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NI stylist turned aid worker tells of the pain faced by refugees

By Amanda Ferguson

Published 19/10/2016

Connor Kerr has been helping displaced people in Greece
Connor Kerr has been helping displaced people in Greece
Connor Kerr has been helping displaced people in Greece

A Northern Ireland man says his eyes have been opened to the extreme need faced by displaced people throughout the world during his volunteer work in refugee camps in Greece.

Connor Kerr, from Carrickfergus, is urging others to do all they can to ease the suffering of those who have escaped a life dominated by war and fear.

The 26-year-old is volunteering with the Norwegian refugee aid organisation A Drop In The Ocean, which works alongside the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and The Red Cross, among others, to assist those in extreme need from places such as Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen.

A hair stylist and events coordinator when he lived at home, Connor has been travelling the world for the last three years.

He was involved in charitable projects in Indonesia, Cambodia and the Philippines before listening to a podcast about the humanitarian crisis in Greece and deciding to head there.

Alongside volunteers from Britain, Ireland, Ukraine, USA, Germany, Spain and Greece he has being sorting, packing and distributing clothing to around 400 mostly Syrian refugees in a camp based in an abandoned children's summer scheme.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph from the northern part of Greece, close to the Macedonian border, Connor spoke of the chaos which volunteers face.

"It is dusty and demanding physical work with an emotionally difficult aspect that I have never experienced quite so much," he said.

"I have cried every day."

Among his daily tasks is distributing food and essential hygiene supplies like women's sanitary items, plasters, bandages, toothpaste and soap.

He also assists in education workshops for children and adults and has even shared his hairdressing skills in camps after being donated a hairstyling kit from Elizabeth Ann Hair.

"The other day I organised a hairstyling for ladies class and I plan to work with a few barbers working the camp on a skill sharing and assisting basis," he added.

In the last few weeks Connor and his team learned of three previously undiscovered and unassisted camps, home to 450 refugees, based in abandoned crumbling apartment buildings in the nearest town of Lavrio.

"One Afghan and two Kurdish camps needed everything from basic hygiene and cleaning supplies to clothes, cooking equipment, food and medical supplies," he said.

"I can honestly say that it was one of the most stressful and emotional, yet rewarding days that I have ever experienced."

From his time in camps in Sounio, a few hours from Athens, to the camps he is now working in today, in northern Greece on the cold, wet and windy Macedonian border, Connor says the extent of the suffering he has witnessed has been overwhelming.

"I have heard so much that I feel emotionally broken sometimes," he said.

Connor's time in Greece is self-funded but he is also fundraising to assist the men, women and children he is working with.

To support Connor and A Drop in the Ocean's work in Greece visit Connor's Justgiving page.

You can also follow his video diary entries and updates on his Facebook page.

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