By Meena Bhandari
Some of the people travelling through the island of Lesvos in Greece stay for less than 24 hours. With rapidly moving populations, changing information needs and shifting services and registration processes, the mindset of a radio station has proven to be a critical part of the Red Cross response here.
“We wake up in the morning and have to respond to a new story every day” says Afrodite Stavraki who presents the breakfast show for a local station on the island. “I deal with people and their stories, I get up and if there’s a microphone in front of me I just talk about what’s happening here,” she says.
Couple this outlook with the Red Cross in the largest movement of people in Europe and you have the makings of an innovative and powerful collaboration that gives vital information to people who need it most to make informed decisions fast. The local radio station has proven to be critical in humanizing the Red Cross response too.
The language barriers are a challenge with Greek speaking volunteers and with largely Arabic and Farsi speaking migrants. Moreover, people are often disorientated and dazed after life threatening and arduous crossings on the sea. Producing posters including translating into multiple languages to cater for refugee needs is often ineffective in reaching the masses – especially the most vulnerable and those who cannot read. Phones and technology have been highlighted as key to delivering information needs in this response, but women and children especially may not always have access to devices.
To overcome the information challenges, the Red Cross works with the local radio station to create the Walkie Talkie Information Service a 20-minute ‘news bulletin’ in Arabic and Farsi. Programs focus on useful, actionable information that migrants can use to make things a little easier on their journeys. The programs are saved on USB sticks and played inside the transit sites to help people to navigate the humanitarian services available.
A new series of programs are now being produced that not only includes one-way information from the agencies to migrants but also stories, voices and issues raised by the migrants themselves. “They tell us their terrible stories of war and fighting in their countries. Such stories I could not even imagine. I cannot believe the other worlds people have had to face before coming here,” says Nikos Savvas the Community Engagement and Accountability Officer with Hellenic Red Cross who has been working on the new audio series with Afrodite.
Interviewing refugees to include their voices and stories into new programs has had a profound impact on the pair. “For me the young 18-year-old man who used poetry to calm him on his journey was very powerful. I think hearing this and hearing his poem will help other people,” says Nikos.
“I’ve given clothes and blankets to refugees passing through my home town of Mytilini, I also talk about the many issues affecting the refugees and my neighbours here on my own radio show. But interviewing them for the Walkie Talkie programs has moved me – it has affected my emotions,” says Afrodite.
Nikos started volunteering with Red Cross two years ago visiting a safe house on the island where migrants would come and stay on their journeys. “I would go with my Mum and distribute clothes to them,” he says. “Now though, by going and speaking to them and interviewing them I see them differently. They are like me. They want to help one another and live in a better world.”
“The people we speak to today will be gone tomorrow to Athens or other locations or a bigger journey. But for those many more thousands of people who will arrive tomorrow and the day after, listening to the experiences, tips and advice of others will help them realize they are not alone in their own highs and lows on their journey,” says Afrodite.