Carry the future refugee relief mission.  Team 11 – final day.

Yesterday was my final day in Greece visiting refugees at camps. We left Alexandria early in the morning, it was very hard to leave our friends. But we were excited to get on the road and bring aid to camps we knew were in desperate need. The other girls on my team had taken a long hard trip yesterday to Jumbo, a huge store here in Greece to buy inexpensive shoes, bug spray, sunscreen, diapers, soap, and other needed supplies. They worked so hard, and packed the van to the brim with aid, and visited another camp while I was fitting shoes and carriers the day before.

We set off around 8:30 in the morning for a camp we had never been to, but we heard had around 300 people and not many supplies. My team leader Jill had been communicating with some of the refugees we met at a camp on the first day, in a camp that was supposedly being closed, and indeed these families had been moved to this new camp.

When we pulled into the camp and we’re dealing with the police guard there we were also greeted by our friend Muhammad and his wife, who were eager to help us unload the van along with many other men. 

When we got into their warehouse, it was heartbreaking to see how little they had there, when my team members and I know that there is an aid warehouse full of donated supplies here in Greece, and the system just lacked the logistics and the funds to get it all where it needed to go. Our hearts ached and screamed at the injustice.

But we unloaded professionally quick, made our drop, and moved on to the next task at hand, back to a camp we had visited on the first day, with more requested supplies.

On the winding drive up the mountain to where this camp is located, I secretly wished that my dear little friend that I had made on our first visit would somehow by chance be nearby the warehouse when we unloaded. As we pulled into camp and found our new contact there, we had several young men and boys arrive at the warehouse to help us unload the van quickly and peacefully. 

Diapers, soap, shoes, and more necessities – the real basics.

My little friend wasn’t around, but one of her friends was, and I gave her a little extra loving hug and it felt so good.

Then is was off to Athens – to cap off our trip – with a quick stop on the way back for a relaxing lunch on the beach. At our hotel last night we had a debriefing with Rita of Allied Aid and discussed how we learned so much, and made plans for how things could be done in the future to meet more needs faster and more efficiently, and with more dignity for the refugees.

As I write this entry this morning on my way to the airport to fly home, all I can think of is “what else can we do to help these suffering brothers and sisters of ours?”

Answer : whatever you can, just please don’t forget them, do something! Even if it is just sharing their stories.

Thank you for bearing witness.

If you want to volunteer, Check out:

Nurture project international (lactation experts especially but experienced moms wanted)
Allied aid
And of course:

Refugee relief mission with Carry the Future Team 11 part 3

Yesterday was my last day in Alexandria refugee camp in Greece. We started our morning with our usual debriefing and assignments from Sara of Bridge2 and I was assigned to make newborn baby packs with my now dear friend Jess who was there with Bridge2 and she had a vision for them that was inspiring. The baby bags were ment to provide newborn supplies and comforts for mama. 

After that we had to continue shoe distribution and foot checks for children, which are done row by row of the camp a-f. Yesterday was E camp, and this was a row with lots of children!! Many people came in and were eager for their shoes, but as I know by now, emotions are high, and yesterday turned out to be my most emotional day.Certain sizes of shoes for children overlap with the adults – forcing an aid-sort divide, and today we had a lot of teenage boys who were unenthusiastic about their smaller selection. One young man became so upset and angry that he and his family argued with Jess and me for too long. We had to put our foot down and ask them to accept the process or leave. He grabbed a pair of new flip flops and they left very unhappy. We were also very sad because there was a pair of shoes that was perfect for him and offered full protection, but he could not accept how they looked. 2 families followed them and everything went smoothly, but then a young man came in with his family, and gave me his size, and my heart stopped. It was the same size with less selection as the other boy that had been so angry with us. I went back in the room to gather the shoes and socks for his try on, and I froze behind the door and burst into tears.

I knew he was going to be unhappy. I wanted to bring him cool shoes that he would love and I did not have that option. These little moments of the occasional distribution of aid are all these refugees have right now to survive on mentally, physically and emotionally. I just wanted to make him happy like most of the other children I fit today and I knew in my heart that he wouldn’t be. Jess came upon me bawling on the other side of the door and was so amazing. She took the young man’s potential shoes from me and gave me the next child’s size and said “I’ll do this one” and she made it work. She was my superhero in that moment. You can only take so much heartbreak before you need to breathe, and cry, and release, and then start again.
The last family to come through shoes was large, 3-4 girls, and I was having a drink of water in the back room. Jess came up to me and closed the door and said in my ear, “this man can be demanding in camp, Please be aware.” I decided I would try an extra animated and silly approach with his children. Jess and I found everybody’s shoes very quickly and while we’re were helping the girls try them on I made silly faces, had us all compare our shoe colors and do a little spin. All the girls giggled and the father sitting against the wall hugging his knees, extended his legs and looked right at me, so serious, then smiled widely and pantomimed to me “thank you for making my children feel happy”. He stood up and shook my hand, which is not usual for a Muslim man, and looked me right in the eye and his eyes were grateful, in a very deep way.
Jess finds me crying in the back shoe room again, and we clean and organize shoe distribution and I pull myself together and we headed off to finish the newborn kit project from the morning.

At 5:00 pm I was scheduled to meet with a group of mothers and mothers-to-be and a woman I had met during shoe distribution yesterday who spoke remarkable English and told me she was a teacher back in Syria. My plan with Bridge2 and Carry the Future included fitting carriers, but also evolved into setting up distribution of carriers in the Alexandria camp with the support of Bridge2 after I train some volunteers and refugees. So I fit several families, and it was amazing. One woman that I helped was such a surreal experience. It was like time transported me back home, she spoke perfect English, and after she had on her carrier, she giggled and spun around and exclaimed “now I can use my phone or go the the bathroom and hold my baby!!” It was just like the women I see come through Ann Arbor Babywearers all these years, exactly the same. I fit Men and Women, babies and toddlers, and they were all so happy. After fittings were done, I taught Sara, Jess, Kat, and my new refugee teacher friend, a baby carriers 101 safety and use course. 

I am confident that the 60 + carriers we sorted and labeled in their warehouse will be distributed safely, and fairly.
One more side note. This particular mama asked me if I was from the UK, and when I told her I was American, she was visibly shocked, which was a common experience I had with the refugees. She asked me about my family and when I showed her pictures and told her about them she said to me “I cannot believe you left your children and your husband behind just to come help us here”. I had to try so hard not to cry. As honestly and openly as I could I responded, “I’m so sorry that your country is being bombed, nobody should have to live like this”. We hugged and shed a tear. Americans and Brits, they don’t love our countries and our governments but the Syrians understand that we are individuals trying to do good, not an extension of our government.
I am so confident that I will be back to Alexandria. 
At least I had to tell myself that in order to convince myself it was ok to leave this morning in order To head to the next two camps on our itinerary for today. I’m hoping to get my final journal entry up about today this evening, but worst case scenario, I’ll do it on the way home tomorrow. 
Friends. We cannot forget these families, or discriminate against them. They are just like us, In almost Every way!! 

Except our homes haven’t been bombed into oblivion or our town hasn’t been taken over by radicals and destroyed. 

Please Don’t forget about these displaced people.

Have compassion.

Help when and however you can. 

I promise you they are grateful beyond words.

Refugee relief mission with Carry the Future Team 11 part 2

Yesterday was my second day at the same refugee camp in Greece. Like the previous day, our first assignment was to sort clothing in the aid warehouse and get it ready for the boutique that has been created here for the refugees to shop in. It’s a really unique system here in this camp of attempted fairness, in the most unfair of situations.

Organizational meeting in the morning and arrival:

The woman that has created all of this beautiful organization of shops and distribution around camp, (Bridge2) and commands the love and respect of everybody, both aid worker and refugee, was nervous and upset because an NGO has dumped a ton of supplies to build floors for the refugee tents, but left no one to manage the distribution, and the task falls on us. She shows only strength and confidence, even as it’s realized that there are not enough pallets to give everybody a whole floor. We are now referring to this day as “pallet-gate”.


Tensions rose around camp among the refugees, as they realized they were getting half a floor, and my team member Heather and our friend Sam managed the fair distribution of massive amounts of lumber and building of the partial floors. People were so upset to not have a whole floor, which protect them and their possessions in the common case of rain and flooding, and it was amazing to see the reality of pallet-gate managed so well by the aid teams there (especially Heather and Sam).
While that was going on, my job starting at noon, was to receive families with another aid worker as they left the clothing boutique, and fit their children for shoes and check their feet for infection or injury. The families were by and large so grateful and respectful and amazing, and I played and made faces at the kids while we tried in shoes and had a giggle. We were only distributing shoes for children and there were 2 small sources of conflict that came up often which were emotional to deal with.

1. Many of the refugees come from a comfortable or middle class life back in their home country and it was very hard for a few of them to accept used clothing and shoes as their “new” possessions. Many parents and children were frustrated that this is their living situation and they were finding it hard to accept that used shoes was what we had to offer. It was heartbreaking, but the rules of aid distribution are solid; fairness above all else, favor no one, do what you can when you can – safely, and show compassion and empathy.

2. Many women begged me for shoes. Mostly pregnant women. Many may be thinking “why didn’t I give them shoes?” I will explain it as best I can. What we have seen in these camps is that when one person is given something that others have not been given, this person is in instant danger of being attacked, or the person or location on camp where the aid was given (In this example, the shoe room) will be mobbed by frustrated people endangering the aid distribution process. Thus, for these women’s own safety, I had to not give them shoes. I’ve cried many times over it, and I’m sure I’m not finished yet. The faces of these pregnant women pleading for me to bend the rules are burned in my heart and I can’t even explain to you what it feels like. I feel successful – for getting the children their shoes, and horrible all at the same time.


After shoe distribution ended around 4 pm. I spent 2.5 hours sorting clothes in the warehouse before I was sent to help move pallets and other flooring pieces from their central drop off location to individual tents. We worked I till almost 9 pm to make sure we had done the best and fairest distribution that we could. But we named it pallet-gate for a reason. I’ll never forget.

The other adventure of the day was had as I went to the warehouse mid pallet-gate to get a drink of water and saw 3 children ages 3-5 running toward the street. The street outside the camp is very busy, and they rarely close the gate because people are allowed to come and go, and deliveries and such are happening all the time at Camp. I took off running toward them, and at the last minute at the edge of the gate to the road, the stopped and turned right abruptly and started harassing the police officers stationed there in their air conditioned cubicle. I fished one child out of the street, who had not turned his attention to the police station, and then I bolted for the police box. I fished the 2 boys out of the police box as the police officers looked at me like I had lost control of my own children, and plopped them back outside. I secretly wished I could kick the police officers out of the box for 10 minutes just to let the boys cool off. It was so hot yesterday. But those thoughts quickly disappeared as two of the boys each grabbed an orange traffic cone set outside the police box, and ran in different directions. I chased down one, but had Sam, another aid worker, not popped out of nowhere and caught the other little one, the police would have lost a traffic cone for sure.
These children are in such need of activities! They are just normal kids looking to play, but the place they are trying to play in is an army and ngo and nonprofit run refugee camp, which is not an easy place to be.

Refugee Relief Mission With Carry the Future Team 11 – Tom’s Girls Part 1

I want to start this very long post by saying 2 very important things.
 The first is that this post contains a modified but still upsetting description of the inhumane and sad conditions I witnessed as a result of the Syrian and  Refugee Crisis.  If you think you will not handle this well please skip this post.
The second thing to say is that none of this would have been possible without the support of my sponsor for this trip MommyCon – who hosts the amazing gatherings for parents and children all across America, as well as the MILK conference on breastfeeding and the WEAR conference on babywearing.
Thank you Mommycon, for saying yes and being my biggest supporter!
Along with these guys My CTF Team 11 and Allied Aid Staff:
Last night (June 25) I arrived in Athens with my team leader for Carry The Future – Jill Manrique. We had an easy set of flights over – although we weren’t sitting together, we still kept an eye on each other. Our layover in Zurich Switzerland was uneventful and the airport was cool – especially with the view of the mountains out the window.
We were picked up in Athens by Heather and Jen, the rest of our 4 woman super squad, and our “adventure tour” as we jokingly dubbed it, began.
We had an amazing dinner on the beach with Rita Continakis and her 2 beautiful daughters and learned all about her organization, Allied Aid, and its relationship with Carry the future. We were eager to get started. Jen and Heather had spent the day before organizing and sorting in a large aid warehouse in Athens and loading up our van with what was requested by the camps and refugees.
The next morning, our first of many on the road, was beautiful. Greece is full of mountains and ocean views that should not be missed in ones lifetime! We woke up very early and headed north to visit 2 remote camps.
The first camp we stopped at we were told by the police and the army that the refugees were being moved to another camp and that we were only allowed to stay for 30 minutes.
We sprang into action.
We unloaded diapers, bug spray, shoes, clothes, baby carriers, and more into their small supply shed, and people started to gather.
The children in this camp were happy to see us and showed us a lot of affection, although the little ones were a bit lethargic and it looked like everyone needed more of the basics.
I played Ring around the Rosie with the kids to keep them away from the warehouse while the adults were finding what they needed. Then I ended up in the storage warehouse teaching a woman about a baby bjorn as other women came in and picked out shoes and baby wipes and more.
Word spread that there were some shoes that we had brought in, and the women outside the door were becoming anxious to all get in the warehouse and pick things out for their families. I became stuck inside as things got a bit hectic, and our team leader instructed me to get out and get in the van. It took me 10 minutes to squeeze through the hubbub and then we waved and got in our van – we named him Tom – and had to leave, even though we would have liked to have been there longer. One of the rules of aid distribution is that you must not put yourself or others in danger by creating too much excitement, and this first camp was our only experience like this, we learned how to set ourselves up to do better very quickly.
Our second stop for the day was at a camp all the way on top of a mountain! As Tom (the van) climbed the steep hills we discussed our experience and our team leader prepared us for the next one. When we pulled into camp Petras we instantly saw that there were 3-4 times as many people living there as our previous stop, the man who helped run the camp said that they had about 1100 people living there.
As soon as we stepped outside the van we were swarmed with happy playing children. As we unloaded the supplies into the warehouse there, we watched the boys play and the girls gathered around and played and watched us.
After we unloaded we turned toward the children and began to play with them. Volleyball, soccer, and I pulled out a bunch of paper and colored pencils and wrote and drew with a group of children.
It was during this time that I made special friends with 2 girls and one of them invited my team member Heather and I back to meet her mother in their tent.
We walked down a dry dusty rocky steep set of pseudo-steps toward a lower section of the camp and began to weave our way through the maze of tents toward her temporary home.
There were thousands of flies everywhere – you couldn’t not notice – many of the refugees we spoke to pointed them out, and it was easy to see why. When we arrived at her tent we were introduced to her mother and sister and we all tried our best to communicate.
Mostly our communication just consisted of this outgoing beautiful girl trying hard to show us love and affection. Endless hugs, real hard hugs, and kisses on the cheek and giggles together. The woman in the tent across from my new friend invited us in for tea, and while we were sitting with her on the edge of her tent, it began to rain storm, and the family invited us inside their tent. They were so warm and generous, sharing food and tea and offering us a smoke . Everything they had – they tried to share with us. It was remarkably generous.
Beautiful lightning, and harsh wind with the rain caused a little boy to run into the shelter where we once were sitting for tea and huddle up on a cot next to the tent trying to avoid the spray.
We began playing cards and two girls helped us learn the game. Heather and her helper won very strongly, and as we played and drank tea we listened to the stories of this family’s separation from eachother. This woman had 2 young sons, one 8 years old, but in different countries- one in Germany and one in America. The longing in her eyes as she told us was easy to see. I know how much I am missing my little ones and I just can’t even imagine not knowing when I’m going to see them again, or worse, if.
As the rain let up we excused ourselves and said Thank you and Salam, and started to head back up to our van by the warehouse. As we approached the “steps” we quickly saw that they were now a mudslide, and that we were going to be having an adventure getting back up. It was a small taste of the daily troubles that these people deal with living in a refugee camp. Flies, Mud, Lice in the children’s hair, and separation from their families and loved ones, and that list only scratches the surface.
As we got back in the van and reunited with Jill and Jen, we shared stories and drove down the mountain in deep contemplation of what we just saw. We made it to our hotel, and we had two rooms of two people together.
We were in a beautiful little beach town full of Greeks on vacation and families with children. Heather had been our fearless driver all day and needed some well earned rest, so the three other members of team 11 went in search of dinner.
Adventure and food are all around in Greece and we finally found a restaurant with an friendly and funny server and delicious food and wine. These meals together were very healing at the end of each night. We got to process our experiences, share our different stories from the day, and also just talk a little about our lives to eachother and connect. The team was crucial for me to making it through this trip emotionally healthy, I don’t know what I would have done without Jill, Jen, and Heather. (And Tom 󾌸)
I cannot express enough to you my friends, how much these refugees need our support and compassion. This first day was by far the hardest for me, even as I write this flying home on the plane. When I reflect on my first visit to Camp Petras, all I can see is my new friend, a pure hearted little girl overflowing with love, who hugged and kissed me like her life depended on it, who so desperately wanted me to bring her back shoes, that she took a rock and tried to scratch her size into the cement for me.
I layed in bed the first night thinking :
These are humans suffering.
Innocent victims of horrible war and violence.
We must step up and do the right thing.
Until the borders reopen, these people are trapped, suffering, and need our help and aid.

United States Institute for Kangaroo Care Certification Course in Ohio

In addition to all of this traveling and all of these teaching events, I also registered myself at the USIKC to become a certified kangaroo care practitioner.  It is a course I have had my eye on for 2 years.  Professional development and a well rounded and updated knowledge base have been key to keeping me full of ideas about how to be an effective educator.

There was a small vending hall outside the lecture hall where I made some friends from a kangaroo wrap and shirt company called Vija Designs.

With the exception of one speaker, the instructors in the course were interesting and the information was useful.  The skills courses were even more useful and was truly my favorite part of the course.

I am so proud to have these letters behind my name, and I have been energized and my eyes have been opened to the possibilities that hospital kangaroo care programs could have on infant/parent health, and breastfeeding.

WEAR – A babywearing conference by Mommy-Con

WEAR conference in May was a babywearing centered conference hosted by mommy con in the middle of downtown Chicago that was a beautiful experience for our family.  Kyle spent some time in the nunamoochie booth with our amazing friends promoting this awesome brand and it was a highlight for us!

Together Ann Arbor Babywearers Washtenaw county Wic and myself all raised enough money to take advantage individually of the accessible educator package ticket and the ultimate educator packages that were offered in order to restock and expand the variety and currency of the carriers in lending learning and private consulting libraries. These higher ticket prices came with a full collection of baby carriers from a wide variety of brands and were worth much more than the price we paid. We were thrilled with the carriers we received and are extremely grateful to the manufacturers who donated their products.

This was an amazing feature offered at WEAR that specifically catered to unaffiliated babywearing groups and public health organizations that want to include baby carriers as a learning tool in their offices and meetings.

We also exhibited our collection of carriers from around the world and had fun speaking and teaching.

In addition Elephant Ears and Kyle and I were nominated for an award for being a special retail location service in the babywearing community which was a bitter sweet and lovely honor to the closing of our retail journey. We did not win, but we were honored to be nominated.

The selection of courses and the variety of experiences offered at WEAR conference were truly wonderful. We took and taught courses on the history of baby carriers, and learned about different wearing techniques and new brands, our WIC work, men in baby wearing and research going on around the country. As a first time event, I really can’t believe how wonderful it was and I’m eager for WEAR 2017!

Michigan WIC Conference 2016 – Update on the Movement to Provide Baby Carriers to Improve Public Health

The Michigan WIC conference is the place I go to set up and make my services and research goals known to every county in the state. 

 When I am there I have a big poster board set up explaining how I want to study baby carriers as a public health intervention, and also the classes and trainings I have to offer.   I invite questions from and reach out to WIC employees and other Michigan Department of Health and Human Services officials.  

We try on carriers together, or chat, I listen to their stories from their offices and learn about their goals. We learn so much from each other about how we can help each other.  

I also always attend a few amazing talks there on counseling skills, cultural awareness, and other successful initiatives like mine and how they achieved success. It is an inspiring and uplifting place.

Shout out to the amazing washtenaw county wic staff who has supported me throughout this journey. I would never be as effective without your guidance and I absolutely credit the interest of 4 more Michigan counties in our baby carrier study to your support and guidance as well as our research partners Seffany Kerr and Stella Resko.