Last day.

We are both dragging…….we had to give each other a pep talk to just go 1 more day!  We had appointments so we did what we said we were going to do.

Our 1st of 3 stops today was at the kitchen for BelgrAID which has taken over the feeding at the Warehouse.  We were there yesterday helping with the food line so today we went full circle and drove the 30 min to the suburbs of Belgrade to their kitchen and headquarters to help make todays meals.

All of these places are off the beaten track and hidden down lanes.  This was no

exception.  We recognized the van and food truck from yesterday and knew we were in the right place.  Perhaps a dozen people were milling around at 8:30am for the start of the day.  We were pointed in the direction of the volunteer coordinator – she looked SO familiar.  Finally after playing 500 questions I knew her from my trip to Greece in Oct when she was working at a camp we dropped baby beds off at.  I even had a picture of her helping us unload the beds!  Small world.

About 10 of us started inside chopping potatoes for about 30 min, the rest of the people were heating up the big cauldrons to start cooking for the 2000 people they cook for daily.  As in EVERYDAY.  No breaks.  If they don’t bring the food to the camp and Warehouse then people will not eat that day.  All of these people are volunteers- weIMG_6581 chopped along with Irish, French, Spanish, Danish, British, US, German people.

The 10 of us soon moved outside to start chopping the 5-25lb bags of onions waiting for us.  Someone said we usually do 8 bags.  While some of us were doing onions, carrots were started and parsley was also being copped.  We had quite a groove going.

There was a building opposite the courtyard we were chopping in.  About 6 guys showed up and opened the doors to what appeared to be a big work room.  I asked one of the long term volunteers who they were she said “they just told me they build things”.  “As in Get Shit Done group?”.  “Yup”!  I’d read about them and here they were!

We chopped for 3 hours then headed out- the rest of them were next going to load every thing into the caravan, drive the 1/2 to the city, set up, hand out food to 1000 for 2 hours, head back, load up with the food for the 1000 people in the camp they feed and clean up the kitchen and start prep for tomorrows meals.  They are like 12 hour days!

Yesterday we’d met 2 girls on line monitor duty from Germany here with a small German NGO that provides breakfast for about 150 people everyday.  They heard we had a van so wanted to do a grocery store run.  They were at the appointed corner at our meet up time, they hopped in and we headed to the biggest grocery store in the area.  They filled 2 carts with sandwich bread, sugar (for tea they also hand out), meat, lettuce, apples and mayo, enough food for 3 days.  We loaded everything up into the van and drove them back to the city to unload at the hostel they are staying at.

Our final stop was a center that is for residents of the camp nearest to Belgrade that

offers language classes, computer use, games, women’s center, art classes and soon more activities.  The center is 2 bus rides away from the camp- it is lovely. Everyday 50-70 kids and moms show up- Monday – Friday.  These centers provide critical language classes and an outlet from the monotony of camp life.

Then just like that…….BOOM……….we are done!  It has been a fantastic 17 days.  I know we have done well and had a jam packed schedule.  But again, we are tired!

The Warehouse, Belgrade.

Idomeni in Greece and The Jungle in France, while both of these camps have closed- their images are burned on many of our minds- the Warehouse in Belgrade is the latest hell hole for refugees.  This winter there were images of refugees fingers with frostbite all over the internet- some of these photos were from the Warehouse.

It is easy to find refugees if you know what you are looking for- today they are literally in most European cities- some in camps, others not.  The warehouse houses over 1000 men and boys from around the world.  With no electricity and not much running water this is the worst of the worst right now of this crisis.  We parked the van by the train station and started asking refugees where the Warehouse was.  Within minutes we were on our way- our timing was perfect as it was about noon and there were about a dozen volunteers gathered and a line was forming.

We asked what time food distribution was and they said 13:00. Introductions were made, many of the volunteers had recently arrived themselves. Drawn to the images we have

seen on social media.  Within minutes a van pulling a food truck pulled up- the driver drove everything up onto the waiting ledge and everyone set to work.  Out of the van came another 6 volunteers who had spend the morning preparing food for 1000+ people.  They used to feed 2X a day at this squat, but have recently switched to 1 time with another feeding taking place at a camp near by.

We formed a human chain and passed on about 20 big covered serving trays of steaming food.  It smelled amazing!  Amanda and I were put on line monitor duty.  A very necessary job- we were spaced maybe 20 feet apart with about 8 other volunteers and would call out to people who cut into the line.  The line grew like a serpents tail…… took over an hour for the line to stop having people join it and another 30 min for everyone to get fed.  This happens everyday-365 days a year.

In between the abandoned warehouses  which are now home to these men and boys, about a half dozen men and young boys (the youngest looked to be about 10) played cricket.  The ball would be hit onto the roof of the

Playing cricket.

building with the line and everyone would watch and see the ball rain from the sky.  Imagine sending your 10 year old to another country- how bad it would it have to be?

Everyone here is trying to sneak into Germany or the UK.  The smugglers take them out nightly, the vast majority are caught, beat up, their phones stomped on and sent back to Belgrade.  Again and again- like groundhog day.  If they make it once they arrive in Germany or the UK they register and their resettlement clock starts.  Right now they are in limbo- a true no mans land of uncertainty and instability.

We next headed to a center also near the train station that has about a dozen NGO’s who support the refugee population.  Big names like Save the Children, but many more local or small NGO’s supporting the 500 refugees that pass thru their doors everyday.  We met with the director of the building and she is very open to having future CTF teams come and work with the women and children.


Our van has picked up a familiar odor, similar to our Greek van.  A combo of sweaty bodies, food and garbage.  It is actually quite gross!

Tomorrow will be our last day here – the weeks have gone fast and we both are anxious to get home.   Our weather which forecasted thunderstorms this whole week has been amazing- our only real rain when we were driving yesterday to Belgrade.  Very thankful-


Our hotel is literally only 1 of 2 hotels in this town.  The receptionist when we checked in was proud to tell us that the hotel was 1.full 2. with workers from the tire manufacturing plant and 3. where border guards from Germany stay.

These are not “ordinary” cops, and the 4 VW Vanagans they plug in with satellite dishes

Edin and Anita with us in front of the camp.

on their roofs, no windows- not ordinary VW’s.  No mind- just interesting 2 aid workers working with the population these police use excessive force with on an hourly basis.

Yesterday one of the camp managers (not the head guy, but one who is on the campus almost daily) when asked what the camp needed said “deworming medication, flea medication and tick medication for the dogs on camp”.  Done.  We stopped at the vet office and picked up those items plus the hugest bag of dog food we could find.  If the camp manager is happy……….then the refugees are happy.

Edin and Anita are glad for the car rides, not only does it cut 2 hours from their day they

would have to do to walk to and from the camp, we used the van to haul supply items they can put into the cabinets we bought.

We put the medicine on the mama dog and her 5 puppies, they are NOT going to be IMG_6498feeling well tonight!

Amanda and I taught the children their English class- we totally get into it.  These kids are so dang smart and want to please us.  I gave most of them all homework to practice writing their vocabulary words- so cute.

We left the camp about noon and headed the hour drive East to Bulgaria.  We were to close to pass up a new stamp in our passports.  It was an easy drive- parallel to a brand new 4 lane high way.  No worries- we are fine with the goat/sheep path you call a 2 lane road we can share with the semi-trucks on the road.

We wound our way to the center of the city- parked.  We actually took someones spot.  Because globalization is a real thing

in Sofia, Bulgaria we:  first had gelato from Italy (it looked really good), then we had French crepes then got back in our Serbian made car to drive back to Serbia.  Well first we had to pay the nice parking man his fine for parking and not calling/texting the city.  He wanted 40euro, we didn’t that many euro.  We offered him 20Euro and $10USD.  He took it and we were off and on our way back to Belgrade.

Almost to the border with Serbia we were pulled over – the immigration/border officer was very nice.  He had never met 2 girls from Canada and the US.  We are traveling in a big van.  He was looking to see if we were smuggling refugees.

As he took our passports to his waiting van we slowly tucked away all of the kids drawings we had gotten as gifts

A cow tied to a tree we saw while stopped by border police.

from the kids.  Our van already has that lived in look that only these trips can do to a vehicle interior.  It could be we eat and nap in them almost daily!

In most countries in Europe besides Italy and Greece, when refugees are caught by the police they are beaten, their phones are broken and they are often put into detention centers.

We were free to go, we made our way to Belgrade being followed by a very big thunderstorm.

Road tripping to Bulgaria.

A day at camp.

Edin and Anita are college friends who started Refugee Foundations we saved them their usual hour long walk to the camp this morning and on the way we stopped at a small veggie market and Amanda bought some fruit and veggies for the English lesson she’d written.

When we arrived on camp there were about a dozen kids already lined up at the door, nosesIMG_6459 pressed against the glass.  Each clamoring to be the 1st one into the classroom.  Rhythm is so important for children, especially when your life is as topsy turvey as these kid’s is.

They all know the schedule:

9:00 Children’s English lesson

10:00 art/drawing/painting

11:00 sports (soccer, running)

12:00 more art

12:45 clean up/sweep

1:00 lunch

The new little kids table was packed with younger siblings playing with the big Lego’s we’d bought earlier in the week.  The English class was very quiet and orderly- the only noise was from the littles at their table.  Every child has a notebook that they would dutifully write the new word into from theIMG_6471 white board, some would also write it in Farsi to remember.  We would call on each of them to say the word and go around to each table to help with pronunciation.

5 days a week, always the same.  Although Anita and Edin have only been working at this camp for a month the kid’s English is quite good.

The break for sports took place up a hill on an old busted up asphalt field.  There were 2 small soccer goals and a broken basketball hoop.  Everyone started out by stretching then a soccer game began and the littler kids practiced their basketball skills weaving in and out and around water bottles that had been filled with sand.  The day was beautiful, the sky blue and the clouds fluffy.

Amanda and I were able to talk to the camp Commander, he is very supportive of Anita and Edins work.  We asked if there was anything for the camp he needed and he said flea and tick medicine for the dogs- done!  There are about a half dozen adult dogs and about a dozen puppies roaming the camp.  He also gave permission for Carry the Future to ship baby beds and swag directly to the camp.  He also is in control of 3 other camps around here and he said we could ship to them too!  BINGO!!!  Home run!

Unlike Greece where most everyone of the camps has a warehouse on site, or near that supports the residents with basics.  In Serbia there are no warehouses and NGO’s are not (usually) able to give anything out.  This will be the 2nd time that CTF has been authorized to provide necessities to new mothers and babies in Serbia (CTF has also provided baby carriers).

After lunch the adult classes begin.  First is English I, conversational English, SerbianIMG_6479 then German.  There were almost 30 people in each of the English classes.  While it was not spoken, the classes segregated- men on one side, women on the other.  This camp has people from Afghanistan, Iran and Syria.  At times these populations would not get along but here they are each others villagers.  They help and support each other while learning new languages.  They laugh at, hold and kiss each others babies.  Each one of these people have horrific stories.  Yet they move forward- slowly.

While the adults had classes Anita set up the big Lego’s for the small kids to play with.  About a dozen kids came and went over the 2 hours we sat there.  A mother with a very small 18 month old,IMG_6481 (1) wearily sat down next to me.  We watched her daughter move from one thing to another, grabbing blocks out of hands, so busy!

We are not allowed to publish the faces of the residents of this camp.  You can get the idea- there is a girl who is 11 but looks more like 7 or 8 very much small for her age.  Her English is quite good and she is the 1st one to raise her hand to answer our questions during English class and is the 1st one to pass a just finished picture to us.  Her hair has fallen out in clumps, there are big bald patches.  She is treated the same among her peers.  In another camp there is a similar girl, but she is mostly all bald- from malnutrition i’ve been told.  I asked Edin about this girl- big words like hospital, leukemia and chemotherapy was his answer.  My heart is heavy for this child’s mother who heard that awful word “cancer”.  This mother has no control over her environment, in this camp here are 6-8 people per room-sometimes families are combined.  She does not know where her child receives (or doesn’t receive) treatment, she must be driven to the hospital and clinic as it is to far to walk.  Even doing the most basic motherly instinct- feeding her child, is out of her control.  3 times a day food is delivered to camp- not her choice.  Thankfully everyone says the food is good.  But still.

It is so beautiful around the camp- it sits up a mountain on a long winding road.  It is an

The red clay roof tops of Pirot are in the distance. 

hours walk to town and the city bus comes once a week.

This work is hard emotionally which drags me down physically.  Yet I see the light in peoples eyes when they see us coming to visit.  We are a reminder to them that the world has not forgotten them.  And the only way we can be here is all the support we get from our family and friends back home.  Our villagers supporting those of us here working but also our children at home- it eases our minds so that we can focus on what is in front of us.  To let the unseen be seen, to listen to their stories.  To just be with them sitting watching a toddler dart around like a cricket.

Belgrade to Pirot.

Today and tomorrow May Day is celebrated here in Serbia and around the world.  Sometimes called “Workers Day”, it is a time to not work and here in Serbia go on a picnic.  We left Belgrade for our 160 mile drive to Pirot, it was just us and about 1/10 of Serbians on the road this

morning.  It took about 75 miles for the traffic to thin down which was just in time for us to go thru the mountains.

Even with a rain forecast, today was beautiful!  A perfect driving day.  The roads are very nice in Serbia- one main highway runs North to South.  This is a toll road, very well maintained.  Our last 50 miles were on 2 lane roads that will soon be 4 lanes as a new highway is being built with 1/2 of it open.  We even saw road crews working!  Impressive on a holiday. This is one of 17 camps which currently house over 7,000 refugees in Serbia.  This location is a military camp which was built to house refugees after WWII.  There are 240 people at this camp with over 100 under 10 years of age.  Kids are EVERYWHERE!

CTF’s partner at this camp is:  Refugees Foundation.  Amanda and I worked with both Edin and Anita when we were here in January.  At this camp they are doing much the same as what they were doing in Belgrade.  A center for youth to come to hang out, do art and have language and math classes.  Currently in Pirot the children are not attending school.  This small non-profit is the only consistency these kids have.  Without a car both Anita and Edin walk the 2.5 mile walk each way to work 5 days a week.  On the other 2 days a week they are fundraising for the work that they do.  They are amazing.

Given all that the children have been thru, their joy and exuberance for life is infections!  We purchased for them with CTF money and money we had fundraised: a newIMG_6441 cupboard to store items in, 2 tables, Lego’s to play with, window coverings, an A/C unit and a white board.  When we unpacked the white board ohhhhh and ahhhhhs from both the students and teachers were heard.  Camp residents also teach classes, German, in addition to the Serbian and English classes Edin and Anita provide.  The white board will be a fantastic addition to the classes.

Amanda and I taught the English I class and English conversional class.  Thankfully Edin had done the lesson plan and we just helped everyone with their pronunciation.  It actually was very fun.   These classes were for the adults but if the children could sit still they could attend too.  We had about 20 per class and 4-5 of these were 10-12 years old.  Going to school in their spare time.  Excited and looking forward to learning.  I spoke with Sami who had been a 1-3 grade teacher in Kabul.  He would have 42-45 students per class.  Imagine!!   His family is in Germany, he had gotten his far when his money ran out to pay the smugglers.  He said he just wanted to be in a “secure environment with no bombs raining from the sky”.

Once class was over at 5:00 pm about a 1/2 dozen people got to work assembling the tables andIMG_6453 cabinet.  IKEA opens this summer but thankfully Amanda and I found some IKEA like mega stores to find what they needed.

You could see the pride in the residents faces as a group of them put together items- of course the children were eager to work.  And just like when Rob puts something from IKEA together there were extra pieces!

We will be here working for a few days- the air is clean and this city of 35,000 is known for it’s handwoven rugs.