Guarantee You Aren’t As Brave As This Woman

Holly Penalver is an active volunteer who works with indiGO volunteers to help thousands of refugees. She explains why she risks her life to help refugees and why she encourages everyone around her to do the same.


Ben Western

Photo: Ben Western

You can’t stop the bombing, but you can help clear up afterwards

 In cities such as Aleppo, buildings aren’t in a state for people to live in and are fragile from all of the bombings. Meanwhile shops and pharmacies are now ruins and rubble on the ground, and there is no electricity and no clean water.

 Small organizations such as indiGO Volunteers, which Holly is a huge part of, play their small part. They spread their message and encourage people to join their initaitive through social media and attract people through talks at schools and universities, Facebook posts and tweets.

Holly strongly believes that the lack of organization and control is worsening the situation for migrants and refugees. “No volunteer is going to stop that (bombing and the political crisis),” she says.

“To me that’s so beyond anything we can help or get involved with, you really have to be government level to be able to really help and negotiate that aspect. We help with the aftermath. Are there enough volunteers? Absolutely not, not enough people are going out and helping. But that is what we are working on.”

Photo: idiGO Volunteers instagram @indiGOvolunteers

Photo: idiGO Volunteers instagram @indiGOvolunteers

Team of indiGO volunteers helping out around the camps in Greece.

Medical support is crucial

There are no hospitals and little safety.

“I am a nurse,” says Holly. “I do get professionals emailing me with interest to help, but on the whole there aren’t enough.”

Mental health is a particular problem. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) are dealing with a huge shortage of experienced psychologists to help those refugees dealing with mental and psychological issues due to the horrors they have experienced in their countries.

The Refugee Help Technical Assistance Center recently posted new findings stating that refugee children and adolescents have higher-than-normal levels of post traumatic stress disorder and major depression. This leads to risk of developing further issues which lead to delayed asylum application process, detention, and the loss of culture and support systems.

They need leaders

“The people who help are fantastic but a downfall is that they are really young,” says Holly. “I was one of the oldest people in our team and I should be one of the youngest. It’s not good to have everyone being in their early 20’s, we need experience and we need people that can take a lead role and have a background behind them, someone who is more mature and experienced.”

By the way, European refugee camps aren’t much better

There are currently more than 57,000 refugees stranded in Greece and according to the IRC, many of the camps “don’t reach acceptable humanitarian standards”.

Holly works in the country and says aid isn’t reaching enough refugees and it’s generally sent by the public, rather than governments.

The military are based at most of those camps to keep order and some don’t allow food kitchens to be stationed there so donations and ready-made meals are all the refugees have access to.

“I have seen it, it looks awful and it is nutritionally deficient,” says Holly. “Stodgy bread. It’s horrible and there are a lot of complaints along with hunger strikes.”

Photo: Ben Western

Photo: Ben Western

The indigo team distributing food at one of the temporary refugee camps at a petrol station in Idomeni. The conditions were sadly awful.

Aleksandra Ganuszko


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