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 Refugees 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……..art 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 them last night) and headed to the outskirts of town to the camp. In Serbia there are no
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
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 the 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!