From Norfolk to northern Greece: Local volunteer shows drive to help refugees

The CK Team take delivery of the van.

The CK Team take delivery of the van. - Credit: Archant

A big-hearted businessman drove hundreds of miles across seven countries in four days to help refugees fleeing war and persecution.

Carmine De Grandis, 45, from Aldborough, set off from Norfolk to Northern Greece to deliver a van to

Carmine De Grandis, 45, from Aldborough, set off from Norfolk to Northern Greece to deliver a van to The CK Team - an international group of volunteers supporting some of the world'’s most vulnerable at border camps. - Credit: Archant

Carmine De Grandis, 45, from Aldborough, set off from Norfolk to northern Greece to deliver a van to The CK Team - an international group of volunteers supporting some of the world's most vulnerable at border camps.

He revealed they had been spending money, which could have helped ease the crisis, on hire cars to move around the island, transport refugees to hospital and reunite families.

The former deputy head teacher at Cromer Academy, who had volunteered on the island earlier this year, explained the team had been offered the truck after the Calais Jungle, a migrant camp in France, was cleared - if they could pick it up from Dover and get it there.

Carmine stepped forward to help and packed the vehicle full of books, papers, pens and clothes for a makeshift school on the island following a local appeal.


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However, first he had to get the vehicle on the road.

'The radiator needed to be repaired and the valves and the electrics were shot,' Carmine explained. 'I was told to turn it on I would need to twist a lever outside of the van at the front which would turn the battery on, and if I forgot to turn that off I would have ended up with a flat battery which was not very reassuring.'

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Carmine, who lived out the van and cooked his own meals on a camping stove, spent up to 15 hours at the wheel at any one time and clocked up more than 1500 miles through France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy before arriving in Greece.

He said: 'The interesting thing is I wasn't stopped at all the whole journey, which made me realise how different my life is. And considering it was an old thing that the guy said wasn't going to get there it was like Leicester City winning the league!'

The doting dad, who thanked his wife Jenny for her support, explained that although fewer refugees were arriving in Greece from places like Syria, Iraq and the Middle East, the situation on the ground had not improved.

However, he revealed that the local donations - including one of his own children's jumpers - had offered them some comfort.

The truck was put straight to use and helped transport a woman who had to make daily trips to hospital for dialysis.

Carmine said: 'The camps I visited were set up to only be there for two or three weeks but six weeks later they are still there. And they are not able to apply for asylum and people are getting desperate.'

During his earlier visits, Carmine helped rescue men, women and children and transport them to respite centres, as well as cleaning up the coastline, which was littered with broken boats and life-jackets.

He twice saw boats capsize with at least 70 people, many of them children, losing their lives. Now home, he is continuing to fundraise to help those he left behind.

Carmine added: 'It was easier to pull people out of the water and take them to a centre, thinking: 'Wow, I've helped'. Now it's more about the future, which is uncertain. The government is not making decisions and these people are being left in limbo.'

If you would like to offer support to the CK Team, email Carmine at: cdegrandis@gmail.com

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