I've been finding it hard to put into words, the shock of visiting the camps around Izmir in Turkey recently.
We have been working in Izmir for a while now, with families living in difficult conditions in the city...too many people in tiny rooms with no money for food, dreaming of making the life-threatening crossing to Greece in the rubber boats that leave from there...
But nothing could have prepared me for this...
Team member Kelli recently took me out of the city to visit the makeshift camps on some of the farmlands surrounding Izmir. Many Syrian families (who find it almost impossible to work legally in Turkey), desperately take up the offers from local farmers to work illegally, picking things like tomatoes and chilis, in the hope of saving enough money for the crossing to Europe.
It is BACK-BREAKING work, which the whole family get involved in, men, women, and children too. None of them go to school. The farmers encourage this as they pay women less than men, and children even less. They work crazily long days in the hot sun, for months on end...the farmers providing them with the very basic food and shelter (for which they take money from their final wage, which they pay at the end of the season).
These people have no rights. They have no money, no dignity, no support system, no nothing...but they have hope. This hope for their future keeps them going, relentlessly working...until that day comes, when the tomatoes and have all been picked and the hundreds of hours of hard graft completed, when the farmer may not even pay them...
And what can they do? Who can they tell? Where can they go? Ultimately vulnerable, they are totally exploited, Syrian victims of war, refugees, picking Europe's tomatoes....
I can genuinely never look at a tomato in the supermarket the same way.
One of the things that affected me most was the situation for the babies...
A newborn baby in the UK is literally wrapped in fresh little cotton clothes and everything is sterilised.
Some people don't even hang their baby clothes on the line for fear of germs.
But here, in Izmir, the babies have nowhere to sleep but the dirt floor. No one has a bed. Not even a mattress. There is barely even any form of shelter to cover them from the sun. And the sun has been crazy hot these past few months out in the Turkish countryside.
Many of the new mothers are forced to leave their babies unattended in their 'tents' whilst they work the fields, and many mothers and babies are suffering from infections and illnesses due to lack of basic healthcare and sanitation.
This is our lovely Kelli delivering a baby bed to 1 month old Mohammed so he is no longer sleeping on the floor, being bitten by mosquitos and surrounded by flies...but Kelli knows at least one baby under 6 months old in each of the 15 little camps she works in.
Kelli and I were with a small medical team (one doctor, one midwife and one translator) who were administering basic healthcare to the people in camps. I sat in the tent in quiet horror as young girls brought in their despondent new born babies and the camp residents coughed around me, waiting to be treated for the back problems and muscle aches they suffered from being bent over all day, or for the allergies and rashes from the pesticides used in the fields.
As I sat, a beautiful woman dropped a tub of milk powder she had just been given. In a panic, a few of the girls scooped it desperately from the floor whilst the kids licked it hungrily from the dirt on the ground. I didn't know whether to stop them.
I didn't know what to do.
But now I do...
Since I've been home I'm struggled with so many questions...
Where is the international help here? Where is the government support? Why is there such a lack of information about what's happening in Turkey?
WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?
But instead of getting too overwhelmed by the enormity of these injustices, Kelli and our team have decided to take action and do SOMETHING.
We have started the fundraiser "The Five Pound Project" to address some of the short term, basic needs in the runup to winter which mostly cost about £5 each.
We have already delivered 20 mattresses for just £100, but this is a drop in the ocean when it comes to what is needed. This was in just one camp...but Kelli estimates there are about 15 camps in her area alone, home to approximately 1000 people, and this camp still needs so much more...a rubbish system, blankets, clothes.
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