- Katsikas camp.
It’s 8 a.m. in Ioannina, (pronounced Ee-Yah-neena) a college town of about 100,000 people that dates back to the 6th century in the Epirus region of Northwestern Greece. The town is situated next to picturesque Lake Pamvotis with the snowcapped Pindhos mountains as its backdrop and a centuries-old Byzantine Castle perched on its western shore. Ioannina commuters are out in the bustling city center this brisk, grey, February morning. Lining downtown Ioannina’s cobbled streets, the restaurants and bars that were busy and loud the night before, are quiet now, their chairs upended and owners home asleep in their beds. But outside, office and shop workers, housewives, school children and college students all weave and charge ahead in determined strides, as if great things await.
This morning my friend Annie Braak-Katz and I are just part of the throng in downtown Ioannina, making our way to a bus stop a half mile from the comfortable backstreet Airbnb we’re renting. Our destination is the refugee camp outside the small rural working-class town of Katsikas, 8 miles north of here, where we’ve committed to working as volunteers for the next three and a half weeks. This is Annie’s third volunteer stint with Refugee Support Europe, a small charitable non-governmental organization based in London that provides refugees with the survival basics of food, shelter and clothing, offered in a way that strives to preserve and respect their dignity and humanity.
Working at a refugee camp will be a first for me. Annie from back home in rural Northern California, has done this twice before and it was her stories and seeing an art exhibit of refugee children’s drawings that she’d curated at the Morris Graves Museum in nearby Eureka that inspired me to join her. So here we are, and for the next three weeks, Ioannina will be our home, Katsikas Camp, our workplace, and serving refugees, our service.