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.
Help when and however you can.
I promise you they are grateful beyond words.