8 full days, 2000 miles, lots of love…

What a week!  In all we drove over 2,000 miles- we loaded and unloaded the van to many times to count.  Found out that only 16 baby boxes fit into a van if you use all but the front seat, baby boxes can be assembled in a minute apiece with a 5 person team, Greek oregano potato chips are EVIL!!!!………as in you cannot just have 1, you need your own bag!

Our last day was full- we started out getting out of the hotel right at 8am- we drove to the Salvation Army warehouse to start making boxes- 55 boxes to be exact.

The door is an unassuming green metal door- behind that door is an amazing collection of donated goods- not as many as the main warehouse- but an impressive sight.  Our unassembled baby boxes were located on a 2nd floor- WAY in the back of the warehouse- we passed (sometimes having to step sideways) mountains of aid.

TOTALLY safe elevator platform thingy!


In quick order we broke down the pallets and started assembling.  Such a great team- all worker bees.  It took us 55 min to assemble 55 boxes!

We loaded up the vans with 15 boxes each.  We’d assembled another 30 boxes for future teams.  We then packed the vans with 15 boxes each and headed to Ameurtal-a center that supports pregnant and nursing mothers.  Initially they were set up in the port area and offered their midwifery services (including baby washing area) out of 2 small RV’s.  Today they are near Victoria Park where many refugees live and come to for services.  This was only their 2nd week open.

Such a lovely space- there is an examination room for the moms and midwives, an area where Moms can get help with any lactation issues, a kitchen, bath room with a nice tub for bathing babies, a play area for siblings and a waiting area for Dad.

So fantastic!

We back into the vans and headed to the 1st of 2 camps-to deliver 15 baby boxes to each of the camps.  Our first stop was Ritsonia, this camp has such great support- residents are still in tents but Iso boxes are coming soon- they are on site just getting water and electricity hooked up.  The kids were all lined up in an area waiting to get on 1 of 3 big coaches that bring them to school.

Of the 650 people at the camp 130 are under the age of 5. We delivered our boxes to an NGO that supports mothers in a fantastic walled off space away from everyone.  We were invited into a tent for tea, 3 mothers were chatting as their oldest kids had just left for school-only their 2nd week of school.  Just like at home the mothers gather to catch up and take a break after the kids leave.  We did not share a language but did share the love of the 2 two year olds who where about as cute as toddlers can get playing on the ground moving rocks at our feet.

Oinfyta was a collection of about 20 tents when Team 8 visited in April- maybe 10 of them had refugees in them.  Today over 600 people call this camp home- it is self run meaning that the refugees themselves control how the camp is run and the

NGO’s support the leaders.  This really is the best model when running a camp.  These are real people with amazing skills and goals.  Completely capable of self governing.  We got to see the whole camp- there is a large warehouse that was empty in April and now has individual rooms maybe 12’X12′ for families.  A kitchen, sewing room, washing machines, prayer space and a barber!

We had to have one of the rental vans back to the hotel by 8pm, I will drive myself, Ming and Rachel to the airport early in the morning – our time together ending.  It has been such an amazing week.  This team 19 was such an amazing force-being super flexible when needed, working hard, rolling with the changes in the schedule and just being all around fantastic.


Sea side camps.

When I was here with Team 8 in April, we visited 2 times a camp in a sea side town.  Two of the buildings full of Kurds, the other building with Afghans.  Usually these

Loading up the van- we only needed 1!


2 groups do not get along- but here they do.  The Kurd side is where we had our baby shower, not even knowing about the Afghans until one of our Kurdish translators asked us to go “see the Afghans, no one has been to see them yet”.

In April there was such a  palatable sense of desperation in these camps, “shoes” “please we need clothing and shoes” we would hear looking down to a young boy with pink princess flip flops on.

Today, there was a difference, while not an acceptance of their circumstances, there was not the desperation we had felt and seen before.  I have kept in touch with an Afghan family from this camp.  The 2nd oldest daughter and I have been communicating on

Messenger these past 6 months.  She always begins her texts with “I hope that your family is well”.  We talk about what is happening in their lives- how school

Lessons on the wall- the children learn Greek and English at school and a German teacher comes 2X a week to teach them German.  Every 10 minutes the 17 year old would grab her notebook for a new word we had said, she would copy it in her notebook.


is going how her siblings are doing (she is 1 of 6-3 boys/3 girls).  I had told her I would be visiting this week and we anxiously have been messaging this week.

One of her younger brothers was outside to meet us when we arrived- full of smiles.  Yesterday we had filled 17 bags from the big box store with food,

Lunch is served!

cleaning supplies and candy for the children.  There also were 2 pregnant women in the camp that needed to be given baby boxes.  Tariq set up his white back drop against one of the camps walls.  Of the 17 families in the camp all but 3 families had been there in April and May when we had visited.  I felt like a long lost Auntie, not believing the children had grown so much in 6 months!

Once the food and baby boxes were distributed we went up to my friends room.  Now imaging a room- 14’x14′.

Ming and her new friend!


In that room a stove top/oven, a refrigerator, clothing cupboard and 1 bed.  Now imagine this is your home……and there are 8 of you-6 kids from 5-20.  No private space, bathroom down the hall, only 1 bed.   Unimaginable to us.  We took our shoes off at the door, coffee was made and served with homemade cake and cookies. Isn’t this always the case, those with so little so willing to give.  We then all went outside to have the little boys bring all the food bags labeled to the correct rooms- Tariq was doing his photography and i’d brought a Polaroid from home that turned out to be a HUGE hit with the children.

We then were told that lunch would be served and to please come upstairs.  We dutifully filed back up the stairs into their home and sat around on the floor as a table cloth was laid down and a beautiful presentation of food was laid down before us.  They have so little- so gracious.  So kind.

At one point we could not find

Tariq but we were told he had gone to the sea side, we were pointed into a direction.  I’d never walked that way before and the difference was staggering.  Where refugee children play, 20 feet away is a beautiful sea side resort town, the harbor filled with sail boats and yachts.  People lazily eating and drinking at the cafe’s that line the walk way.

Good bye were hard, but our wish for them is that we would not see them in Greece again, rather we would see them in their newly settled countries.  Further away from a home that did not want them and towards a new normal.

CTF had contacted us about going to another camp in the area I’d never heard of- “no one goes to see them” we were told.  After a couple wrong turns, we found the camp, down a gaveled road, tucked being a garbage pile on one side and a composting pile on the other side.  30 families were fit into 15 Iso boxes that should have housed 1 family each.  They were in need of blankets, food, shoes……really everything.  I promised to give their list to the CTF powers that be so that a future team can grab the items from the warehouse and distribute to them.

Camp by garbage and composting piles.  

Quietly we left the camps, all of us deep in thought.  Images of today will be in our minds forever.

We stopped at the Temple of Athena, on the sea side, up on a hill.  So beautiful.

Changed plans.

As with most best made plans, they are subject to change.  We woke to a nice and cloudy Athens day- after a very yummy breakfast we loaded into the vans for a quick ride the the Salvation Army warehouse about 15 min from where we are staying.

It is a testament to the great drivers in van #2 that we arrive at the same place!  Urban Athens driving is something to behold-with a couple wrong turns we found ourselves in front of the big green door of the warehouse.  Inside-

Ming being interview – Aline and I clearly engrossed in our phones!

just feet away were 100 baby boxes we were to make up for our Monday deliveries……..but alas it was not to be.  We eventually got ahold of a warehouse manager who’s only reply was “open M-Fr 8am-4pm.  So much for that job.  With a helpful suggestions to CTF staff we rearranged the rest of our days in Greece and headed off to shop for The Orange House we would be going to in the afternoon.

But first we needed to buy food and cleaning supplies for the Orange House.  We’d passed what looked like a big box store on the way to the SA warehouse, found it on GPS and headed over.  Now it did cross our minds that this might be a “membership” kind of club, and there was some sort of scanner near the door we entered in……….but I figured the Universe would provide.

Fresh food, meat and cleaning supplies were needed.  In the end we had filled 3 carts and 1 flat cart with goods.  Of course we added to the list-thinking of the many children in the center goodies for them was added.  We went to check out, there were perhaps 15 lines to choose from- I just choose a “random” one.  I asked the couple in front of us a question, she inquired about who we worked for and what we were doing (we had our CTF red vests on) I told her, then asked “why 2 prices on all the items”.   She looked at me, at the carts……”do you not have a membership?”.  “NO!”.  “Here, come with me, I work at the corporate headquarters”.  So to the membership desk we marched, words were exchanged, sometimes heated, lots of pointing to my vest and boom- a day pass!

We returned to our line, a big hug was given.  Thankfully Rachel thought that maybe we should shop for tomorrows squat we would be visiting- I am basically thinking one day at a time this point in the trip!  With that we scattered again to find items, all the time looking outside the big windows to what had to have been one of the biggest rains Athens has had in a long time.  We could not see even to the end of the parking lot the rain was coming down so hard.

We payed and loaded up the vans- next to the store was a little coffee/snack shop.  We stopped for a coffee……..or 2, grabbed some sandwiches and started for the Orange House.

The Orange House is located in the center of Athens and like so many others

before her, she is a twenty something who started volunteering in a hotel housing all the unaccompanied minors……….unaccompanied minors.  Imagine how bad it has to be at home that a mother send her 12 year old, 13 year old, 14 year old……….from their home , on a journey involving smugglers, a boat crossing in boats that are know as “death rafts” to a land is foreign in more ways than can be counted.

During her volunteering she knew that she had to be done- thus the Orange House came into being.  Red tape is keeping the unaccompanied minors all in a hotel near by but she has housing for a handful of single mothers and their children.  Daily classes

This weekly schedule is also printed and handed out in surrounding squats for all to come and join.

for the people that live in the house as well as the refugee population around Athens.  A safe place for homework help, good wi-fi and always a caring volunteer to help in any way.

We mostly easily found the apartment.  We were greeted with smiles and laughs by about 8 volunteers that came out of the house to empty our vans.  The founder of the house Marina.  We placed all the donated items into their basement storage area which also housed a cool courtyard with an amazing mural and a classroom.  Literally every space was being used.  We chatted with the volunteers mostly from Canada.  We got a tour, chatted with some of the kids.  We were offered and served yummy tea (very sweet).  Again the space is filled with volunteers from around the globe taking time, months, to help in any way.  So very uplifting.

We returned to the hotel and had about 90 min before we were to meet Chloe

What a great team!!!


(she we with CTF Team 8 when the baby box program was born).  Chloe is from Paris, her day (now night job because she is at the center so much) job is to help place students in families in Paris for exchanges.  She has a 15 year old son and like so many she was drawn into this crisis by just wanting to help.  She was working with an NGO that supports pregnant and nursing mothers with access to midwives, lactation specialist and nutrition.  At the port area before it was cleared out of refugees, she worked in a RV that had a bathing place for the babies!  Volunteers would get to help wash babies- Nirvana!!!

Today they are housed in an apartment near to Victoria Square that houses many squats and refugees hard sleeping (as in ON.THE.GROUND).  They give prenatal help to women in need, have a safe space for mothers and mothers to be to be with people like them selves.  So beautiful .  As is the case- supposed 100% by donations.

Chloe and 2 of the midwives joined us in Athens center for a great dinner.  We were able to walk around a bit before dinner.  At least the team got to see a little bit besides camps and squats!

In front of the Orange House-

Lost on a mountain top.

LONG day!  But good- first off CTF is the NGO we are working for and they are a really fabulous organization that has well over 100 volunteer employees around the world assisting not only in their mission but also teams that are on the ground.  There is a group called “well being” and yesterday morning they checked in and wanted to know how we all were doing- I though a picture speaks louder than words:

Actually the team has been so great- eager to help and learn, everyone is open and interested in learning all they can about what this word “refugee” means.  We map out our days the evening before and we realized the 4 camps we were scheduled to visit was just to much- factoring in getting lost (like EVERYDAY) and getting to a camp and basically not wanting to leave, we decided to just go to 2 camps.  GPS coordinates were provided which someone (jill) mistakenly took the wrong ones from a text message (jill) that may or may not have been (jill) the reason for a 3 hour “little detour” (as the incident shall be called hence forth).  We got on the road at 8am.  Weather was cloudy and misty/rainy.  Perfect for driving.

We had been told the camp was on the side of a lake- great, we soon approached a lake but we guided up a mountain AWAY from the lake by our Google map.  Now this is where you may be thinking “why don’t they turn around”, well in my experience the craziest location is often where the camps are located: in an industrial park reeking of natural gas, in a field tens of miles away from the nearest town…………the road climbed, then climbed ……..

By babbling brooks- from asphalt to a graded road, still we climbed.  Until we reached where the GPS told up to stop and when we did there clearly was not going img_4211to be a camp.  Which we all were actually VERY thankful for- the thought of people on the top of this mountain being forgotten would have haunted all of us all winter.

The scenery was breathtaking, we passed a village literally carved into the mountain side.  We stopped to take pictures of the shrines that dot the country side and the beauty of the clouds below us.  Maybe not the drive we were expecting, but beautiful and memorable non the less.

We did eventually find the camp!  On the side of a lake as CTF staff had told up.  When you enter a camp I go and and greet the Greek military people, am usually ushered into the little office to give them our passports- calls are made, “no” is said many many times, still I sit, smiling, waiting.  Kind of like chess.  Finally our contact Sam drove up.  The team had been distracted by the 9 puppies playing by the entrance- we had bought dog treats a couple of days before since we were seeing so many dogs- some very skinny, non neutered and often in the most random places- in the middle of a highway, on the side of the road sleeping, in a store front…….

Sam was from Guernsey island (yes the very one from the book a few years back) he actually was there with his mother who has worked in aid work for many years most recently in Greece but also in Haiti.

The clothing boutique where refugees can shop in comfort- in the dressing room over the mirror was written- you are beautiful

What an amazing team- in less then a week the mom Sarah had taken over the distribution of aid- made a boutique (where people can come and pick out clothing), a food store, a sorting room and a holding room for donations.  Another example of ordinary people from around the globe doing extraordinary work with no pay, obnoxious hours, for sometimes months at a time and always with love and joy their work.  Truly amazing and inspiring.

The camp has been set up for families and unaccompanied minors.  There were over 500 people at the camp with 130 children under 5.  This was a “good” camp, no tents, in rooms with electricity……each family had a room usually with bunk beds for sleeping and mattresses on the ground for sitting.  While not ideal much better then the tent camps where mothers who once had state of the art ovens, stoves, televisions, dishwashers…..are now forced to live as if in Medieval times, cooking by fire, washing in tubs, fetching and heating water . The first mother we

Sarah and I fitting a baby carrier on mom.

visited had a 4 week old baby and was just recovering from a very painful tooth extraction- it had become infected soon after she gave birth-that baby was so cute!!!!

The next baby we met was just 5 weeks old but was 6 week premie, so tiny!!!!

This mother had 2 other small children 3 and 1-1/2 and she was alone in Greece while her husband was in Germany.  Cannot imagine.

There was a young man (17) who came up to ask Sarah a question about getting some clothing – she shared with us that he had cut his wrists the day before and had been taken to the hospital. With barely any medical help for the refugees psychological help in non existent.  He had an unprepared cleft pallet which she said has been very hard for him as it is hard to understand his speaking.  img_4192That compiled with being alone in a foreign land at 17- seriously, wth!  Imagine how desperate you are as a mother to send your most likely 16 year old when he left, to a foreign land to make a new life because in Syria where he came from there is no hope.

But still on the side of lake (NOT the top of a mountain) mothers nurse babies, coo at them, older siblings love on the babies and crawl into the baby boxes for fun.  Still smiles and love in the most bleak of circumstances.

lost again, thankful for the 3 cell phones!

On the way back to Athens we stopped at the camp by the hot spring to drop off aid for babies we had collected on Monday in Athens and to deliver the soccer balls and volleyballs that had been requested.  It was a quick st0p and we soon were back in Athens for our last 4 nights.



Northern Greece.

The team has gotten into an easy and familiar rhythm, up for breakfast chat about the day, figure out coordinates on the 3 phones that work here in Greece then head out.

Today our 1st stop was at another Yizidi camp-this one supported by an Arizona NGO. Both Aline and I volunteer at a refugee support non-profit in Phoenix and this NGO is located next door to where we volunteer!

Whatcha got in there!


We were only about a 30 min drive to the camp and used that time to try and call our contact. We could get ahold of her so I had us pull up the road from the camp entrance. Two big vans were hard to hide, and easy to find for the kids. Like pied pipers as soon as we stopped our vehicles, we could see the kids come running in our rear view mirrors. Smiles and “hello friend” rang out. Kids know that vans mean aid and that aid may mean something they could use!

It is always amazing the number of kids that speak at least basic English- many of these kids have not been in school for years but clearly someone has been teaching them.

Our contact came out and she went and asked the notoriously difficult camp manager if we could bring in baby boxes- yes. What@!!! Yes!!!

Ming says “no room, no problem!!”


This NGO has a warehouse space they have rented to support the camp. She asked us if we could help transport boxes from the warehouse to the camp. All aid distribution happens differently at at every camp. Some are setting up a “boutique” style distribution where certain days certain tent numbers can come to a space were clothes are displayed as if in a boutique. Other just choose what goes to what tent, others don’t have access to aid.

The day before the whole camp of 400 had been given access to the warehouse and they picked out the items they needed from boxes: shoes, pants, shirts….these boxes were labeled and since the NGO only has 1 teeny tiny car, it would have taken them a week to transport all the boxes. We unloaded both of our vans and started packing up the boxes. Ming won the biggest helper award- she had 2 boxes at her feet and one on her lap for the drive back to the camp.

We were able to pull into the camp to unload, this is always the easy part.

Typical camp, rows of tents with rock but always a stream of water from dumping wash bins, solar charges for phones.  


People come from all over to help unload. We then had some time to go hand out a couple of baby boxes!!! The 1st baby we saw was 10 days old- it was sooooo tiny. She was #5 for this mother. The baby was in a handmade cradle, clearly made out of an old pallet. I asked to hold the baby-and as a true mother of 5 “yes” was the easy answer. Like a feather! We were able to get some photo’s of the baby inside of the baby box. It was so cute the older siblings would come over

Sleeping baby-


and kiss the baby. Clearly loved and now will have some basic baby goods and a safe sleeping space.

Walked around the camp a bit- mostly tents, with gravel and mud between. As you walk down the rows of tents you smell the fires burning- sometimes warming water to bathe with, other times the smells of veggies cooking. Women bend over plastic bins washing clothes, clothes are hung from every rope available-just like home, the wash is never all done.

We loaded up and headed to a Jumbo for another run-

Everyday a new Jumbo- sometime 2!


we were getting some soccer balls, volley balls and looking for a bike. To late in the season for bikes so we grabbed some scooters. The next camp I had visited in May. It is located in the middle of fields and was not very friendly to visitors last time- this time included. The protocol to get into a camp changes with the whim of the leaders in the camp. Even giving them 2 days notice was not enough, they needed 4. We asked if we could distribute the baby boxes outside of the gate and shrugged shoulders was the answer. We took that for a yes.

The afternoon light was fading and ideal for shooting so Tariq set up his backdrop and the NGO that supports the pregnant and nursing mothers gave us a list of the 5 families with babies under 3 months and the 3 pregnant mothers.

20 and alone in Europe- his family still in Syria, his dream is to immigrate to Ireland to 1. work on his English (which is good) and 2. go into travel and tourism.  


They all came out to grab their boxes and if they had a baby we got to ohhh and ahhh over it! We had a refugee helping us, his English was excellent- we asked him if he had had his resettlement interview yet- the 1st step in the long path to be settled. He had had it 2 weeks ago. Refugees list in order of where they would like to go- they get to choose 10 places. His 1st choice was Ireland because 1. he wanted to improve his English and 2. he wanted to go into tourism and hospitality.

We asked where he was from “Syria”, “Is you family here”, “No they are in Syria”. He was a 20 year old boy who looked much older than that who had crossed by himself to resettle. All of his family was still in Syria. Once again…….I cannot imagine.

We are heading back to Athens tomorrow after stopping in 2 camps on the 6+ hour drive back. Out to dinner then back to the rooms to get packed to move.


We organized the vans and left a bunch of our extra aid here for the warehouse that is housing the baby beds. They support 2 camps here in Northern Greece and we know the items will go to where they are needed most.



We finally got to see the baby boxes-one of the main purposes of our trip!  They are located in a warehouse about 5 min outside of Alexandreia and supported by an amazing NGO- once again my hope for a future was shown in the volunteers who have left their lives and love ones to travel head first into this humanitarian crisis and work.

Roll up your sleeves kind of work, sorting clothes and donations is the furthest thing from being fun and exciting.  But like us, they are driven by the faces of this refugee crisis they see everyday- knowing that sweater they are folding will keep a mother warm, the pants a toddler dry, those 4″ stiletto heels………….ok, not so much!  img_4032Remember the group you are donating to when you throw that item into your donation bag!

The baby boxes were on 2 pallets, the baby boxes needing to be origami-ed  together, all of the other items added:  onesies, washcloths, bib, hat, mittens, mattress, wash cloth……we TOTALLY rocked it- in an hour we had the 20 boxes we needed for the morning, swept up our work area and we on the road to our first camp!

Once again the camp we visited was after we had twisted and turned down urban roads, in an industrial area to an old warehouse with tents set up inside.  Nuture Project (NP) works in the 2 camps we are going to today.  They work with pregnant and nursing mothers- img_4006we had a bit of a problem getting into the camp.  OK, the military guards did not want us there.  But with many smiles and shrugged shoulders he let us bring the boxes to NP’s iso box and then NP volunteers went into the building to have the mothers come out.

Joy of joys, babies.  Like really cute babies.  The kind I had to tell one of our team that “no, he will not fit into your carry-on”.  It is so true that the magic of a baby is felt by so many.  Older children would ask to see and kiss the babies, women want to ohh and ahhh.  Such hope.

Our next stop was to a Jumbo to load up on diapers and wipes to add to the boxes- so very thankful for the maps on our phones that led us 15 min away img_4005straight to a Jumbo!  Once loaded we headed out to the 2nd camp of the day.  NP works in this camp also and said it would be MUCH easier to get in.  Apparently George the VERY proper police man did not get this memo this morning!  He was NOT a happy camper.  Knowing how to play this game, lots of smiles.  He let us set up across the street from the camp entrance- we had no more than 4 camp NGO’s come to see us to see what we were doing.  A person with NP had just thought the other day how great baby boxes would be for the camp- she was so surprised to see us show up days later with just what she was thinking!!!img_3991

We returned to the warehouse to pack up more boxes for the next day- again we totally banged them out in record time!!!

Thank you for all your love and support- we are feeling it over here in Northern Greece!

Technical glitch- pictures for today

Dream CTF Team 19


Washing day


Camp built for 400, now housing 1,450- tents on all flat and semi flat areas 


Slippery steps-


Traditional Yeziti baby cradle- this baby was not going to fall out!!


Baby swing, by tent of work, near to cooking area



Photo shoot time


Hattie and Hannah- working hard to support refugees in the North of Greece


This population always wears at least 1 piece of white clothing- Emma was our fantastic guide- working daily to make the lives of these people better 




Someone is shy!!!


Photo shoot time!


It takes 2 of us do navigate!!



Taking apart the hospital.



Camp on a mountain side….

Not much sleep last night- but with a cup of coffee was ready to hit the road!  We indeed had a lovely room across from the crashing sea- we had a great breakfast and headed off in our loaded vans to the 1st of 3 stops today.  We had some phone business to attend to, the CTF phone we were given to use was not letting us open it and my extra phone with a Greek SIM card had me locked out.  We found the 2 different carriers for the phones within steps of each other and were all set to hit the road.  First a stop at a couple of bakeries to grab snacks for the road.

The winding road up to Petra, a camp of Yiziti on the site of what once was a psychiatric hospital.  The drive was breath taking with a zig zagging route up a mountain.  This would be my 3rd time visiting this camp- in March the population was 450, today 1450.  The growth was staggering.  Where once were neat rows of UNHCR tents was now an additional miss match of tents set up on every flat surface.  Our goal was to check on the baby boxes that had already been delivered to the camp to see how they were being used, what was working and what was not.

First thing was to unload our loaded down vans with the aid we had packed the day before in Athens.  Our contact Emma was gracious and kind- she works for an NGO that supports the camp- she quickly found a resident who led us to a number of camps where babies resided.  As it has rained the night before we traipsed over muddy paths, slipped down hand cut out stairs between different levels of the camps and jumped over running open lines of water.  Always with a child’s hand in ours.

At one point I swore I saw a hoof print in the mud, but thought I must be seeing things- only to find out later that wild boars come into the camp at night.  Imagine meeting one of them on the way to the port-a-potty half way across camp in the dead of the night.  We visited about a half dozen tents- dinner was being cooked over open fires made in discarded oil cans.  The air rang with sounds of “my friend” being called to you from the children, from many directions- always said with a huge smile and usually with a request to follow them to see something they wanted us to see.  To meet their mothers, to oooh and aaah over smaller siblings.  Smiles, so many smiles.  The living conditions are so much less than human it is hard to describe.  Epically horrible, soul tearing.

The tents we saw were neat and orderly, with blankets stacked against the walls of the tent, used at night to ward off the soon to be killing cold.  Supposedly this camp will be moved down off the mountain as the roads will be impassable with the coming snows.  It was supposed to happen 6 months ago……..nothing yet.

We are so fortunate to have 2 professional photographers with us- Rachel is from CO and specializes in children’s photography.  Tariq Tarey is originally from Somalia, he himself a refugee as a child.  He takes portraits of refugees……huge haunting images.  Tariq set up a make shift photo studio- is white sheet backdrop taped to the side of a school building.  His subjects were mostly men and boys- they would pose, mostly not smiling.  Eyes burning into the camera.  At one point he asked for some women models.  I saw a pregnant woman walking, about 7 months, walking with blankets balanced on her shoulder and carrying 3 bags of winter clothes in her other hand.  I motioned for her to follow me,  “no, no” was her answer.  With a smile.  “Pleassssseeeee” I said………..I took her blankets and bags.  She was wearing a head scarf.  Tariq is able to speak Arabic.  Discussions were happening…………we could not follow the words, but the actions spoke much much louder than any words.  With encouragement from the surrounding men we saw her defiantly fling her head scarf into the group of men.  Her stare into the camera was breathtaking- you could feel her energy burning into the camera.  Tonight I learned that she had been a sex slave- a common occurrence among Yiziti women in their war torn home lands.  The child she carried was not conceived in love.

As we were driving away from the camp one of the men came to speak to our car- Tariq translated- the message was loud and clear.  “Please tell the world that we are here- that we need help, do not forget us.”  Soul crushing words when we know that less than 1% of the worlds refugees will ever make it to America.  The children want a hand to hold, they have requested marbles, socks and warm clothing.  In that order……..their requests delivered with a “my friend”, a huge smile, trusting eyes looking up at you.  These are the faces and voices of the refugees.

We left the camp, all of us changed.  Our next stop was a much smaller camp that in March was full with 450 refugees in tents spread out over a summer camp facility.  Today just 45 refugees call this home- Kurds.  All have moved into the camp main building- out of the cold in anticipation of a soon to be winter.

Our final stop was with a new NGO comprising of 5 very ambitious and lovely Brits the have worked with refugees in France and now in Greece.  Their warehouse lacked electricity or heat, but their commitment to the refugees and this crisis were fantastic to see.  It gave us all hope that perhaps not all is lost- I look forward to watching them grow and expand- their mission is one of pure love and light.  Both of which are much needed in these camps.

We arrived at our hotel for the next 3 nights after getting lost only a few times-  we found a restaurant near by that was owned by a Greek man who also lived in Casa Grande for 15 years.  Such a small world.  Tomorrow we will go to the warehouse where the baby boxes have been delivered and start getting those put together for distribution that will take place the rest of our trip.  Hope in the new lives that will fill these beds.



Day 2- Northern Greece..

It always is amazing to me – to leave loved ones, climb willingly into basically a tin can and hurl across the planet to another land.  Uneventfully arrived in Athens – 18 hours after having been dropped off at airport.  

Rita (CTF carrythefuture.org Greece Coodinator) happened to be at the airport meeting her brother and his wife who were arriving on my flight!  Also at the airport was 1 of my 4 team mates for the week- Rachel from CO!  Rachel and I got into our rental van and drove to the hotel to meet the rest of our team.  

We are Team 19 for CTF- our main task is to distribute baby boxes and supplies to newborns and their mothers-
Team 19!  Dinner was with Rita and her brother and his wife- the team had been taking on Facebook for the past few weeks so it was nice to finally be able to meet face to face!

Aline and me got up earlier then the rest of the group so we headed over to a local Jumbo for what would be 2 trips today.  We loaded up 2 carts with items for a new baby due in a camp Rita works in and the Warehouse in Athens was out of baby wipes!  

We had our 2nd rental van delivered and headed out to the warehouse to load up for our 5 hour drive to Northern Greece- The vans were PACKED with warm weather clothing to take to 2 of the camps up North The drive was nice- sky was overcast with intermittent rain- we stopped at a camp about 1/2, one that Zach, Rita and I had visited in May- the camp is located in such a beautiful setting- the boys came running up as soon as we arrived, we were looking for a count of the number of baby boxes we could return with- we also promised the boys “foot balls” and one of them asked in almost perfect English- “maybe a volleyball for the men to play with?”  Children, kids…. living far from their homes in a foreign land.  But so very quick to smile, to joke around.  It is impossible to imagine what they have seen in their short lives- and yet they never stopped smiling .We made our 2nd stop of the day at a Jumbo to load up with soccer balls,soap and shampoo a camp had asked for- our hotel is at tje sea side, we can hear the crashing waves below our hotel room.  So thankful to have this time to spend these days here in Greece.