COSMUS (diy) - One to One: Donating backpacks full of care

Will think and post here

I think there’s a lot to be said about suboptimality when it come to care and response. I will have a think and put some words together for you.

So i’ve been thinking a little about this`

Just a few thoughts on suboptimality to hopefully drive the discussion around this topic.

It is the case from Alberto’s comment that “fast, messy, large scale response has to be stopped. Citizens are told to stay home, stay out of the way as the professionals dust off their contingency plans”

It seems that this is true in cases where: a) a contingency plan already exists (e.g. Earthquake in Nepal, Disaster Relief in Sub-Saharan Africa) The above examples are plans for disasters that occur frequently and regularly in places that share a geographic similarity or border. It would seem logical to expect that, for example, a disaster relief plan for helping people in Nepal would also be of use if a similar problem occurred in Kashmir, or Bhutan. Since similar types of disaster are likely to occur in those place it makes sense to defer to NGOs on the ground in those areas.

But, in order for us to ‘leave it to the professional’ there have to be NGO’s willing, and able to step into that role in the space.

What has happened in Greece and Calais is we have seen NGOs step up initially, but then step back from the problem. Often because they cannot work with the changing political situation. I am thinking here of MSF pulling out of Lesvos after the EU-Turkey repatriation deal occurred. (

The French government’s reluctance to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Calais camp has created a vacuum. So, NGOs have struggled to work in that area. Because they cannot work under license, they cannot reduce the suffering there, except on a micro scale.

Perhaps the idea of sub-optimality in the system comes back to a wider idea. One that is floating around in other areas of the site, that of ‘unlicensed behavior’. Once an organisation or NGO becomes ‘legitimate’, it tends to deal with Governments. It starts to operate at a higher level politically. This brings with it more constraints on the way it can act (at least overtly). It becomes more constrained to do things ‘the correct way’ and less able to focus on doing what is required.

When there isn’t a precident for dealing with a disaster on the scale or in that location two options remain. Either improvise or adapt. Both options work with sub-optimality from different directions.

The NGO is most likely to adapt. They will find solutions used in other areas, or to address different problems, and adapt them to the new situation. These solutions are ‘tried and tested’ and so they can point to evidence that shows where they have worked in the past. The NGO avoids looking bad if this approach fails, because they can show ways it has worked before. Their cultural and political capital stays strong and they can work on a new response in the long term. I expect that the lessons learned by MSF et al during this decade’s refugee crisis in Europe will lead to contingency plans that will be used around the globe in the future. They struggle to deal with the problem in real time though.

At the other end the improviser continually adapts what they are doing to try new solutions. They are willing to try anything. They are willing to fail because they have no social or political capital to diminish, except with the people they work with directly. This means they do not provide a consistent service, but they can evolve new solutions quickly through ongoing prototypes. They risk creating failures, but know that they will move on to another possibility the next day. This behaviour can be seen in the citizen organised projects in Calais and Greece.

What is required is a way of feeding the experiences and innovation prototyped by the improvised, citizen-led organisation into the institutional learning of NGOs

Nepal ought to be a good case

They ran the SOPs (but did not factor in that Nepal is hard to get to/around in) so a lot of dogs were flown in to look for people under the rubble who had mostly perished by the time the dogs came. While they were walking their dogs in Kathmandu you really needed water treatment - absence of which can quickly lead to a loss of life that drawfs the ones they might have pulled from the rubble. Fortunately that did come before epidemics happened.

At the same time citizens were either sitting under tarps in the rain, complaining about a lack of water (while not catching the rainwater!), or standing in very long lines at the government water truck that could only serve 1 person at a time because no one had thought of a manifold.

This is why it needs to press the smart mode button.

It sounds like you have been tremendously active  in  the refugee crisis over the past year  and  it is good to hear that although the summer interval has meant that many of the volunteers have disappeared, you are not being discouraged, but rather you are thinking of new ways to keep the venture going.

The idea of an inventory of human assets  where everyone can contribute reminds us  of how small communities function best.It sounds like this   year you  found a pool of  competent people with various skills to tackle quick and practical solutions for the vulnerable population you were handling. Now that the refugee crisis is no longer so much in the forefront  fewer people are helping out voluntarily and as you say there is a crisis in the refugee care area.

Maybe one thing to consider is that volunteers also need to feel at some point  'taken care of ’ ,so providing  the helpers with some sort of ‘help’ of a different kind than the one they are offering, can be very beneficial in using them longterm. From our experience from village-psy this summer the dynamic that is created in a small community is huge when all  the parties involved feel that they are taken care of. There are many ways to help the helpers. One  that could work could be finding other volunteers to do some art/music or dramatherapy workshops so that  people offering their practical  skills in the venture can get something in return that is challenging, stimulating and in a different way  supportive  to them.  This is just a suggestion, i am sure there will be many more…

Good luck with your next steps!

Who then takes care of the volunteers?

@Village-Psy maybe you can help us understand why self care is so expensive for one to offer it to herself. Have you read about the 24/7 caregivers who simply can’t switch off? If you have something to offer to that discussion and would be willing to head over there it would be very well received.

burn out

@ Noemi

i agree that self care has become a luxury for volunteers (no time, too many tasks to tackle , unprecedented situations) especially under circumstances such as the one Alex @Levene desribes in Calais, but let us not forget of the burnt out effect. And when we reach that stage we are of  no help to anyone…

Self care should not be a luxury.  As volunteers, we are  human beings who need the basics to get by, we need water,  food, shelter , sleep , safety and human contact but  in order to carry on we also need to know where to draw our limits. We are not superhuman, we cannot do everything, we cannot do everything by ourselves.

In Lesvos and many other of the Greek islands flooding with refugees this past year, numerous young idealistic volunteers arrived from all over Europe wanting to make a difference in the lives of others. Some of these individuals under the circumstances, after a few weeks, not being able to bear the situation, which was physically but above all mentally exhausting ended up, being burnt out and rather than provide help  required themselves psychological  assistance. This was ultimately very distracting for the rescue teams and those providing PFA who needed to focus on the refugees instead.   I guess what i am saying is selfcare in whatever form it takes,  is a prerequisite in order to be able to carry on the difficult task of volunteering in such harsh conditions otherwise you may be burnt out .

I see…

Can’t disagree with what you write @Village-Psy and the solution found in Calais seems to be training for self care and making your mind catch up with the program somehow. Because I’m sure anyone rational can agree self care is important, but managing emotions and urges is something for another side of your brain…

A good idea!

@Village-Psy it’s a good idea but suitable for non stop groups and for those who have the luxury -I should say- to spend time for themselves. Here in Greece we have too much pressure anyway because of economical crisis. Most of the people who helped in my project they used to respond when I was calling for something (help, car, food, clothes etc) and then they were disappearing back to their lives and jobs. Anyway, now we are going to prepare a special place for meetings, so I thing we’ll have the chance to care about us better and having fun as you suggest.

Thank you!

would like to fix date(s)

@aravellasalonikidou Hello Aravella , I am in the middle of organizing and planning my tour to Greece. I would like to fix date(s) with you. What do you need from me? What could I offer? To the Thessaloniki projects you’re in i? Maybe have a skype conversation this week? I would like to fix dates for the beginning of december. Would that be allright with you?

contact me by mail or skype chez_filly19

thx - I look forward meeting you!


It’s great to see you ladies @ybe and @Aravella_Salonikidou scheme! I am sure your meeting will be a great success.

No problem! Anytime it;s ok!  skype aravella1717

so i’m coming to this a little late. disaster studies takes the approach that no disaster is man made. border situations often lead to a denial of responsibility by the state player.

i wonder what you opinions are on how to adapt to anti-solidarity laws that make humanitarian aid into organised crime. sort of gangs of care and fair treatment.

The informal networks that have emerge in France, Italy, Macedonia and Bulgaria are definitely “sub optimal”. but if we look less at efficiency and towards effect. lots of important work is still done.

although ngos cant always operate in these places as hubs of learning and upskilling that can be used in other contexts.


Hello @michael_dunn, nice to meet you – I don’t think we have “spoken” before. Can you say more on the anti-solidarity laws you mention? I have read about the controversial code of conduct that the Italian government wants NGO to sign, but am not familiar with the situation in Greece.

I don’t know much of the Greek situation.
No anti solidarity laws to the best of my knowledge. Italy runs a humanitarian corridor many through massive NGOs like red cross who run the camps. Anti solidarity ordances are passed by the local governance against individuals sharing food etc. Permits can be difficult for small NGOs to get. It varies across Italy. Migrants complain about it as a form of segregation. Serbia doesn’t enforce its anti solidarity. Laws on EU passport holders. Charities can get permits but limited in number. A lot of people still publicly flaunting laws. Generally without consequence. Hungary and Poland both have laws on books more hostile climate. Both migrants and supporters crimalised.
Macadonia super server all but largest NGOs refused. “Talking to the blacks is unacceptable” can result In expulsion or charges.

1 Like

Anti solidarity laws and the detention crisis are a new jim crow. They foster a lack of understanding and climates of violence long term .
The argument that helping them only encourages them is used repeatedly.
In the words of martin Luther king
Rights delayed are rights denied.

Hi, fellows! Sorry for this delay. I’ m out of the grid for a long time and i’ve lost the thread i think. Nice to meet you @michael_dunn. (It’s not the right topic but i’m trying hard all these months but now i see is impossible to participate at OpenVillage in October. Anyway, next time!). About the anti-solidarity laws here in Greece, we do have problem. The transportation is illegal and many people have had problems and also arrested because they helped refugees to go …somewhere anywhere. We also have had problems when sharing food but police wasn’t always very strict. Now everything is under control at the camps but there are many ways for the individuals to help without problems.

What a shame @aravella_salonikidou! Next time, indeed. :slight_smile:

1 Like

What a pity I should say! “Cosmus diy” team (and our space) is not ready yet. Two months of bureaucracy but now we became an association officially.


Well done. Keep us in the loop, please!

1 Like