A Drop in the Ocean welcomes and aids refugees
Norwegian volunteer organization helps displaced persons find their way
Last spring, I volunteered in Greece for a Norwegian organization that provides support to refugees. The organization I was with is called Dråpen i Havet, or in English, A Drop in the Ocean.
My journey to Greece was combined with a vacation, as I enjoyed exploring Athens on the weekends. I had recently retired, so I had time to support this organization, which I had learned about and connected with on LinkedIn.
A Drop in the Ocean is a Norwegian voluntary humanitarian organization that supports displaced persons. Trude Jacobsen from Bærum, Norway, founded the organization in 2015 after her experiences on a Greek beach, where she helped support some of the more than 800,000 refugees who came by boat across the Mediterranean Sea that year.
In Athens, my main role was to assist refugees and asylum seekers to learn and improve their English. Some came from countries that speak Arabic or Farsi, so the English alphabet was new to them. Some came from French- or Portuguese-speaking countries, so they were familiar with the Latin alphabet. Some spoke Russian, Ukrainian, or Turkish, with yet other alphabets.
On my first day, I was struck how this process was somewhat similar to what my father must have gone through as a new immigrant moving from the west coast of Norway to Seattle in 1953.
Sven was a teenager when he made this journey to the United States with his father and younger brother, Harold. Sven and Harold had to learn English before entering high school, since this was before English was taught in Norwegian schools. Along with French war brides, they attended English language classes for immigrants in Seattle.
In the classroom
In Athens, the focus of A Drop in the Ocean is non-formal language education. They offer both English and Greek lessons, basic computer classes, and assist with résumés, employability, and job readiness.
In my class, I helped one student who was on the cusp of reading yet illiterate in their home country to differentiate between the “b” and the “p” sound.
Fortunately, a few years ago, I had taken a TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) course, where I had a review of verbs and tenses. I gained ideas for teaching and classroom activities, which helped me in my work in Greece.
My students not only practiced verbs and letters, but we also sang simple songs, went on excursions to the cafe, and reviewed needed skills such as filling out forms. In my beginner computer class, we started with how to turn on the computer, and how to use a mouse.
In Athens, there was a paid Drop in the Ocean education coordinator and a field coordinator, and the rest of the staff were volunteers. Many volunteers were from Greece, but some are from Spain, Switzerland, the Philippines, the United Kingdom, and Norway—along with me from the United States.
We all participated in training on how to work with refugees, understanding trauma, and creating a safe space for learning.
A Drop in the Ocean operates in a community center in the Athens refugee neighborhood Victoria. The center houses many organizations aimed at supporting this population. There is a women’s center, a free childcare center, where children stay while their parents are in class, a café providing beverages and free lunches, social workers, legal aid, and Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), all located in the building.
The minimum volunteer time requirement for A Drop in the Ocean is four weeks. This time can be spent at a refugee camp, which is A Drop in the Ocean’s main focus, or the Victoria community center.
Program pillars of A Drop in the Ocean are community empowerment, mobilization (recreational activities), non-formal education, integration, support, and humanitarian aid. They currently operate in Bosnia-Herzegovina as well as Greece.
At the refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece, A Drop in The Ocean does laundry for the entire camp population and chairs the water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities in collaboration with medical personnel to alleviate the spread of scabies and preventable skin diseases in the camp.
If you are interested in learning more, donating to the organization, and/or volunteering, visit their website at dropintheocean.org. A Drop in the Ocean is approved by the Norwegian Control Committee for Fundraising and is a U.S. tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization.
I have heard the stories, but I don’t know firsthand about my father’s family’s experiences and decision process to emigrate from Norway, and I don’t know what it is like for these displaced persons who are forced to flee their homeland, but there are overlaps. There is both the effect of trauma and the similar experiences of moving to a new country.
I was happy to volunteer with Dråpen i Havet in my sweet dad’s honor and grateful to be able to support these displaced persons and new immigrants to Greece and other European countries with their English skills, as my father had to learn in the United States in 1953.
This article originally appeared in the December 2023 issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE.