Last day in Greece-

Our to-do list was long today.  Thankfully we’d done most of the shopping for Hope Cafe from their “Wish List” in Serres but on our drive down yesterday we got a message that a camp on an island  near here was in desperate need of diapers size 2,3 and 4.  So we had to add a stop at Jumbo.  Silly us, we thought we were done with Jumbo!

After breakfast we headed to a nearby Jumbo to purchase the diapers that a local CTF

Last Jumbo run of the trip!

volunteer (Rita) will pick up from the warehouse Elliniko when she gets back in town tomorrow.  We filled 4 carts of aid- 3 carts of diapers and wipes and 1 carts of strollers.  We drove straight to Elliniko to drop off the diapers for Rita to pick up later this week and grab a Dimpa of baby carriers to give to Amurtel.  We also grabbed some baby pram baskets.  We’d been shown them when we were there last week- the bottom or stroller portions are IMG_8610missing but they should work great for baby beds.  So Sarah and Aline we grabbed 6!

Loaded up we headed into central Athens about a 40 minute drive in traffic.  The weather is absolutely perfect- cool, the sky are blue and clear from yesterdays rain and huge white billowy clouds in every direction.

Our first stop was Amurtel- the founder Didi met with Cristal (the founder of CTF) back when people we still arriving and being

housed at the port area in Athens.  Amurtel is located on the 2nd floor, on a sunny street facing a park with sitting areas and large trees.  It is always fun to see the strollers lined

A week old baby just checking in with the midwives!

up – knowing that there will be babies in the center to see!  In addition to midwife services (pre-natal, postnatal, breast feeding, supplies for mom and baby) they also offer parenting classes.  Last night we’d stopped at Ikea on our way to the hotel.  Amurtel has a play area for kids whose moms are visiting – last time I was here in November there were hardly any toys left so I did a big Ikea run for toys for this area.  Knowing that they would need more toys we stopped last night and filled a big blue Ikea bag with toys and stuffies for the kids.

It has been so much fun to see this organization grow from a camper in the port area that offered moms a place to bath their babies and get midwifery services to a a full service-one stop-all things baby office.

Next we made our mandatory stop at Just Falafel around the corner and ate what has to be, the best.falafel.ever.  It lived up to everyones ideas!  Next we went to Victoria HotelIMG_8619.jpg that is a newly set up agency that houses, feeds and distributes aid.  I’d worked with their Spanish founder in the past and got to see in person the great work they are doing!  Patricia was not there but we got to look around to their lunch distribution – today they will feed 600 people lunch.  Amazing!

So much good is happening.  Afia was able to connect with one of the volunteers handing out food.  I love how CTF teams can just hit the road running and see how much good can happen in a relative short period of time.  We meet for the most part as strangers and quickly form a hard working team.

Our next stop was back to Hope Cafe to deliver the items we had purchased from their TAZH0457wish list and then some- for instance we knew they needed new can openers because when we were opening cans of beans last week the 2 old tired and broken can openers were impossible to use so we got 2 more.  Gloves for workers were not on the list but we knew they were needed because our team used the last ones.  Paper towels are always needed so we got a couple big rolls of them.

It was like meeting old friends when we pulled up- we’d only met last week for a couple of hours but soon a dozen people streamed out of the cafe to help me parallel park in a very tiny spot on the street steps from the cafe.  Once parked soon a stream of helpers came to help us unload the industrial size cans of tomatoes, the coffee, Nescafe, diapers, wipes……I love when the young boys 7 or 8 come to help and grab the big pallets of sugar like the older boys.  You can see the purpose and willingness to work- boredom is a big problem and to help gives purpose.  We all need to have a place in this world.

Everyone was overjoyed at the items we’d brought.  The coffee house was out of coffee AND sugar.  We brought enough for at least a couple of weeks.

It was almost 4:00pm when we’d said our goodbyes, I won’t lie, tears were shed and Facebook friends were added.  As we were in Central Athens we decided to go to the

Acropolis – we’d seen it dozens of times driving around and we had an hour after we’d parked to explore.  It was only my 2nd time in 7 trips to Greece going up there- it was such a beautiful day!

My alarm is set for 3:30am to get up to drive us to the airport for our 6:00am departures. Once again feeling blessed to have had such a great trip and an amazing team.  We drove over 1250 miles and were able to see a variety of camps and organizations supporting this crisis.  It is now our job to go out and remind our circle of friends and family that the world is full of people who have to leave their home, against their will.  These are our sisters and brothers – we will not forget them.


Serres to Athens

We all know that our weather apps are not always correct- last night it showed snow flakes for the area we were in.  Well, boy did the weather get it right!  We woke to a full

on snow storm!  After breakfast, going back to the room and packing we set off in search of a Jumbo to get items for tomorrows Athens deliveries and to get some more stuff for LHI warehouse.

We spend time literally EVERYDAY getting lost.  Most of the time it is “Google Maps” NAOP6984having us drive around in circles.  Literal circles.  We will all start randomly “baaa”ing when we realize Google has done it again, and like sheep we follow the blue line!

Our first stop was Jumbo.  This was a particularly loud AND bright Jumbo so we quickly filled the 4 carts.  Next we drove up the road to a “Cash and Carry” place- maybe most like our “Smart and Final” where we found some food stuff we needed.

We dropped the LHI items off at their warehouse- we had purchased some additional items that they did not ask for but we saw they needed:  a folding table to put packages on, plastic hangers to replace the awful metal ones, batteries…….these NGO’s make a dollar stretch like no body’s business so it is easy and fun to purchase items that will make their work that much easier.

We finished everything by about noon then hit the road for the Athens.  In Serres the roads were lined with semi trucks.  The highways close to them in bad weather.  Thankfully Sarah is from Detroit and used to winter driving- with the van loaded down with the extra weight of the items we’d bought we slipped and skidded our way over a mountain pass behind 2 snow plows and eventually about 2 hours later to below the snow line.  Sarah was BRILLIANT!  So glad to have her driving those roads-

We arrived in Athens and made a quick stop at an Ikea for some additional aid to deliver tomorrow, found our hotel, and went to dinner in a really cute neighborhood near by.

Last night I learned that one of Zachary’s classmates that he was at the Waldorf school

from kindergarten to to 8th grade died.  Jadyn Rose was such a fun spirit- spunky and she could totally get under Zach’s skin- she always made me smile and I loved how much she loved.  An accident has taken her much to early from this place we reside in for the now- and my heart is heavy with the thought of her mother and brother missing her.

Last day in Serres.

We actually are in a little village- Sidirokastro which is about 25 minutes from the camp and warehouse.  We seem to be higher than Serres and we can see snow on the mountains in the distance.

We drove straight to the warehouse this morning and spent a couple of hours sorting

and rearranging the aid.  It is always good practice to have teams work sorting in a warehouse- if for nothing else to be aware when we donate at home what NOT to give.  Like those old underwear without elastic or the one sock, the nasty flip flops……or the shirt of the half naked lady……

I’d had some baby Moses baskets shipped here a couple of weeks ago and was able to get the baskets filled with the aid CTF had purchased and to add the diapers, wipes, baby shampoo and women’s pads we purchase in Greece.

Today was a rainy cloudy day, we could hear the rain dripping on the metal roof and unfortunately had to throw a couple of boxes away because the clothes had gotten wet because of the leaky roof.  While we were sorting there were a couple families of new arrivals that came thru and shopped at the “store” in the warehouse.  In addition to clothing the new arrivals also get a bag of food to tide them over until their cash card (each Greek registered refugee is given $85 USD to spend per month- on food, clothing, transpiration……..) comes in.

Warehouse work is never a highlight of aid workers trips, but it is an intricate part of what helps make this machine run.  After a couple hours of sorting and organizing we had a list of items the warehouse needed (bar soap, baby shampoo, newborn diapers, baby wipes and zip lock bags for loose tea) so we headed out to the local Jumbo to purchase the goods.  We forgot it was Sunday and basically small town Greece is closed on Sunday.  So back to the camp we went to help in the women’s tent with “Beauty Day”.

We arrived to a pile of shoes in front of the women’s tent and ladies doing their nails and

putting Korean face masks on each other.  Children under 13 are not allowed in the tent but that does not stop them from trying to get in.  It is a place for mom’s to come and take their head scarves off, the teenagers to dance traditional dances and the grand mothers to sit and watch everyone!  The space was truly transformed with the items we’d purchased- so fun to see it all being used.

Both Aline and I had been to this camp 18 months ago- at that time everyone was in tents a couple of miles from this location.   I pulled some photos up and everyone had a good laugh looking at the tents, open fires heating water and the people who had gone.  Only about 20% of the residents wereIMG_8550 here 18 months ago.  Some have been relocated within the EU, some abroad (only less than 1% of the worlds refugees get settled into Europe, the US or Australia) and some to Athens or Thessaloniki.  I also had some photo’s of the other Yazidi camp (Petra) on my phone and showed those pictures to the moms.  People would get excited seeing older photo’s of friends.  In one of the pictures there were 5 girls who had been hamming it up for the camera when we were there- about 20 minutes later one of these girls came into the tent!

She looked at the Petra photo’s from 18 months ago and reminisced about the girls and friends she recognized.  Naming each one with a smile.


That is her on the far right………

We drove back to the hotel and took a bit of time to explore the little village and tried to IMG_8551get up to a church we could see high up on a hill.  We only managed to get turned around but did get to see some of the beautiful country side.

Dinner was here at the hotel as the only restaurant in the village is closed to night-

Tomorrow the Jumbo run and we will head back to Athens.



Women’s and Children’s space-

With the back of the van stuffed with our purchases from yesterday- we knew the day  would be filled with putting all those Ikea purchases together and taking the tags off of

all the items we bought!

We were at the camp a bit earlier then most of the LHI (Lifting Hands International) volunteers and set to work hauling all the goods from the road back to the tents then separating the items for the Women’s space tent and the Children’s space tent.  Afia and another LHI volunteer went to town putting the book cases together and the rest of us organized the aid.

The tents are new for LHI and their wish list was spot on making the spaces so much cozier!  In the Women’s tent we set up a corner area for babies under 1- a couple walkers, soft toys, foam mats on the ground-even a rocking chair for tired or nursing mothers.

We had until 11:00am to get the space done before the mothers came in for a sewing IMG_8543class- we were able to get everything put together and away in time and got to see the smiling and appreciative faces of the mom’s as they filed into their newly renovated space.

The hand cranked sewing machines were lined up when the moms arrived- all set to start making teddy bears.  Everyone LOVED the new additions and appreciated a place for the littles to go to and not get under the feet of the moms as they worked.

I set up in a corner with the sock knitting supplies i’d brought with me.  A few mothers came to see what was happening, most smiled when I showed them the baby socks I was working on but shook their heads “no” when asked IMG_E8544if they knew how to knit.

Soon a couple of moms sat down and wanted to learn.  Socks are NOT for a new knitter and thankfully only experienced knitters sat down.  We spent the next couple hoursGDIP8281 going thru the pattern and making socks.  After about 2 hours the tables with the sewing machines were packed up and the knitters were directed to the back of the tent.

Plastic garbage bags, colorful tape and stickers were brought out and about 15 girls and moms made clothing from the plastic bags.  Soon the artists in the group stood out as they were not only making a dress, but a skirt and hats!

After the dress making session was over a boom box playing Yazidi music was put on and in a matter of seconds young girls, moms and grandmothers joined hands and danced in a circle to the music.

Smiles and laughs were everywhere, everyone not dancing could feel the fun the dancers were having.  To my Western trained ear and non-dancer eyes, the dancers steps were intricate and beautiful.

It was so much fun to see how happy these women were- younger kids wandered in and out of the space, babies cried but the music and the dancing continued for over an hour.

This camp has about 450 people living in it and today there were the 4 of us from CTF working and another 14 volunteers working with LHI.

It never is lost on me seeing these long term volunteers putting their lives on hold to go QUUG0973and work in a foreign land with populations their normally would not have interactions with.   Todays volunteers called Scotland, US, UK, Canada, Switzerland and France home.

We are continually asked “where are you from”.  When we say “America” we are met with surprise and joy that we have come from so far away to be in this moment working with these people.  One of our team members Afia is from Houston and is a Muslim woman who 2 months ago made the very personally decision to stop wearing her head scarf because it was getting in the way of her work with ALS patients she sees.  The culture of hate that has permeated America has lead to Afia’s patients for the first time in her professional career asking her if she is a terrorist.  To her face.  While giving life saving treatments for their ALS.

There is no place for hate-

Camp visit and shopping trip to Thessaloniki-Day 3

Located down an old tired road miles from the nearest village sits a field of ISO

ISO boxes- home to over 400.

boxes that house over 400+. The road is mostly used by shepherds moving their sheep and goats from field to field. Next to the acre of ISO boxes is a field with colorful tents and sitting areas- a place for these people to call home.

The Yazidi are a people who mostly come from Iraq, Syria and Armenia who practice a religion that predates the Christian and Muslim faiths. Because of this, the Yazidi people are persecuted in their home lands. In Greece they

Camp literally on a goat/sheep path.

are put in 1 of 2 camps that only house Yazidi people.

For the next 4 days we will be working in one of these camps setting up a children’s space and women’s space for the NGO- Lifting Hands International (LHI) that supports this camp and the Yazidi population. I will also be teaching an class on how to make baby and adult socks.

Yazidi women are often captured and sold into sexual slavery when their lands are taken over by Islamic extremeists. The women and girls as young as 9 are sold multiple times during their captivity until they either die or escape. This is

Lifting Hands International (LHI) tents of hope!

happening today, it happened yesterday and will happen tomorrow.

LHI has worked supporting this camp during 3 moves. Currently in a field next to the camp, LHI has 3 tents that offers classes and a space for the refugees to meet 6 days a week. Of the 400+ people who call this camp home- LHI offers a respite from the boredom of camp life, a way for people to continue their education and a place to gather and celebrate.

I was last at this camp 17 months ago when the population was in tents- today they

Afia and Sarah’s 1st Jumbo visit!

are in the ISO boxes, but because of the continued wave of refugees landing everyday in Greece an ISO box that is supposed to house 5-6 people has upwards of 12-13 people sleeping like sardines.

LHI leadership gave us a wish list of items to make their Women’s tent and Children’s tent more comfortable to the families that visit. We took took the list, after a tour of the area, to Thessaloniki 90 minutes away where we chipped away at the list, mostly at IKEA.

Like most trips we have been given funds from friends and relatives to supplement the Carry the Future money budgeted for the different projects. Today at IKEA -CTF purchased 4 carts of items from the wish list and donated funds purchased the next 2 carts of goods.

This task took almost 9 hours to complete including the 90 minute drive each way to and from Thessaloniki. It was fun for Aline and I to finally bring Sarah and Afia to a Jumbo

Putting some serious miles on the van.

department store- a place they had heard about but had never been. Jumbo virgins. One must experience it to believe it- my head is still spinning even after a 10 minute nap on a chaise lounge in IKEA!

We walked to a restaurant for dinner. Tired from the walk, having eaten multiple plates of yummy local food we all are tired and should sleep like babies.


Day 2-Athens to Serres.

Packed and ready to go we loaded the van with our bags and went out in search of a newer NGO called “Unmentionables”.  A beautiful place for women to get pads, underwear and bras.  They also offer a number of classes for women and men- such a great idea and a great need.  CTF is looking to partner with someone to store our baby beds, baby gear and diapers with in Athens.  IMG_8488.jpg

As with most days we got lost finding the space after we’d parked the giant van in a parking garage-no problem, once we got the correct address added we were only about 8 blocks off from the space.  Google maps is a curse and a blessing- today it was a curse as it had us marching all over trying to find this space but a blessing because we got to see close up area’s of Athens we usually would not see.  Athens has to be the graffiti capital of the world, literally IMG_8489.jpgon every block there is amazing graffiti my favorites are usually on building that are crumbling specks of years past.  Roofs open to the sky and elements while art holds up the dreams of what once was.

Our next stop was to the warehouse Elliniko to pick up some aid to bring with us up to Serres.  This is the big warehouse on the site of the Olympic basketball stadium.  The workers at the warehouse were nice enough to pull the aid needed to distribute Serres’s Spring clothing  so the only thing we had to do was to stuff 20+ boxes into our already almost full van.

We call this “Tetrusing the van”.  I was missing my travel wife Amanda for this task as she is the World Champion of filling a van with aid!  Someone had the great idea to take the empty plastic Ikea Dimpa bags we ship aid into and open the boxes and stuff the Dimpa bags with clothing.  Easier to get into the little nooks andIMG_8490 crannies of the van.  It was perfect.  We got 3 pallets of boxes into the van- all but 3 boxes made it!  Not to bad.  Granted the 2nd row didn’t have foot room- legs had to be put on top of boxes and we couldn’t see out the back window – the usual!

It was about a 6 hour drive out of Athens to Serres- the roads were perfect and with an overcast sky driving was easy.  Sarah took over the last couple of hours of driving while I took a little cat nap in the 2nd row.  It was not easy finding our hotel- and the side roads were not in very good shape so we had to drive slower then the posted speed limit but we arrived safe and sound. Dinner was at the hotel restaurant and we went over our plans for tomorrow.  There is an easy rapport with this team and we spent the drive getting to know each other and sitting in silence looking at the passing beautiful scenery.  Once again feeling blessed to have such a great team to work with.  We are about 10 miles from the Bulgarian border- it was so dark when we arrived but the area looks beautiful from what we could see.


Team 37. Day 1.


That flight never is easy, but was able to meet 2/3 (Afia and Sarah) of the CTF Team 37 in Amsterdam and we were able to all 3 fly to Athens on the same flight! Aline arrived 20 minutes after us so it was perfect timing!

It was about 5:00pm local time by the time we had the rental van pointed towards

Can you see the lilacs behind us?

Athens and a short 45 minutes to the hotel. We quickly dropped our bags in our hotel room and made our way to an area near here and totally lucked out finding an excellent Greek restaurant where we ordered to much food – but everything looked SOOOO good.

We were able to see the changing of the guard at the Unnamed Soldier Tomb. Very interesting- we all agreed we liked the skirts the soldiers were wearing.

Everyone mostly slept well, we met for breakfast then made our way to make food at a local NGO that supports refugees and the homeless. We were asked to prepare food for

125 people with: carrots, potatoes, rice, beans and chicken. The 4 of us set to work chopping veggies and preparing the food. Some of the regulars watched for about an hour then came in and made the magic happen with added spices and sauces.

Once done- we dished up plate after plate of chicken, rice and beans oh and potatoes with carrots and parsley. It was delicious and in the end 145 people were fed. In the 3EALN5075 hours we were there we were able to take turns stepping out from behind the cooking and hold 1 of the 3 ten day old  babies who where there. Littles ran between the parents and those waiting to eat. They were everyones kids in that everyone picked up a toddling toddler to wipe a nose or give a kiss to, older kids carried the younger ones to parents out of eye sight. It was so beautiful to see people from all over the world: Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Eritrea, France, UK and the US reaching out give a hug or a hand to someone else’s baby.

After many goodbyes and pictures we next made our way to Athen’s Central Market IMG_8483where we purchased more food (veggies and beans) for a camp about an hour from here. It was getting dark by the time we arrived in camp so only had a few minutes to unload, say a few quick hello’s/goodbyes before we had to head back to Athens.

Dinner was at a favorite veggie restaurant of mine and we met another volunteer from Macau by way of London. So many interesting people- she is from Macau but went to High School, college and law school in the UK and is now mostly living and volunteering in Athens.

We walked around the beautiful cool evening- views of the Parthenon lit up agains the moonless sky were around most corners. Even more beautiful at night –IMG_8484