SAO was born out of necessity and created from practically nothing. It started with a private initiative by Raquel Herzog who went to Lesvos as a volunteer in December 2015. In February 2016 she founded SAO together with Aris Vlachopoulos whom she had met in action. In 2017 we focused entirely on women and the three programs «Bashira», «Amina» and «Back on Track».
These are the three pillars of SAO: two women centres (run as day-care-centres) and a study fund. In other words: we provide immediate assistance at Bashira Community- and Empowerment-Centre for women who are stuck at Moria dentention camp on Lesvos; continuing assistance at Amina Community- and Empowerment-Centre for women who have made it to the Greek mainland and are waiting in Athens for their definitive admission to Greece or for family reunification in an other European country. Forward-looking we work with the study fund «Back on Track» so that the women who had to interrupt their education because of the flight can finish their studies in the country which has definitely admitted them. SAO started small and has grown – from private initiative to association, from association to NGO and from NGO to relief organisation.
SAO Association has continuously adapted to these developments: Co-Founder Aris Vlachopoulos left SAO to found a new local NGO and continues his work from the warehouse «Attica». In 2017 the SAO executive board has added more competence and capacity with Claudia Colic (Finance) and Claudia Weber (Legal affairs). Raffaella Pearce (Assistant to the General Manager) and Silvia Gasser (Head of Volunteers) joined in late 2017 respectively early 2018. The two houses «Bashira» and «Amina» are managed by Sonia Andreu Barradas respectively Tereza Lyssiotis. They are assisted by Evdoxia Moutafzi (Integration of Refugees, Administrative Assistant of Sonia Andreu Barradas) at «Bashira» on Lesvos, Thalina Karpouzi as Deputy of Tereza Lyssiotis and Psychologist Vittoria Morrone at «Amina» in Athens. Natalie Soland and Marlen Schmidt have been working as long-term volunteers for SAO in Athens since 2017 resp. 2018.
With the two houses «Bashira» and «Amina» the challenge for the executive board in Switzerland has changed once again in 2018: our focus now is to secure the financing of our programs. In order to use our forces as effectively as possible, some changes have been decided at the general assembly of SAO on May 8, 2018: Marina Villa takes over the Presidency from Christine Loriol who sets up and manages the new Campaigns Department. In addition to her Legal Dossier Claudia Weber takes over the Vice-Presidency from Nic Kleiber and Simone Inversini. In the newly created Marketing Dossier Nic Kleiber focuses on in-kind-donations and acquires funds with which we can provide urgent assistance in Greece. While Simone Inversini is still in charge of the program «Back on Track» and of Organisational Development, she is now also responsible for the recruitment of members. Claudia Colic is the Head of Finances and Fundraising.
WEATHER REPORT FOR REFUGEES
September 2016 - April 2018
Prevent drownings in the Mediterranean: The SAO weather web page presents weather data that is essential for refugees’ survival. Weather information for Turkey, Greece, Lybia, Egypt and Italy is updated hourly and transmitted twice daily to other NGOs, volunteers and refugee networks. The data are optimized for smartphones and are available in English, Farsi, and Arabic.
January 2016 - February 2017
Our SAO-Van played an important role on Lesbos. We supplied camps all over the island, for example the unaccompanied Minors Compound in Moria, Pikpa, Kara Tepe etc. Last year, we brought arriving boat refugees to the camps and bus stations and we were driving refugees from Moria or volunteers from and to «Attica». The SAO-Van was further a mobile warehouse for emergency foils, blankets and dry clothes at the beach. During the winter of 2015/16, countless soaked and freezing children could get warm again in the van after their arrival.
Presently the SAO-Van is back in Switzerland and used by the Wild Lemon Project which offers catering in Switzerland with the help of refugees.
July 2016 - February 2017
«Attika» on Lesbos is one of the largest and the only public warehouse in Greece. In July 2016, SAO took over «Attika» on an interim basis until February 2017 when it became independent.
We received donations from all over the world. These were sorted, stored, delivered and handed out to self-collectors. The donations went to refugees, camps and other NGOs on Lesbos and the Greek mainland, as well as to needy people of the local population on Lesvos.
March - August 2016
Refugees have been stuck in Greece ever since the borders were closed. From March to August 2016 thousands were living in inhumane conditions at the Piraeus Port in Athens. A group of volunteers, managed by Renata Blazek,who had been working in «Attika» before, were the only ones taking care of around 1300 refugees at Gate E1.5, called «the stonehouse» on a 24/7 basis. The help they provided included distribution of non-food donations, basic medical supplies, baby food etc. They also organized special accommodation for vulnerable people, and had access to a rental van, which they used up to several times a day for emergency rides to the hospital.
CAMP ASSESSMENT TOURS
April - May 2016
In April 2016 SAO initiated and carried out an important research. Aris Vlachopoulos, along with other volunteers, assessed on two comprehensive tours, the 46 refugee camps that were built on the Greek mainland following the EU-Turkey deal. The report is publicly available and is meant to be updated by local volunteers.