I’ve worked for a fair few companies in my life. I’ve worked for banks, consultancies, website design agencies, tv companies and news papers. Some of these are large household names and some of these, not so much. I’ve enjoyed all of them immensely in one way or another. If I had to say why I enjoyed each of these places I would almost always say the people. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some wonderful, friendly, talented and fun people. People who have gone on, and continue to be some of my closest friends. I’ve also worked with some real arseholes, but that’s ok. Probably someone, somewhere is writing about the arseholes they have worked with and are thinking about me. Possibly even my friends are doing this. Yep, it has always been about the people. What the company does, what it stands for and, in particular, how it works has never been the thing that has impressed me. In fact, from that perspective, I’ve been pretty disappointed with the places that I’ve worked at. That is until now.
Our trip from Vietnam to Amsterdam started in September 2018 and along the way we have of course met many wonderful people. We meet lots of people but most of the time we say goodbye after a day or two. Forever in the meeting phase, never in the getting to know you phase. We always planned to stop cycling during the winter. As much as we love cycling, cycling in the rain (especially when it’s cold and windy) is not really our thing. As we got closer to Europe it seemed like Greece, and more specifically Athens, would be where we would spend our cycling sabbatical. We planned to stay in Athens for 3 months, maybe do a bit of volunteer work, then start cycling through the rest of Europe during the spring and summer.
After some searching we came across an organisation called Khora. Khora is a Greek Association based in Athens. They are a collective who provide clothes, food, legal services and advice for all that need it including people forced from their homes by poverty, oppression, climate change and war. The majority of people that Khora support are refugees but everyone is welcome. Khora is run by volunteers. Some of these volunteers have made their home in Athens and some, like me and Frouke, are just staying for a shorter period of time. Khora has a “Free shop”, a Social kitchen and an Asylum support office. The Free shop is a place where anyone can come once a month and pick up whatever clothes they like from the shop. The social kitchen cooks food and people can come along and eat, drink tea and socialise. The asylum support centre offers information and support to people navigating the Greek asylum system, as well as assistance to people trying to access other services in Athens, such as housing and health care. They also have spaces which focus on creative arts and skilled crafts via the provision of classes, workshops and skill-shares (The Beehive) and a sound lab focussing on technology, sound and making music. All of these services are offered for free. It seemed like a perfect fit for us to help out with Khora during our time in Athens.
I enjoy cooking so I was particularly interested in helping out in the kitchen. I thought maybe I could chop a few carrots or something. The first day I volunteered I spent most of the time washing dishes. This is of course the traditional bottom rung of the ladder for anyone starting out a career in a kitchen. Today you wash the dishes and if you play your cards right you could be washing lettuce tomorrow. Who knows, one day you might be allowed to stir the soup. That’s how it works right? I enjoyed washing the dishes, it gave me a chance to be useful and also chat to many of the other volunteers. People who came to eat would also drop off their dirty dishes and some would have a small chat with you too, so It was a nice job actually. In total I think there were about 250 plates served by Khora on my first day.
Each day a different chef decides what is cooked. The chef has to make an order for the ingredients they need then, on the day, decide the organisation of the kitchen and cook the food with the support of whoever is volunteering that day. At Khora anyone can volunteer to do any of the tasks. Anyone can volunteer to be a chef. No questions asked. It’s assumed that you have some idea about what you are doing and if not together with the team of volunteers you’ll somehow work it out. Once, in Amsterdam, I cooked for 40 people so I thought that cooking 250 plates would of course be different, but it’s just about cooking more right? More potatoes and bigger pots. I volunteered to be chef and was scheduled to cook the following Friday. On Thursday night I was feeling a bit nervous. I got a message telling me that the number of people coming to the kitchen had increased. I would now be cooking 350 plates. I went from nervous to slightly shitting myself.
The next day was a bit of a blur. I made a vegetarian curry with rice. My lasting memory of the day was constantly putting on new pots of rice to cook. The food ended up tasting ok and in the end we served 400 plates. 400! I was absolutely shattered but very impressed with myself. I told my mum. She was impressed.
Over the coming weeks more and more people were coming to the Khora kitchen to get food. Every now and then I volunteered as chef and each time the numbers would be higher than the last. After a couple of months of being there whoever was chef had to cook around 900/1000 plates per day. It’s nice that Khora can do this but of course it’s an indication of a serious problem. Too many people were relying on the services of a volunteer organisation. Many of the people coming to Khora were refugees who had families to feed. The fact that the numbers were going up every week was worrying. The Khora kitchen not only offered free food to whoever wanted it. It also provided a space for people to sit and socialise. It was a nice safe space which provided nutritious meals. Then Corona came.
Corona was a disaster for many people around the world. Many people lost their loved ones and many people lost their livelihoods. The poorest people were hit hardest. Greece locked down relatively early and as a result the number of infections remained very low and the number of deaths was relatively low too. However, lockdown restrictions meant many businesses closed down and many people were not allowed out the house to work. Refugees who didn’t have the right papers would be fined just for being outside, so accessing food was a problem.
All café’s were told to close and were told that they could only provide a takeaway service. Khora had to comply as well. Within a couple of days the kitchen switched from being a sit down cafe to a takeaway service. The number of people coming to get food increased even further. Many people in Athens were no longer getting an income so even more people were relying on the service. The queues outside were huge. This was a problem. We tried our best to get people to “socially distance” but with so many people it was hard and many people were worried when they saw large groups of people outside the cafe. Police started coming to the kitchen and asking people in the queue for their papers which caused a problem for many people. It wasn’t working. Something had to change.
All decisions at Khora are made in weekly meetings and made by consensus. This means that EVERYONE has to agree before a decision is passed. This applies to ALL decisions. I’ve never worked anywhere that made decisions like this. It sounded crazy but I very quickly realised it can work. In my opinion it works because everyone volunteering at Khora has the same goal in mind. They all want to help Khora to help people who need it the most. People who volunteer at the Khora kitchen want to feed whoever wants to eat there. When everyone has the same goal in mind it makes it easier to come to an agreement. When I look back at all the companies I’ve worked at, most of them couldn’t tell you what their goal was. Most people would probably disagree on what the goals should be. That wasn’t the case at Khora.
We had a meeting to decide what to do. Someone suggested that we take the names and addresses of all people who came to the kitchen and we deliver food to them everyday. We should deliver over 1000 meals to people everyday. She wasn’t sure how we would do this, but that is what she thought we should do. Also, we should start next week. She was clearly a mad person. How could a group of volunteers organise delivering over 1000 meals to people all around Athens, EVERYDAY, during Corona virus time? We’d have to collect all the names and addresses of the people who wanted the food, find out how many meals they needed and create delivery routes to deliver the food and find a way to deliver the food. All of this on top of cooking the food in the first place. Many of the people we provided food to didn’t even speak English so even asking for an address was a nightmare. Last week we changed from a sit down cafe to a takeaway, and now someone was thinking we should become a delivery service the following week. None of the volunteers had any experience of doing this. Crazy idea.
Two months later I was cycling in Athens doing, what would be, my last food delivery shift. For the last 2 months I’d done about 2-3 delivery shifts per week on my bike, totalling about 1500 meals and 250 km. One week after the mad person suggested the crazy idea, Khora managed to switch from takeaway to delivery. The switch was amazingly smooth. Unbelievably smooth. In one week! It is the most impressive organisational change I’ve ever seen from any company I’ve worked for or with. When people work together and believe in the same thing you can do almost anything.
Each day Khora would provide over 1000 meals to whoever wanted it. We would deliver the food by a combination of cars, bikes and people walking. Each day a delivery route was sent out to the people who were doing deliveries. Incredible.
Once the Corona virus restrictions were lifted we were allowed to leave Athens and continue cycling again. It was hard to say goodbye to all the incredible people we met and worked with during our time there. Khora is by far the best organisation I’ve ever worked for. The 5 months we spent in Athens will be one of the most memorable parts of an already amazing trip.
That’s how I became a bicycle delivery boy.
If you are interested in learning more about Khora, helping them with a donation or maybe volunteering with them for a different experience next time you go away, check out their website:
If you want to learn more about our cycle trip from Vietnam to Amsterdam and about the children we are trying to support, check out the rest of our website and you can donate here: