A typical day.

While there is no such thing as a “typical” day, today was about right for what happens on the ground on a CTF trip.  I found a feature in “Notes” that lets me put a check mark inIMG_7943 the bubble once a task is completed.  I’m sure this has been around for ages, but I just found it. I LOVE lists- and this one I can have on me ALL of the time.

Everything on this list took me all day- like 13 hours.  The list is not that long- but sometimes you get side tracked, for instance when I went to meet Kerrie at Hope Cafe at noon, they were swamped with people (today they fed 175 people a free hot nutritious meal- a new record for them) so I asked where they needed help.  “Upstairs in the Free Store”. So up the stairs I went- a volunteer from the UK was helping people pick out items.  The refugees would be asigned a number and would one family at a time climb the winding flight of stairs to pick out cloths.  At the beginning of this crisis people were just handed bags of clothing:  boy/0-3 month, girl/8 years old, Mens/medium……….no dignity.  Most NGO’s have gone to “shop”

style distribution where people can pick from items on display- the aid has already been sorted, Public service announcement:  “NEVER donate your underwear, that dirty old t-shirt you use for painting, that pair of flip flops your kid wore all summer….basically if you wouldn’t wear it, don’t send it“. Period.

On the right is an example of fantastic donated clean ready to put out items:  clearly labeled:  boy/0-3 m.  So simple and so lovely.  I stayed up and helped families with clothes and in-between put new aid on the shelves.

The list had me driving all over Athens- drove past the stadium where all the marathoners came into on Sunday!  Also saw one of the guards with the funny shoes and

white stockings!  Caught him mid march.  Driving in Athens is well, not super easy.

There are 2 types of streets wide tree lined avenues and narrow roads alternate one ways.  Now on the wide avenues this picture while looking relaxing is not a true representation of how it usually is.  Which is there are 4 more lanes of traffic, there are no street lines (wore off) and motorcycles are zooming between cars ALL.THE.TIME.  Kind of like in LA except not only on the 405.

Amurtel (the midwife/pre-post moms) has a room for the kids to play in- well, exceptIMG_E7932 there were no toys so made a trip to Ikea to get some toys for the room.  Took a picture, Ikea in Greece is EXACTLY like Ikea in Arizona.  Tons of people, not enough cashiers and everything is in Greek.

It was in a super big mall and I was able to hit a Jumbo on the same trip- except the Jumbo was super urban, they didn’t have the big carts so it was not very fun fitting 20 packages of size “3” diapers in the little pull behind bins they had.  But made it work and one of the cashiers helped me drag my bags back to my car parallel parked on the street.  Which one must do many times a day in Greece.

Kerry at Hope Cafe sits on a group of about 30 NGO’s based in Athens that meet monthly. She also happens to be on the “Winterization” committee and invited me to the meeting tonight.  Winter is coming- so this group has reached out to the greater group and have

A free wall- anyone can take anything.  

created a spread sheet where everyone can add what winter aid they have:  blankets, sleeping bags, winter clothing and of this aid which can they pass onto other NGO’s in need.  Like most committee work, it is tedious but once the document is complete lives will be saved- there are many refugees sleeping hard (outside without shelter) and sometimes even if they are in an apartment there is no heat.

A very full day- lunch was a granola bar driving from Ikea to Jumbo.  Team 35 made it to Lesvos this morning.  Their photos are amazing- those ferries are unbelievable!  So huge.

Tomorrow is my last day here- the time has gone so fast!  Well, it always does but when i’m here it seems to go even faster!  Rob sends me an update that I wake up to every morning.  He usually has a couple photos of the dogs for me- he knows me so well!  Zachary who fell off a cliff 5 weeks ago (he broke 2 ribs and both his feet) sent me a video ON A CLIFF looking over a beautiful valley.  OMG that kid!  In the video he’s all like “Hun, look at this beautiful hidden valley” as the camera sweeps past very high mountains and a very deep valley.



It’s a buyers market.

Have been looking for space for CTF to rent for storage.  If anyone is looking for super inexpensive real estate (like a 1 bedroom apartment in a desirable area of Athens for $10,000 USD) Athens, Greece is your town!  Truly amazing deal.

Looked at real estate in the morning and then met up with Susannah (she ran the Athens

When Susannah was loading the van she made a new friend.  Her husband seems to think 4 kitties is enough- I encouraged her to bring this nugget home- lets be honest…would he really notice another cat?

Marathon yesterday! AND looked fabulous today!) at everyones favorite falafel place “Just Falafel”!  It is soooooo yummy!  Susannah and Rita (an Athens based CTF volunteer) are on a night ferry as I write this post on their way to Lesvos, one of the islands that is receiving rafts/death boats of refugees that cross over from Turkey.

The hot spot situation on the ground in Greece can literally shift week to week.  Right now the hot spots are the 4-5 islands that boats land on.  Wishing them luck and Unicorn Magic on their trip to the island.  This will NOT be a vacation-

Spent some time today meeting with Amurtel Greece’s Project Manager, Didi.  I first met Didi 17 months ago at the port area in Athens.  At that time there were 4,000-5,000 refugees

Lactation consultation area-

living in tents at the port.  Amurtel and Didi’s team had a caravan/small camper that was a place for moms to bathe their babies, get some extra food and get help with lactation questions.

Today Amurtel (greece.amurtel.org) is in a fabulous apartment in the center of Athens near to where many of the refugees live.  Everyday they average 50 people (pregnant and lactating Moms) sometimes as many as 100.  Moms, Dads, little sisters, little brothers, Grandmothers… coming to  receive essential pre/post natal care from the midwives and specialist in the clinic.  Every time I visit their purpose becomes more centered as the refugee crisis evolves.

Currently they supply:  diapers, food packages (food for pregnant and lactating moms),

Amurtels mission: diapers, food packages, baby carriers, underwear, baby kits and getting Dad’s involved.  Priceless. 

baby carriers, underwear and baby kits (with baby essentials like:  clothing, onesies, hats, mittens, bibs……..).  Monday-Friday- a steady stream of refugees able to have some dignity and grace during this special time in their lives.

There is a children’s play area that is void of toys as everything has been snuck into pockets and shirts from older little brothers and little sisters.  Understandable, and on my “to-do” list tomorrow is to get some more toys.  Hoping next time I return there will be more needed!

CTF will also be supplying size 3 diapers as they currently are out and are in desperate need.  The moms looks like all new moms I see, happy/tired/exhausted/loving.  It is universal.   I will have you know I did NOT do what I wanted- which was to grab those new babies and love on them.  I just cooed and smiled over these miracles- for they will be our future.


Team 34-3/4.

So Jen and Amanda from Team 34 left today- we were able to hang out the last couple days- we also got to hang out with part of the next team…..Team 35 that leaves for the island Lesvos tomorrow night.  So I’m going to call myself “Team 34-3/4th’s” since I spent the most time with them!

Amanda left at the crack of dawn but Jen and I were able to eat breakfast together- so many of us follow each other on social media that when we finally meet in person it’s like that friend you haven’t seen for ages, but you fall right back into the groove!

We’d been staying at a hotel that was located near the ferries- most of the early CTF teams stayed in this area while they were fitting carriers on the waves of refugees as they transferred from the ferries to the busses that would take them North 7 hours to the Macedonia border where they then would start the walk to Germany.

Today I moved closer to the Athens city center.  Today was the Athens Marathon- team member Susannah from Team 35 ran in it!  So impressed!  Many of the roads in the city center were blocked off so I waited until late morning to work my way towards the new hotel.

I’d posted pics of the hunger strikers earlier in the week- when we were at the Lavrio Jumbo Jen purchased a big plastic bin of art supplies to give to the kids whose parents are on the hunger strike.  She was not able to deliver herself so I did.  Google maps brought me right to the bridge they were on- I circled the area and found a parking space.  Walked the couple of blocks to the hunger strikers and found a shade structure that had 2 volunteers sitting.  Most of the tents were quiet – looked like most were still sleeping. They were very excited to get the bin of art goods and said the kids would be so happy.

Wound my way back to my car- many of people had finished running by this time and the streets must have just been opened up.  People still in their racing clothes and bibs were flooding the streets wrapped in those shiny blankets to keep them warm.

Checked into the hotel- when we are on a trip we have minders that help us with our

itineraries and we talk to many times a day.  Amy told me about a refugee art opening that was happening and I had some time before I was to work at a food kitchen so stopped by.  It was a lovely space filled with art from about a dozen artists.  Each artist had a bio and picture near their art.

Kayla Martinez is a rock star unicorn in the refugee world who helps artists in camps IMG_7892around Greece not only make art by getting materials to them, she hosts art shows in Europe and the US every couple months highlighting artwork available for purchase.  Not only does this provide an income to the artist it keeps the refugee situation in front of people who may not know what is happening or because of waining media attention think that the situation has gotten better.  She’d just returned today from an island doing a week of beach duty meeting the boats as they arrive from Turkey.      Arrivals have increased like mad these past couple of months.

My next stop was an NGO called “One Stop” that sets up, prepares and distributes food and tea on Sunday and Wednesdays for refugees and the homeless.  I was put on cabbage

chopping duty and later tea duty.  In addition to One Stop there were medics helping people on an as needed basis and a van with 3 sets of washers and dryers that people could have their clothes washed.  So brilliant!

Between handing out hot tea and chopping veggies I spotted a mom with a baby in a carrier and a dad holding the hand of a 2-3 year old.  The carrier was REALLY low on the moms stomach so I stepped over to them and asked/mimed if I could adjust the carrier.  The baby was Hannah- and she was 1 and about the cutest thing i’d seen for days.  Full of smiles and giggles.  Dad could speak English well and told me they were from Iraq and had recently arrived to Greece.  He had worked for the US government and his life was now in danger because of this work.  So they fled.  He has contacted his supervisors from the US government but has not heard anything.  This is such a common story- to common.  He does not want to register in Greece so he lives under the radar- no housing or stipend, no medical care………there are literally 10’s of thousands of people just like him.

Dinner was with the founder of Hope Cafe, a couple of her volunteers and 2 volunteer nurses from the UK here in Greece working for 3 weeks.  Kerrie has Hope Cafe and the Free Store open M-F and on Sunday’s has medical teams use the space for free clinics.  For her vacation a couple of weeks ago she went to an island and helped with boat arrivals.


A trip to Lavrio.

Lavrio is a picturesque town about an hour outside of Athens, sailboats and yachts line the seaside along with cafes touting fresh fish, Greek salads and crepes.  It is also the home to 3 refugee camps.  I’ve visited Lavrio on all of my previous trips-

Last night we’d gotten the diaper list from a woman who helps the least supported of the camps.  The camp is surrounded by what once was a garbage pile.  24 -ISO boxes housing 82 people.  Each box holds a family if big enough- or 2 families if the families are small enough.  Two rooms about 10’X12′ divided by a bathroom makes an ISO box home.

Three weeks ago the garbage dump started on fire- or was started, who knows, but it burned.  For days.  The powers that be have fenced the parameter of the camp, bulldozed what was left of the garbage pile and what remains is home to these people.

Marie and her Mom met us as we drove up to the compound- the ISO boxes make a rectangle around an open space.  The Red Cross who manages this camp will not let the volunteers add another permeant structure in the middle of the boxes- a big UNHCR tent would be the perfect solution but this request will take months to move up the food chain of bureaucracy.  One of the containers is used as a meeting space and


the small bedroom as storage.  We’d been told the number of diapers that were needed- but we also wanted to get a feeling for the needs of the camp so that future CTF teams could budget accordingly.  This was my 3rd time to the camp and each time we wereIMG_E7871 invited by the leader of the camp to go into the office space, sit, fruit would be brought and we would be asked if we wanted tea or coffee.  If yes to coffee- “sweet” or “no sweet”.

Amanda and I had visited this isolated camp before and recognized some of the faces.  The children STILL are not going to school.  In the past year the EU and Greek governments have been moving refugees for the most part to Athens and Thessaloniki where each person is given a flat to live in and given about $90 USD per month to live on: cloths, food,school supplies, toiletries……..but for many this is a huge improvement from what they have fled.

Nine of this camps residents were without financial support so the rest of the camp helps those families.  When asked what their most pressing needs are the response was “dish washing detergent”.  Ok, we thought- “what are you using now to wash your dishes?”.  “Shampoo”.  We knew that the main warehouse in Athens had done a distribution of winter clothing and shoes 2 weeks ago.

We pressed for more items- “do you need soap to wash your clothes?”.  “No, we have that”.  “Tea?”, “yes, we do not have much tea”…..and so it went on.  While we were offered as guests a plate over flowing with fruit the camp leaders were reluctant to ask for anything.  We know from past experience if they need tea they also need sugar, and if there is no tea there most likely is no protein.

We unloaded the car of the diapers and wipes we’d picked up on our way down to Lavrio.  We told them that we would be back.

We’d loaded the car up in Athens but we now returned to the Jumbo which was next to the new grocery store to purchase the items needed and then some.  It is like a

snow ball effect- no dish soap, most likely no sponges.  If no sponges, then no wash rags.  If no wash rags no scrubbier, pads for the girls, cookies for the kids………on and on.  We filled 2 Jumbo carts with items that we would want in our own kitchen.  Just the basics- 24 of everything.  Imagine this video with the most obnoxious background music on noise level 7 and that my friends is a snap shot of each and every shopping trip we make to Jumbo.  Some times 2 times a day- our heads spin with colors and ear worms.

Next we went to the grocery store to grab food……..tea, sugar,biscuits, cheese, eggs………soon our car was filled again.  We drove to the camp- about a dozen people IMG_E7874were playing volleyball- a beautiful night, the sky a shocking blue with big white fluffy clouds meandering across the horizon.  There were laughs and cheers as the young men and women played- younger children darted between the players in what appeared to be a very serious game.

Smiles on everyones faces-just people making a new life for themselves – mostly forgotten by the outside world but making a home and community in their new normal.  Their new lives.

We returned to Athens to meet up with Susannah who will be on the next Team 35- her and Rita an Athens based CTF volunteer will be heading over to Lesvos  – one of the islands that continues to receive

Susannah, Amanda, Jen and me.

refugees who take the “death boats” from the Turkish coast 4 miles away.  Susannah is running the Athens Marathon tomorrow so we met up for an early dinner.  Of course we chatted for 3 hours, lots of laughs and reminiscing about the trips we’d made for CTF and our families that we leave behind to do this work.   After dinner we walked a bit thru the crowed streets of Central Athens.  Once again our intention of getting to bed before 1:00am will not happen.

Tomorrow Jen and Amanda leave for home- they had been in Serbia and Northern Greece until their return to Athens last night.  Today was day 9 of their trip- the tail end. Long days, hard work.  Physically and emotionally but each of us would not trade this for anything.  Sleep……we all can sleep on the flights home.

No such thing as a “planned day”…

The days fill up here like crazy- and if you think there are plans, the Universe for sure will laugh and you’ll find yourself doing things you could not imagine!  I’m staying at the hotel we stayed at with Team 8 WAY back in April of 2016- I have muscle memory as to where to drive around here and it’s so much easier in a car vs a 9 passenger van!  Walked to a phone store first thing to get my Greece/burner phone loaded with minutes- no contracts, no huge bills-super easy and done within 5 minutes!

Headed to Elliniko warehouse, was going to get some aid for 2 camps we will be visiting tomorrow but the camps “needs” list hadn’t arrived so loaded my car with aid for a shelter in Central Athens.  The land that the warehouse is on (the old airport and Olympic stadiums) has been sold and they will have to move.  The warehouse is actually less full then in past visits and their food area is almost empty.  So aid definitely is getting passed around but the thought of moving all that stuff is paralyzing to me!

Near a main government building are tents set up with hunger strikers.  Day 10.  I’d read about

them on various social media sights- these are families who want family reunification.  What this means is that families are apart- Mom here in Greece with 3 of the 4 kids, Dad in Germany with 1 of the kids……..Dad here by himself- Mom with kids in Sweden….  Hard to believe that this couldn’t get sorted out in a matter of weeks or a few months.  But some of these families are on their 2nd year being separated.  And i’m not talking 1st cousins separated from 3rd cousins.  Husbands,wives and children.  In Europe- but not living together.

I parked the car in a parking garage and walked the 2 blocks to the shelter- Central Athens is a maze of one way VERY narrow streets.  You park up on the curb if you can and you try not to knock off car mirrors when driving.  Had some people from the shelter follow me back to my car and they took the aid- mostly food and not nearly enough for the 100+ people living in blanket divided “rooms”.   The shelter manager asked me to have the warehouse bring winter clothes and coats.  Distribution is STILL an issue here- aid is 10 miles away in a warehouse and getting it to the shelters in not always straight forward or easy.   I forwarded the needs list to the warehouse manager.

Was in the vicinity so stopped by a newer outfit called Hope Cafe.  Kerrie runs a free restaurant and store.  Right now they are only serving lunch and have the free store open in the afternoons most days.  She is needing to move the store, which is located on the 2nd floor, so that people can eat upstairs not outside as neighbors have been complaining.  I’ll meet with her again on Sunday about a possible collaboration- they need a store front for the store and we need storage space to rent- could be a win win!

There were about 20 people milling about- Kerrie wanted to go to a near by coffee shop to chat and while she was trying to extract herself from the volunteers I eyed a tiny new born baby- of course I had to love on it.  Mom let me hold it- 22 days old……..a perfect face IMG_7854in about 15 layers of clothing.  Reminded me of Chinese babies whose arms stick straight out for all the layers of clothing on.  There were 2 women sitting- I asked “your baby”?  And pointed to one of them- “her’s” was the response.  Both were from Syria- “other children?” to the babies mom. “No”.  “You- babies?” to the other mom.  “Yes 2, boy and girl”.

Mothers talking – universal right?  Kerrie was ready to leave after about 10 min and we went to a coffee shop around the corner.  Inside one of her volunteers was working with a family from Syria- both Mom and Dad are deaf and mute but the children are able to translate in sign language for them.  Apparently the Dad is a very skilled stone mason.  I can only imagine the stories that has brought them from Syria to Athens.

Team 34 arrived from Northern Greece about 8:30pm.  Amanda my usual partner in crime/aid work and another volunteer Jennifer.  They are on the tail end of their trip- going home on Sunday.  We were able have a great dinner catching up, they’d just arrived from working in Northern Greece and did an aid run to Serbia.  Before we knew it it was after midnight- crazy how long our days can be compared with home.


Back to Athens……Team 34.

It’s been 6 months since my last visit to Athens, luckily i’ve been able to do most of my work from home but there a couple of pressing issues that need me here.  Carry the

Leaving LAX

Future Team 34 has been on the ground for a week now and just returned from Serbia and are in Northern Greece until tomorrow when I hook up with them their last few days.

There have not been many teams on the ground these past couple months but that in no way is an indication that things are slowing down with the organization.  With contacts and relationships with on the ground NGO’s, CTF is able to provide baby beds and diapers with our partners from afar.

One on my tasks this week is to find a space to rent for storage- with the economic downturn in Greece it should not be a problem to find a former store front to rent- fingers AND toes crossed!  I’ll also be visiting customs about a shipment of 500 baby bags that the CTF Swiss Team made up and have been stuck in Athens customs for a couple of months now.    As wonderfully connected we all are on our devices – face to face negotiations are still needed in some cases.

I’m only here on the ground in Athens for 6 full days- sounds crazy short considering my

Fueling up in Rome!

last couple trips.  But looking forward to a productive week!  Crisscrossed across the globe to get here- this time LAX-Rome-Athens on Alitalia.  The cup on the right had maybe 3 Tbsp of espresso in it and it was STRONG, just what I needed after a 12 hour flight from LAX-Rome.

It’s been 17 months since my 1st trip here- in that time as Western media has it’s lenses and content not focused on refugee issues- be assured that this crisis is anything but over.  The islands continue to have boats landing daily.  yes….daily.  There are thousands of people trapped on the islands in tents and Greek Winters are VERY cold- it snowed on the islands last year.

Weekly camps are being closed and refugees are being sent to live in apartments in Athens and Thessalonikis- while significantly better then a tent or a camp in the middle of no where- still not ideal as there are few job prospects and most people have used their life savings to get to Europe.  Such a mess- no end in site.

CTF’s baby beds, diapers and basic baby goods are a lifesaver for families waiting to bring a new baby home.

As always a big shout out to my family and tribe at home that keep everything moving forward while I’m away.  I really could not be here if not for so many people stepping up.  Eternally grateful.