Last day in Greece

What a trip!  Not counting France – we drove 1,779 miles/2,863km and delivered aid in 3 countries!

We decided to return to the Afghan camp between the garbage dump and the composite pile.  We went to the big warehouse and grabbed some baby essential.  Actually first we stopped at Jumbo- crazy, but this was the 1st time this trip we have been to one.  Some trip you are there two times a day!

We loaded up on diapers and wipes.  On everyones list these days.  We were able to grab not only baby boxes but newborn clothing, blankets, Tide, socks, hats and mittens.  There were many people at the warehouse packing and picking up items.  Which makes us happy-aid getting to the refugees.  Some NGO had donated shoe boxes with gifts inside that are for either boys or girls and age appropriate.  Our job from the warehouse was to get the age and gender of all the kids in this camp.

It was a quick drive to the camp and our little translator 8 year old and his buddies helped us unload the van and bring the aid to their warehouse.  We asked for the list, some parents with English skills came to help translate, and soon we had a piece of paper.  Neatly hand written with the name of every child, their gender and age.  Exactly what we needed.   60 kids in all.  It is always sad to leave a camp- the refugees are often isolated and with little or no support.  This weighs heavy on our hearts and they come to us in our dreams and in glimpses of memories at odd times during the day.

We drove back to Athens and a computer that had been donated had arrived at our hotel this morning so

A new computer for Orange House!

we dropped it off at a fantastic organization called The Orange House/Zaatar.  The school day had ended so the house was full of refugee children, workers and volunteers.  The computer was perfect timing as they had one of their computers die recently.  This project helps and houses single mothers and children, is a resource for kids to come for classes (language classes are always very popular) and supports the LGBTQ refugee community.

Next we made our way to another amazing origination called The Home Project.  They currently support 16 unaccompanied minors in a home like house that has an almost 1:1 ratio teen/mentor.  It was busy here too as school had just let out.  Officially there are 1,200 unaccompanied minors in Greece- THP currently only has 1 house, but will open 3 more houses for boys next month and a house for girls the following month.  This is truly the most vulnerable population- sex rings have already been happening in Greece and with the ultimate goal of family reunification to get these

kids out of detention facilities, off the streets and out of the camps and squats is really the only way they will survive.  Even with the unimaginable travesties they have endured, it is here in these homes that they will really start to fall apart- and how beautiful for that to happen in a family setting with many around to support and love you.  Currently the boys are from 12-18 years old.

It was such a beautiful day we decided to walk back to the hotel- everywhere we look there are refugees walking the streets, shopping, talking on their phones, peeking out of windows from near by squats.  Lives in limbo.  But away from the bombs and death threats.

Tomorrow we head back to home- America for me and Canada for Amanda.  Our hearts and heads are full.  Our work is not done  but we did what we came to do.


It seems that every country we have visited these past 2 weeks loves their stamps on papers.  At a warehouse 2 weeks ago we received paperwork that needed to be returned, re-writen and given back to us.  So we did as we were asked- received our “new” paper work and went searching for a grocery store to buy some aid.

There are many Greeks (including CTF’s very own Rita Continakis) who are making a big difference in the lives of the refugees.  On Facebook there are dozens of pages devoted to helping this population – and often an SOS will go out on one of these FB boards asking for help.  Yesterday one such message went out as Amurtal House, which offers midwife services for the refugees, was in desperate need of diapers.

Amanda and I found a big grocery store and bought a cart full of diapers and wipes.  We also purchased food for the 17 families living in Lavrio which we were going to visit in the afternoon.

We found Amurtal House-thankfully the lift was working and we were able to put all the diapers in it to take to the 5th floor.  It is such a bright and beautiful spot for these women (and men, as they often come with their wives).  Kids played quietly in the play area, the midwife was bustling about between appointments and the staff was busy helping the mothers who had stopped by maybe to bath their babies in the nice big bathtub because their squat did not have this option, or getting a kit with basic supplies to give to a mom who has run out of wipes and diapers.

They are going to have to move in the next month- problems with their land lord.  So everyone is hoping they find a bigger space, maybe without being 5 floors up (many times the lift breaks and the moms have to walk up the 5 flights), as sunny and spacious as their current location and with storage.  A written form of a vision board!

At the grocery store we had divided up all the goods we purchased for the Afghan  camp in individual bags- we got fresh fruit, veggies, cooking oil, tea, cookies and suckers for the kids, dried beans, rice and a loaf of bread.  It is an easy drive to Lavrio from Athens, about an hour drive.  Kids were playing in the dirt area in front of the 2 story building.  This would be my 4th time in a year visiting.  Many of the children recognized us and came to greet us.  I feel like an Auntie to them and can see how tall they get between visits.  Such sweet smiles.  All of the children here are attending a local Greek school, plus when available tutors come and help them with their English and German (where most people ultimately want to end up).

We sat and had tea with a family I keep in touch with.  There are/were 8 of them living in a room about 14’X14′.  We sat down for tea and a snack when we were told that the oldest girl (20) and the youngest boy (5) had gone to The Netherlands to be with the Dad’s brother.  The Uncle has been in Europe for 20+ years.  Mom looked sad when we were talking about it- the ultimate goal is family reunification.  But there is no way of knowing if or when that will happen.  I cannot imaging sending 2 of my children away- but doing it because at least you know 2 will have made it.  There is always talk that especially the Afghan and Iraqi refugees will be sent back home.

When we parted we “hoped that we would not see them again in Greece”.  That they would all be reunited in Germany-

We next headed over to the 3rd camp in Lavrio that I learned of last trip with Team 19.  Good news is that the city has cleared away the garbage dump on 1 side of the 15 ISO boxes, bad news is that the compost pile remains.  We were invited into tea in their “tea room”.  We learned that they continue to not receive much outside help and that they have 5 babies that will be born soon!  We will forward this message to CTF so that future teams can visit this lonely forgotten camp.

We ended our day with dinner with Chloe who we met during our 1st trip to Greece last April.  Chloe volunteers/works at Amurtal House and our topic at the fabulous vegetarian restaurant was ……… of course……… the refugees.   It is sad how the situation is changing so rapidly and the fear that so many feel with the shift to the right that many countries are seeing.  The refugees are the ones who will suffer as NGO’s pull out and donations dry up.




Oh, and 3 countries!  We met down for breakfast and then hit the road.  Weather is so unpredictable this time of year so of course we started the day going the wrong way on the img_5264road in front of the hotel, and this is with using Google Maps.  We basically get lost at least once a day so figured if this is the only time we get lost then-yea for us!

It was mostly a straight shot south from Belgrade thru Macedonia to Athens.  All in all it took us 13 hours 31 min, we went thru 20 tolls and covered 690 miles (1,111km).  Our day started out with snow and ended in rain.

Our phones mostly don’t work, and the van’s radio only works part time, and with no way to play music or pod casts we spend lots of our time talking and just looking out the window at the passing beautiful scenery.  Processing what we have seen and talking about ways to better the lives of the refugees.  Amanda has been a fantastic partner these past 2 weeks, so easy to be around, a hard worker and so very thoughtful and considerate.

Serbia will hold a special place in our hearts as the needs are so great and there are so many people stuck there with little or no outside support.  Such a contrast with what we have seen unfold in Greece these past few months.

The scenery was  beautiful, we could see the snow line in the mountains.  And up until we reached Athens we were either in snow or there was snow on the side of the road.

Carriers and aid delivered…..mike drop.

Another cloudy day- we were up, fed and to customs by 9:00am.  We were to meet our customs broker at the customs warehouse so that we could finally get them deliver.  We pulled our van up to the main customs building.  I only had a Facebook screen shot of the guys face and name.  As i’m searching the phone he knocks on the window!  He took our coveted “file of all things very important”, said “you wait here, or in the restaurant I’ll be back in 3-4 hours”.  WWWWHHHHHAAAATTTTT.  “Just like EU, same here in Serbia, everyone must put stamps on”.  So he disappeared into the customs building.

Amanda and I went to the big box store next to customs and filled a cart for aid for img_5193Refugees Foundation who was helping us bring the carriers into Serbia.  Edin is the founder of the organization- you can tell he cares deeply for these kids and is always thinking of ways to make their lives better.  Both Amanda and I have kids so we filled a cart with all the things kids love…… supplies,notebooks, snacks, cookies, chocolate……and some things from home…….dates and walnuts.  The kids are mostly Afghan and they have to take 2 buses to get to the center- they come everyday but Friday from 11:00am-5:00pm when the center is closed.  Of the 500 kids in the camp under 18, only 20 are attending school.  A school that also houses the gypsy kids who live in unbelievable poverty next to the camp.  Needless to say the camp kids have lots of time on their hands.  Some days Edin says there are 50 kids in the center- leaning English, Serbian, playing on the computers, playing chess…….

Shopping took 90 minutes, the rest of the time we spent in the van.  And at the 4 hour mark exactly our buddy knocked on the window- handed us the “folder” and we were done.  Cleared of customs.  We were all set to finally deliver these much needed baby and toddler carriers.  I felt weepy.  Edin is so happy with this project, he has tried to work with NGO’s in the past and it has never worked out because Serbia is so specific on how the aid must come into the country.  A bow down to the CTF staff  (Laura and Erin) who are working behind he scenes for all of these trips- rock star unicorns!

We went to the Refugee Foundation center, picked up Edin and Anita (we had dinner with img_5203them last night) and headed to the outskirts of town to the camp.  In Serbia there are no

Gypsy/Roma camp next to refugee camp

outside support NGO’s in the camp outside of the Red Cross.  We were told no pictures are allowed, and that we could not go into the rooms.  We turned off a main road on the edge of town, the road quickly turned into a dirt/goat path and sure enough after rounding a bend there was the camp.

We spoke with the guard for a bit, all the while kids are streaming from the camp.  Our hands were soon filled with little hands and always someone who wanted to be picked up.  The green light was given, so we let go of all the kids climbed into the van and drove.  VERY SLOWLY as to not hit one of the kids running along the van to go meet with the camp director.  We parked after passing about 6 buildings that housed the refugees.  It looks like each family has a room with a central corridor bisecting the building.  We would catch glimpses of women looking out of a window, a mother calling out the window for a child to come and little ones looking out to see what is all the commotion.

We went into the main admin building and were seated in a small office with 2 desks.  We

were asked if we wanted coffee.  No, no, no………..ok, yes, yes, yes.  There were the 4 of us and 2 other camp workers.  Inevitable someone lights up a cigarette within 5 min of sitting down.  I feel like my lungs have been subjected to a two pack a day cigarette addiction for all the smoke we’ve breathed in these past 2 weeks.

The camp manager was very nice, he said we could put the carriers in their warehouse then he had to run off as a film crew was in the hallway with lights and a camera ready to film him.  The pictures of refugees living with very little support during this harsh winter has this being big news.  We left this building and drove around to what looked like an old

There will be warm babies soon!

wooden farm building, we backed up and started unloading the 16 bags of carriers.  Soon 8 people watching and helping turned into 50 people.

Everyone wanted a carrier, we kept saying we needed to have the babies there to show everyone with an interpreter how the carrier fit.  I grabbed an infant and a toddler carrier before they locked the warehouse door.  On a side note, usually warehouses are filled to the rafters with aid, not this warehouse.  Only mattress and pillows.  Only new clothing and shoes are allowed to be distributed to the refugees in Serbia.  Such a waste as Greece is bursting with aid that could be worn up here.

Finally a mother brought a toddler and we set to work with an interpreter putting the child in the carrier.  Mom was so happy, the baby wasn’t sure what was happening and had bare feet in the freezing cold- it was below freezing at this point.  It had started to snow by the time a mom brought us a 3 month old- it was just to cold to unwrap the baby so we had theimg_5244 interpreter tell the mom and the moms listening what was needed.  The mom laughed and said she has used a carrier before.  Good news.  Random hands would reach out and put the babies blanket on it’s head if it fell off- the village was helping to raise this little one.

As we were about to leave a father came carrying a boy that looked to be 5 but clearly developmentally delayed, we had no carrier to give him.  The father was insistent that we look at the child’s useless legs to drive home the fact that he needed a carrier.  Edin said that he believed that these carriers would be distributed this week- just not today.  The lock was already on the wooden door.

We all loaded into the now empty van- it felt so strange after having the van basically

loaded with the carriers since we have arrived.  We drove back to town so that we could load the van back up with aid a team had brought last week up from Greece.  I stayed with the van while everyone went into the center- the snow was falling and I knew that soon these carriers would be distributed to the families that need them all over Serbia.

Amanda and I are here delivering these carriers but these carriers came from around the globe, mostly donated during carrier drives.  Ergo donated brand new carriers that are perfect for toddlers.  For many mom’s these carriers are almost an appendage – they are passed down with care and thought to family and friends.  Now these carriers will once again carry the future.

Tomorrow we will work our way towards Greece- MapQuest says it is a 12.5 hour drive, but it also said it was 3.5 hours between Skopje and Belgrade and that took 7 hours!

Serbia….round II.

We waited for a customs form we would need to pass into Serbia with the 500 baby carriers we have been hauling around.  Our contact in Serbia sent it and we were on the road – a

What 476 baby carriers look like!  Look at all that love!

snowy road.  We would have to pass from Macedonia into Serbia, another border crossing.  I think the border and immigration people take pity on us……we truly are clueless, so much so that people have been feeling sorry for us and helping us.  We just get passed from one office to the next.  Today was the same- but it looks like we have success!  We were told – MANY times, “go straight to Belgrade to customs office here”.  And the agent would point to our paperwork that is now full of very important looking stamps.

Maps said our drive from Skopje to Belgrade was 3-1/2 hours, sort of close- it took us only 7.  Counting our hour at the border.

We headed straight to the customs office like we were told – arrived at 5pm and were told to return at 9 am tomorrow.

SOOOOOOO close!  So we checked into our hotel and went to meet with our Serbian partner  Eden who runs this amazing program called “Refugees Foundation Serbia”.  He has rented a little 2 story building (maybe 100 square feet total) and he and his volunteers offer

English classes, math classes and a safe place for kids to come and hang out.  He will have any where from 25-50 kids show up everyday. The kids come with a mom who will bring a bunch over, or the older kids will take some smaller kids over.  They ride the bus- which I am sure is a nice break from the monotony of camp life.  There are 1000 people in the camp here in Belgrade- 500 are under 18.  The government has sent 20 students to school- and that was not until December.   This center is run 100% on donations.

Once again our faith in mankind was rewarded by meeting someone who does such amazing work.

The camps in Serbia have been in the news these past few weeks- the conditions are basic at best.  We will see first hand tomorrow when we deliver the much needed baby carriers.




We both had a bit of a sleep in, knowing we only had a 3 hour drive and all day to get to Skopje, Macedonia.  Thankfully we didn’t get to lazy because the border we thought would be the easiest turned out not to be.

From Veria to the Macedonia border was only about an hour away.  The sun was shining and the roads were fantastic.  We arrived at the border about 11am.  We are driving a 9 passenger rental van, with like a million windows.  The immigration guy in Greece raised an eyebrow when he looked into the van, but put the stamp in our passports and waved us to the immigration on the Macedonia side.  These guys were not so nice- he took one look in the van and waved us to a parking area.  Since my Macedonian is non-exsistant, and his English was not much better- he said he needed paper.  Well happy day, we had papers.  But not the RIGHT papers, he said we could not bring the baby carriers in.   Me: sad face.  Him pointing to a building: “go”.  So we locked up the van and got to go stand in another office- same answer “no”.  With an added “impossible” for measure.

This “no” guy then went on to say we would need to hire someone from customs to drive along with us to the Serbian border.  We would have to spend the night in our van.  And be escorted out of the country.  You see, they are afraid that we are going to sell these carriers, which means they would not get their duty and taxes.  The horrified look on my face told him my answer to that scenario!  The temperature is literally below freezing.  Then he said:  “maybe a customs broker will help you, but mostly no”.  So we walked up a hill to the broker building and went to the company “Gil” because 1. customs guy said to and 2. It’s my name!

This guy looked at our papers, asked for our folder of papers and went to work typing.  We had to follow him outside to our van where we had to move it to be weighed.  More stamps and we were on our way!  It only took 2.5 hours!  So we are still moving towards Serbia with the carriers!  Just like we need to be doing.

This morning I looked to see where the refugee camps are located in Macedonia, it looked like there are 2, and while addresses are not given, they do show on a map where the

camps are.  The 1st city over the Macedonia border had a camp- so we looked at my screen shot photo of the map i’d taken a picture of and went driving to the part of town we thought the camp should be.  Once the pavement ended and we were on dirt, not very well maintained roads we knew we were getting closer!  Sure enough around a bend we saw the camp.  White tents, ISO boxes, guards.  Perfect.  We put on our Carry the Future vests and mimed baby and the guards called on the phone.  About 2 minutes later a jeep came from the interior of the camp with “Red Cross” written on it.  We learned that most of the residents had “gone back to Greece”.  Most likely not because they wanted to- and that they did not need baby beds or carriers (because they had them).  They needed baby clothes.  For new babies.  But they had to be new and could only be brought to the Red Cross warehouse in town who would then in turn bring out to the camp.

Big sigh.  Why does this have to be so hard.  Across in Greece, maybe  25 miles away is a

Lots of churches here in Skopje.

warehouse FULL of new born baby clothes.  Not new, but sorted and like new.  Ok, there are other things besides baby clothes in the warehouse- but still, there are TONS of baby clothes.  But mostly…….not new.  This is “government speak”, such easy solutions but barriers are put up at most every turn.

It was an easy 2 hour drive to Skopje- roads were, interesting.  We had to keep passing from 1 side of the 4 lane highway to the other side every 5 miles or so.  There are snow topped mountain everywhere you look.  This must be wine country because there are acres and acres of vines and cabbage.  Fields and fields of cabbage that is being harvested.  Looks like lots of road projects going on – not the best roads, but we have both seen far worse.  We had an early dinner and will get up early tomorrow – fingers crossed all goes smoothly and the baby carriers are with our partner organization in Belgrade this time tomorrow.

Last day in Veroia.

Learned today that this is the coldest it has been in Greece for 54 years, we believe it!  Had breakfast then headed to the camp.  We wanted to finish the sorted room and make a path in the unsorted room- mission accomplished!  Today was going to be movie day at the campimg_5109 which is a BIG deal.  Sam (from the NGO -Bridge 2 that supports the camp) was running around dealing with: no heat at his apartment, blown fuses in the warehouses, setting up for the movie, making sure every little fire that pops up every 5 minutes it put out……..and then everywhere he goes the kids cry out “SAM” and want his attention.  Sam and his mom Sarah have done such a fantastic and beautiful job in 101 short days.  They have a fantastic relationship with the Army that runs the camp and the other NGO’s on site.

Their love and support is palatable  throughout the camp.

We had gone out and bought 3 more heaters thinking they could be used to put into the baby boxes  until it heats upimg_5102 a bit.  We had to bring all the goodies we’d bought for the new baby last night and Sam said there was also a 3 week old baby that could use a heater too.   1st we stopped at the new babies room.  Found out that the baby was 6lbs, he just looked sooooo small.  Such a good mama and such a proud papa, mom looked tired but happy.  The 3 girls are so adorable- full of smiles and wanting to practice their English.  Dad made Sam and I Syrian coffee-  wowsa  some very strong coffee.  Thankfully Sam warned me about the last bit which basically is straight coffee grinds.

In the hallway walking to the next family ran into a mom that we had given a box to in Oct!  Baby looked great and sooooo big!  The next baby was a girl- 3 weeks old, they had a heater so they said to save it and give it to the next baby.  It was a mom, dad, 2 year old girl and the new baby girl.  They were from Syria, near the Iraq border.  “Very, very beautiful” said the dad.  They had some neighbors visiting who were from Iraq.  He could speak very good english- he said his family had to leave Iraq.  He held up his hands and pointed to all 5 fingers saying “ISIS, Taliban……….”.  He looked at me and said that without being completely veiled I would be killed for not covering.  Then he said that women have only slits for their eyes to look out and if they have eye makeup on……..he ran his finger across his neck.

The family with the new baby have a 2 year old whose legs are not quite right- they shake when she stands and she is very very tiny.  She climbed into Amanda’s lap and just snuggled

there for the 30 min we were visiting.  Everyone sits on the beds, they have the UNHCR gray blankets on the bed and floor.  Like all rooms, very clean and organized.  The 2 year old has neurological damage. Mom spent so much time hiding from the bombs while pregnant in Syria that she was only able to eat bread and water.  Sam said they will work to get her physical therapy, but there also seems to be some cognitive damage.

There are 5 volunteers here from the US and they too were busy with the long to do list.  About 10 minutes after we arrived the electricity went out  to the whole warehouse/office building.  No problem, the volunteers had brought lights with them!

We all headed over to the “movie room”.  And started setting up- Sam gave us general directions and we set to work.  This is a fun distraction for the whole camp- at the end of the movie the kids get treats.  We had bought chocolate bars, there were bags of marbles,

suckers, potato chips and a juice box.  We had 70 juice boxes and chocolate bar and the last kid got the last juice boxes and bars!  Perfect count- during the movie in addition to the 70 kids there were maybe another 10 teens and maybe 15 parents.  The movie was “Tarzan” the cartoon dubbed in Arabic.  Both Amanda and I had a kid on each lap and another girl on the chair between us who wanted to hold both of our hands.  So much love.

Tomorrow we will start heading towards Serbia- but since customs is not open until 9am in Serbia, we will spend the night in Skopje, Macedonia.  The drive is only 3-1/2 hours but will give ourselves plenty of time.  Should be interesting.


New baby & more warehouse work!

The 2 Swedish volunteers we met yesterday at the camp told us about the hotel they were staying at in the old Jewish Quarter of town.  Last night we followed them up and down narrow img_5048lanes, parked on the side of a rushing creek and had to walk the last bit of the way.  We can imagine how beautiful it would be here in the summer.

We both slept so well with both of us having heat in our rooms!  What a difference.  It is a short 15 drive to the camp.  Sam had told us that a group of Americans (5 in total) would be working at the camp for the next week.  We walked into their intro meeting just as Sam was finishing up.  Turns out they are from a church in Texas – this group was all in their 50 & 60’s, they had done this type of work before and set to work organizing the shoe room.

When I write this it does seem crazy that someone would travel to the other side of the world to sort shoes.  But it really isn’t just sorting shoes, it is seeing with your own eyes what is happening- these stories we hear and the images burned into our brains are the fuel to keep this tragedy alive so people will not forget. To go forth and share what we have seen and heard once home. It is also the “thank you”s we hear from the refugees themselves- it gives them hope that in a small town in northern Greece, in an old Army camp that people see them. Really see them for who they are…….our brothers and sisters. That they have not been forgotten during this very dark time in their lives

Sam in the shoe sorting room- a German volunteer helped to make Sam’s vision a dream shoe room!

Amanada and I set to work organizing the clothing storage areas.  These are 2 rooms.  One is mostly organized with fantastic Ikea bins a group came and did for the camp-each bin contains an age group and type of clothing…….think……baby 0-2 months boys sleepers, M-mens long sleeve shirt.  Now think of all the bins you would need and basically they are all here in this room.  The next room is, well a mess!  Unsorted clothing, out of season clothing.  In the summer the heat will be blazing in this part of Greece.  Amanda and I went from room to room organizing.  At one point there was a knock at the door and a

One of the warehouse rooms.

mother with a month old baby, 2 girls (2 and 4) and her husband wanted a coat for the girls.  Distribution happens every other week, the residents come in one family at a time to pick out clothing.  For some reason these 2 little girls had Spring thin coats on in the freezing cold.  I called to Amanda and we went to work trying to find them coats- it was unbelievable hard!  Either the bin for the “Girl-Winter Coat age 2” was empty or none of the coats were warm enough.  We really shouldn’t even have been doing the distribution but-how do you say no to two freezing kids?  We finally found a couple coats that worked-they were ever so grateful and with smiles and waves they walked back to their room.  The girls in warm coats.

Sam had told us last night that a baby had been born 4 days earlier- he said we would be able to deliver a baby bed to her and to pick out some baby clothes.  Fun fun!  We went to town adding to the CTF baby box- onesies, pjs, blankets, outfits and the cutestimg_5086 little sleep sacks!   Sam was busy until about 2 when he walked with us to the new babies room.  This was the 4th baby for this family- they had 3 girls (6,4,2) and now a boy!

Their room was maybe 14’X14′.  There was a set of bunkbeds and a single bed.  For all 6 of them.  Imagine living in a room this size.  As is the case in most camps, there is a blanket screen in front of the door, in front of the door is where you leave your shoes and on the floor of the room are blankets.  The new mom looked tired, but very happy.  We were asked if we wanted tea, and the tea kettle was plugged into their one outlet and soon we were drinking very sweet HOT tea.  The baby could not have weighed 6lbs.  So small, he slept the whole time.

Almost every refugee mom is given a c-section in Greece- we could see mom wince everytime she moved.  We asked if she was breast feeding and she said yes- always good to hear.  There was not a translator in the room but the dad said something about the middle of the night.  Sam told us that the camp turns the heat off to the buildings at 1am to save money on fuel.  The dad was worried about the new baby getting cold.  The lows hover at or below freezing.  Amanda and I asked if they could have a heater?  He said “yes”, electric would be best.  So we added to our shopping list for the night 1-space heater.  We also were going to get mom some diapers and pads.

The 2 year old sat next to me holding her new brother, playing with some little plastic shapes.  No play room, no bins of toys.  10 little plastic pieces- she would stack and unstack them.  Not yet aware that she is a child without a home or a country.

Northern Greece.

This cold spell is not normal for Greece- to see snow in the cities and on beaches is not the norm.  Amanda and I cannot help but think of the refugees in tents or in unheated buildings.  We worked in the main warehouse in Athens yesterday and it is crazy how cold it was in that concrete building but outside a good 20 degrees warmer!   It seems that we are trading off with rooms with no heat- my turn was last night.  You start thinking as you

Yea, it took us awhile to figure out where to put the winder wiper fluid!

lay there “surely the heat will kick in soon”, then you might get up and look for an extra blanket in the cupboard, then dig around in your roller bag for the long underwear…….it made for a long night but did eventually get some sleep with like 10 layers on!

We had breakfast in the hotel- usually and egg, some Greek yogurt with honey, a piece of fruit.  Very simple.  We were anxious to get on the road- we arrived in the dark and were surprised to see in the morning light we were circled with snow drenched mountains.  The sky was a crisp blue- so lovely.

It was about a 4 hour drive to the camp we were bring baby boxes to- the roads were great. Even with a slight fuel issue………our car takes natural gas AND fuel.   This camp is located up a hill on the side of the a lake about 2 miles from the closest city.   Today marked the 99th day that Bridge 2 has been inimg_5026 this camp working.  Our team 19 was at the camp on day 19 and we were impressed with what they had done in that short of time, and now WOW!!!  Bridge 2 is run by a mother and son from Guernsey Island- Mary had left to go back home only this morning but Sam was there to greet us.  We dropped off our baby boxes in their amazingly organized warehouse and then got a tour.  The camp has 255 residents with 75 under the age of 6-all of these people live in 67 rooms spread out in 4 buildings of an old army camp.

They have done so much!  Last we were here in Oct there was a store “boutique” where residents can “shop” 2x a month, a shop to pick out food 1-2 X a week.  Bridge 2 buys all of

the food with donations and the clothing and shoes comes from a warehouse up near here called Help Refugees- the same group we worked with in France last week.  This is the warehouse that housed our baby boxes for distribution in the North.  As organized as the one in France.

Since I was here last they have added: a women’s salon, a men’s barber/mens area and a

shoe shop.  Mind you, no money is exchanged the residents are able to use facilities and get the food and clothing for free.  Not everyday- many volunteers are needed for distribution so that happens for clothing 1-2 times a month and for food every week.

As lovely as the spaces are and how lucky the residents are to NOT be in a tent, this is not home.  Each family lives in a room, everyone…….1 room.  Food is prepared in this room, you sleep and pass the day here.  They are not allowed to work (except in circumstances like below) their future hinges on the day they go to an interview where they will list in order of preference 8 countries they would like to resettle in.   But nothing is guaranteed – some EU countries resettle within a week of an interview for someone who has a skill that they are looking for.  Others may wait months- we are fast approaching a year since the borders closed- still people wait or try and sneak across borders to reach waiting family or just trying once again for a better life.  This Greek life is like a life on hold……with no end in site.  I’ve said this before, and the statistic is staggering but the average stay in a camp is 18 years.  Imagine.  One room, no hope……

The children are being bused to Greek schools and there are schools in the camp for additional learning.  The government has hired the residents that are teachers to teach.  If so motivated a child could attend 7 hours of school a day counting the Greek school and the camp school.

We met 2 women volunteers from Sweden- they had both been here for 2 weeks.  They looked to be a bit older than me- we went to their farewell dinner this evening with them Sam and a newly arrived Spanish volunteer.  Half of us were over 50 – for 2 of them this was their 1st time volunteering.  Just like so many before them, they were already thinking how to carve out the time away from their busy lives to head to Greece to help.


Lamia, Greece

A full day!!! The company that CTF contracts with dropped off our van in the morning-there were a few little hiccups as as we needed some additional paperwork and snow chains. Am ever so thankful for the Canadian riding shot gun this trip she is more than used to winter driving!!!

We made it over to the main warehouse in Athens not to much after it had opened. Literally not much has changed- just more stuff. The CTF baby carriers and baby boxes were in a smaller room and we set to work separating out carriers for infants and toddlers. As all of these carriers were donated we would get glimpses of the beautiful notes and beams of love people would attach to their carriers.

It is not hard to imagine how these carriers will keep this next group of babies nice and img_4978close to their mothers and fathers. So beautiful.

We were running out of toddler carriers when I texted CTF staff that we were not finding as many toddler carriers as we needed. We were looking for 100 infant carriers and 400 toddler carriers. Laura told me that over at the Salvation Army warehouse Ergo had donated 600 carriers! Boom baby. We spent a bit of time organizing the baby carriers and loaded our bags of carriers in the back of the van and filled the 2nd seat with baby boxes.

Even having been to the Salvation Army like EIGHT times- I can never find that dang thing! We finally did- and it was already 3:00 which means it could be closed. We rang the bell, called the number on the door, finally a volunteer came outside to throw some garbage away and we were able to go upstairs and see our pallets of carriers.

This is a multi story warehouse- our 5 pallets were way upstairs. It was good to see that img_5015they had about 12 volunteers shifting and organizing. But after being in the warehouse in France- it will be hard to see another warehouse so well organized. One of the men brought our pallet down to the street level where Amanda and we started opening the big boxes that held 10 Ergo’s each, taking out the literature then repackaging them in the boxes (this is all needed so that the items can get thru to Serbia). We had a nice little assembly line going- about 45 min into the job 2 recyclers came by and mimed “can we have your boxes”.

Jackpot! Soon they were helping us open the boxes- they would then take the cardboard and put it in their cart where it would go to be sold. Both men were from Pakistan- most likely refugees themselves. Soon one of the men’s nephew came up with a friend and they started helping. All along a retire from the Netherlands who was here working at the Salvation Army for 3 months was helping us too- he was in Greece to with the mission to get the warehouse organized. A true global enterprise. Of course at 4 the boss wanted to shut us down, but with some sad faces and then big smiles- he let us continue our work until we finished- he even brought us down another pallet of carriers.

The van is now LOADED! We said goodbye and headed to the north. Almost immediately from leaving Athens we were in thick fog- there was snow on the ground that only gotimg_5017 thicker. About an hour outside Athens we could see tons of semi-trucks at stops and toll booths. We learned later that because they did not have snow chains they could not go further. The highways in Greece are beautiful – from Athens to the way North it is about a 5 hour drive and there are 10 tolls total.

About 8pm we decided to find a town to sleep in- we were tired. We ended up in Lamia. TripAdvisor only had 4 hotels listed- so we headed off the highway towards the town. It was about 4 miles from the highway and the closer we got to the town the more snow there was on the ground! It was crazy! Tons of snow. We got checked into our hotel and walked about 3 blocks to the city center where we found a restaurant owned by a young man that had only been open 15 days- we got something like 7 dishes total- all amazing img_5018dishes.

We will slowly make our way to to Serbia- but tomorrow we will drop the baby boxes at a camp about 4 hours north of us.