The Unmentionables from the Beginning

Zoe Pike, The Unmentionables’ Operations Officer

I started working for The Unmentionables in November 2017 as a volunteer during my year abroad in the Netherlands. At the time, the organization was very new with only a handful of staff spread across the world, and I was one of the very first to join. I was involved with creating some of the very founding documents and compiled our first ever Annual Report in January 2017. Having been with The Unmentionables since the beginning, I have seen the organization grow into where we are today, just over a year later.

In March 2017, although I had never met any of the team in person, I flew from Amsterdam to Athens to join one of the first distribution trips in Chios, Greece. After meeting in Athens airport, we packed underwear into suitcases, rucksacks, handbags and even pockets to transport it to Chios as cheaply as possible and avoiding airline baggage fees! On Chios, despite only being a team of five, and most of us with little field experience, we managed to successfully distribute over 1,000 items to the refugees in Souda camp. This trip was an opportunity to test and refine our Smart Aid techniques in the field, which have become integral to the way we function as an organization. 

From this trip onwards, The Unmentionables began to grow and we took on more and more board members, staff, interns and volunteers. This growth was reflected in our distribution trip during the summer of 2017, when many of us flew to Athens to collectively spend over a month on the ground. The change in the organization in the few months since March was incredible. We had a number of temporary field volunteers join us, flying in from around the world to help us for a few weeks, many of whom have gone on to play significant roles in the organization. We were able to run distributions in Souda and Eleonas camp in Athens as well as in women’s centers across the city, giving out a total of 15,000 intimate hygiene products. Alongside this, the team also launched our education and empowerment programs, including our UnExposed photography project and sexual and reproductive health workshops. The scale of our success in comparison to the trip just four months earlier was almost unbelievable!

After the summer, we worked on establishing teams on the ground in Greece, as well as expanding our work to new countries including Uganda and Kenya. After my internship role, I became Operations Officer and worked to hire a Logistics Coordinator for Greece, as we knew that permanent ground staff would be the best way to ensure consistent provision of dignity to refugees in need. We now have around six staff members on the ground in various countries and are looking for more all the time. It is their work that has allowed us to open our new Resource Centre in Athens, a site allowing consistent access to sexual and reproductive education, support as well as intimate hygiene items in our free shop.  

Looking back over my time at The Unmentionables, the rate of change and growth we have experienced has been incredible. In just over a year we have gone from a group of people who had never met before, packing underwear in Athens airport, to having our own center in the heart of Athens where we can provide dignity through hygiene to as many people as possible. All this has happened in addition to our work in Uganda, Kenya, Somalia and Texas. It is something that is hugely exciting to be a part of. I am so proud of what we have achieved so far, and excited for all that we are going to achieve in the future!

Blandine West