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.