Maria Manuela Oliveira- Refugee camps in Greece

Name: Maria Manuela Rodrigues S. Oliveira

Age: 72

Country of origin:Portugal

Organization/Institution: A Drop in the Ocean

Organization’s social networks: https://www.drapenihavet.no/en/home/

Photos of you and your project:

Source: Official website of the Organization “A Drop in the Ocean”
  • When did you become interested in working, volunteering or being an activist in the area of Human Rights?

“ When I retired from my job and became a widow (a few months later), I had more time than before to join civic movements in favor of human rights.”

  • What kind of activities do you perform in the organization you work for?

“At “Drop in the Ocean”, the work essentially consisted of organizing and implementing refugee children’s time occupation activities. In the refugee camps in Greece there are many unaccompanied minors, confined to the so-called “Safe Zones”. NGOs mobilize their volunteers to play and play with these children and help occupy their time with playful and educational activities.”

  • There are many different NGOs and institutions working on Human Rights. What made you choose specifically this field and project?

“The issue of refugees seeking to escape to Europe because of the wars (economic, religious, ethnic), worries me a lot. Europe does not provide them with decent conditions in the refugee camps that they have installed at the European Union’s external borders. Human rights are run over daily and those people are very vulnerable. The testimony of a friend who had volunteered at that organization also influenced me as well.”

  • Do you remember how you started? How did your colleagues treat you?

“I remember perfectly the day I arrived in Lesbos (Moria camp) to work. The NGO prepared the reception, training for a morning on the activities that I would develop, also preparing myself psychologically for the difficulties I would face. Previously, before leaving Portugal to go to Greece, I had to register (online) and had to have a very rigorous training, also online.

The other volunteers I worked with were exceptional in supporting with  work, especially at the beginning. They conveyed trust and solidarity. We became friends, united by a very strong bond.”

  • And how was your first contact with the people you were working with (refugees, endangered women, children, minorities, etc.? What surprised you the most?

“In the first contact, I was afraid of not living up to expectations. I had never worked with children in large groups and feared not to penetrate linguistic and cultural barriers to communicate with minors. What surprised me the most was the relative ease with which children accepted the volunteers. They knew we were there for them, even though they didn’t know much else.”

  • What’s your cause? What factors motivate you to continue fighting for it?

“My cause is always the defense of human rights wherever and whenever they are being disrespected. It will continue to be always and only that. It is necessary to have opportunities to help and, in this case, economic conditions that it necessary to support all travel, accommodation and food expenses. Emotional strength is also needed to endure many situations.”

  • If you had to choose one thing that you have learned from your work in the field, what would it be?

“Give without receiving anything in return.”

  • How did your volunteering/activism change you?

“Close observation of very complex realities has helped me not to judge people by my behavior patterns.People are what they are, in social, religious or cultural terms, and I am neither superior nor inferior. I have no right to judge people who have gone through extreme situations of violence, hunger, etc. and whose provenance is very different from the environment in which I have always lived.”

  • What do you think are the biggest challenges we face in the area of Human Rights?

“The major challenges facing the defense of human rights are mainly political and economic. As long as human beings are not the focus of all policies, there will always be violations of their rights. The glaring inequalities in economic and social terms create different opportunities, which translate into domination by one another and tremendous injustices.”

  • What would you say to someone who is considering whether or not to volunteer? 

“Go where you feel your help can make a difference in someone else’s life.”

  • Define, in one word, how does volunteering or working in the area of Human Rights make you feel.

“Enriched.”

Interviewed by Millena Ferraz

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