn’t watch that on TV. This is an important difference», Elias said.
Elias went at Idomeni by chance. “I had been in a discussion with some friends from Katerini who were making trips to Idomeni every Wednesday and Saturday by cars transferring goods”, Elias remembered. “At that time there had been nothing at Idomeni. Just fields. As we were discussing my friends told me that there was a hotel in that area which was asking for 2 or 5 euros to electrify refugee’s mobiles, or let them make a douche. When I heard that, I had some thoughts; “Just a moment! I could help. That is my job anyway. Friends coming from the Evangelical Church which had already helped, show me photographs of people sitting on the train tracks, and that’s how I decided to go to Idomeni”.
“ It was on August of 2015. I faced the panic and the fog. “Mother lost her child, mother found her child” (this phrase is a Greek idiom that means a chaotic situation). Crowds and hot weather. The people who were standing under the trees had had just a bit of coolness. The rest of them were standing into nowhere under the hot rays of the sun burning their faces. At that time at Idomeni there were no barbed-wire fences. Only presence, the army. That was the period of big flows of refugees. Police had broken them up into teams of fifty persons and they had been waiting patiently to pass the borders. Lengthy canvas and infrastructures, had began to be built after the 15th of September of 2015. At that time I realized that the basic needs were two, electricity for batteries and Wi-Fi”.
“I had had extra materials from my job and I made up some experiments using mobile systems via mobile phones and powerful inverters. The experiment for the batteries had been successful. The internet flow, on the other hand, had been the total failure. They couldn’t download many data for the use of mobile phones or to have hi speed. I used to go to Idomeni two or three times per week. One day we brought a big refrigerator and put it where the large tents had been settled. Evelina Politidou had helped me to compose an application to connect the community of Idomeni by cable, and use that for the Wi-Fi connection of the refugee camp. In continuity we added a second cable, the router device was refortified, and the connection stabilised. The network had been always busy but for the use of a Whatsapp device this had been all right. I had used devices of my property, but the big costs were from the use of the cables. There were many damages. Damaged cables every day. Containers were passing, refugees cut cables to use them for their camping. It was common situation every time I had been in the camp having to solve problems. As long as I was there the cables were functioning, but when I wasn’t there were problems”.
NetHope and Google cooperated and the output was very useful for the refugees
Elias had started up these actions which are similar to what big NGOs of communications had started, like “Communications without borders”, Vodafone Foundation, and NetHope. “NetHope had started to give help since September of 2015, but they hadn’t come to Idomeni because they saw me being active there. The Vodafone Foundation and the French NGO “Communications without borders” had put in our container a satellite system and had free the flow of data. Refugees were consuming 100Giga per day causing huge costs. Net-Hope came when the campings of Hersos and New Karvali opened. I had helped them with phone numbers. One day I had 28 phone cables at my name. That had been the starting point of my cooperation with NetHope”, Elias mentioned.
On 20th of June, the global Day of Refugees, Google sent her team in the area of north Greece aiming to make a short film, a documentary of Elia’s help to refugee’s crisis related with Google which has helped very much and continues to help refugees in Greece and all over the globe.
VIDEO OF THE PRESENS OF NetHope WITH THE HELP OF GOOGLE AT THESSALONIKI
“Google is one of the sponsors of NetHope”, Elias said. “All the big companies of technology help the NetHope. There is a kind of culture at that. They offer equipment, or staff to the NetHope. Wherever there are natural disasters or cases of crisis Google makes teams of volunteers who run for help accompanied with engineers and technicians.” , he added.
“I WAS IMPRESSED WITH THE PEOPLE WHO HELP WITHOUT EXPECTING ANY PROFITS”
Elias, at Idomeni was impressed from people who went there to help without waiting for any profits. One of them was himself, too. But at that time, he couldn’t realize that.
“It was touching what was happening at Idomeni”, he said. “You would see common people coming and help. I was impressed by that fact. They were not from an organization that would allow us to claim that they had its financial support. They were common people who gave their money, their time to help other people. It has been very touching. It was in the period, before the coming of NGO. They were volunteers from the villages of Kilkis and the other areas around. They were arriving at nights with their cars, with lamps of gas and generators, they were sharing cooked food not for profit. I was impressed by their try.”
“Idomeni was a school for everyone that went there and help as volunteers or as members of organizations”
“Idomeni was a school for everyone that had gone there and had helped either as a volunteer or with organizations”, Elias said. “That had happened because everyone had understood that everyone could be in the situation of the refugees. Every day I thank God am not being on the side of life of those people. It is a present from God and for everyone of us that we have some goods and we give some of these goods to those people who need them. We don’t lose something that we need. Sometimes I as I was coming back home at night after the dirt, the dust and the smoke of Idomeni, the cold, and the wetness, I was blessing God and I was feeling happy to have a warm home, a bed to sleep. Matters which I was considering as given, and those people too before they become refugees at Idomeni. It was given for them a home, clean clothes, bed, food. And from one time to another they have lost everything. Luck changes. In the history of humanity, being a refugee is a fact. We should appreciate all we have. Even the few things. We may not have all we want, but for all we have and the level of our living, we should be thankful to God”.
Awkward times of Idomeni or in other Refugee Camps
For so many months at Idomeni and many other refugee camps Elias has lived both nice but awkward times. “There were many times that made me to displease refugees, but I couldn’t be different”, Elias said. “Due to the lack of plugs to give energy to the mobiles in Idomeni, wherever there were plugs there was fuss, too. There were teams of refugees who were standing there to control the plugs , and some others who didn’t let them and there was intensity. At the beginning we had made a kind of 2m channels with plugs to be the refugees able to energize mobiles. I had made two long rectangular tables to apply the plugs and I had added many compositions of plugs reaching the 100 plugs. The most difficult moment of time was at nights when we had to gather all these and ask them to take away their mobiles. At first I used to tell them that I was going to turn off the electricity ten minutes from that moment, then five minutes, but they didn’t believe. The difficult part was when I shut down the electricity. They were begging me for a five more minutes. There were people who had just came back and they didn’t have any electricity even to turn on their mobiles or send a message that they are all right and had arrived to Idomeni. Many times I was trying to find ways to leave the electrifying systems and go, but that had been impossible. It is electricity and if there was a problem I would be the responsible”.
The compositions of plugs were a form like faucet in the villages of the old times, when women were gathering with their pots to fill them, and they had the chance of some discussion.
“At the beginnings, when I had some free time and I was discussing with the refugees, I had heard many interesting stories” Elias remembered. “We had put a tent with extempore, and two batteries of cars to give energy. I met with engineers who were working just like me at telecommunication companies, bankers, doctors, other people who were in different condition before. At the beginnings you could have meet people who had done the trip in a week or four days. They had money to pay to travel faster. They were not suffering or seedy. I’ve met many students. One had told me what cars he had in Syria. I met a businessman who gave to me pictures of his factory. He had factory of producing foods. He comes from Halepi, and he made exports to Scandinavian countries. He had three residences. Big residences. But he lost everything. They were bombed. He found himself from one day to another from his him with the pool under a tent to nowhere with his family and his parents. In spite of that he was happy, and alive. That’s what I remember well; he was happy because he was alive”, Elias remembered.
On May 18th of 2016 the container with more aerials and speakers. In the container there were roomed from the beginnings the drugstore of the Doctors of the World and there were also roomed many clothes and shoes.
The hospitality of the refugees at their home and his relationship that will last for his whole life.
Elias has kept relationships with refugees he had met at Idomeni. He had accommodated some of them in his home at Serres. “I have a residence in my village, in Serres. I had discussed that with my parents, and we had agreed that we could accommodate eight people at the most”, he said. “I’ve said that to Panayiota from the High Commission and one day she calls me and says that she had found two families one with five children and one with four. There were two more people alone at Idomeni and finally they gathered fifteen. We went and took them with three cars. As long as they stayed with us we had a very good time. They were happy too because they had get away from the muddy Idomeni. One of the two families went to Holland. I went and met them and they were happy. The other one family is at Bremen. The other one who was alone lives in Luxembourg and the other one in Romania. The one who lives in Romania has difficulties. He was student of English language in Damask and he wants to continue his studies. He came from Del Ar Zor where the condition had been very difficult. Now in Romania, he has found job in a factory with ice-creams, but he will lose his funding from the University because he is working. The point is that with that money he already had, it was impossible for him to rent a house by himself. His situation is very difficult.”. Maybe “Idomeni” is in the past, but Elias together with NetHope continues to be on the side of the refugees, feeling thankful to God, because he has goods to give to others who do not have anything.