Last day.

Our last morning started with a 4:00am wake up to go and meet a ferry from Athens that had winter aid- these ferries are HUGE! Semi’s are dwarfed in the hold.With helping hands it was an easy collection of bags, we returned to the hotel to get some sleep (in Sara’s case) and finishing packing.

Our next stop was at the Center to drop the aid and say our goodbyes. Our Facebook feeds have added more friends these past few days- from across the ocean and lifetimes apart we will be able to watch from afar these new friends stuck in Greece.

We stopped to say goodbye to a Syrian family- the babies bed improvised. The parents anxious to know what their future holds. We don’t have answers.

One thing that has shifted this trip is that no one wants to come to the US- Canada has replaced all other countries as the destination of choice. With less then 1% of the worlds refugees settling in the US,Canada or Australia it is most likely that our new friends will still be in Greece the next time we return.

Chios is beautiful and yet for so many a prison. One of our new friends, a 20 year old from Lebanon learned today for the 3rd time his asylum request was denied. He has 1 more chance and if not approved he will be forcibly returned to a country that will arrest him upon arrival.

That is the story of late, 3 years into this mess the forced returns are meaning more heart ache.

The camp still has many people sleeping in tents and I am comforted knowing that there are people trying to help as much as they can. It will not be enough and another winter means more deaths in the camp from cold and sickness.

Our prop plane left late in the afternoon for Athens. The sea looked so beautiful and peaceful during our short 30 minute flight. Unfortunately for aid workers, We know the sea is a cemetery for so many. Just this week a large raft sank, mostly women and children lost.

Sara will be retuning to Canada today with 2 dogs rescued from the streets of Greece. New families wait for them.

It has been a good trip- we are tired and our hearts are full and heavy at the same time.

Last days.

The last few days of a distribution trip are filled up finishing projects, crossing off to-do lists and running on fumes.  Last night we cleaned out one of the 3 big grocery stores of their diapers on sale.  So today we delivered them first thing to the Center.  About 20

trips up to the 2nd level had our 3 shopping carts worth of baby goods up on the 2nd floor.

Courtney (the Center manager) asked if we could go back to the village post office/mini market and pick up 4 more boxes.  Her car is truly a clown car with barely space for 2 people.  We happily obliged.  There actually were 11 boxes so once again we somehow figured out how to stuff these huge boxes into the van.  All has come from Norway- and were already sorted and clean ready to distribute Winger aid.  A beautiful thing for any warehouse.

At lunch time we headed into town to pick up the 500 bags of sugar and 500 bags of salt QRTB3299.jpgwe’d ordered last week for another aid worker Ruhi who lives in the UK but comes to Chios on her work holidays.  She is a mother of sorts to all the single men- really boys, who find themselves stuck on Chios.  She is also the contact that people message when they arrive in the camp and there is no place to sleep.

The Greek Police run this camp and once the newly arrived refugees are registered there is no guarantee there will be space for them.  Often (as in weekly) there will be people/families/children hard sleeping (on the ground without shelter or blankets).  Ruhi purchases tents for these people and has one of the boys deliver to the new family.  IF she has any tents.

We arrived at the grocery store and our friend Hasib and 2 of his friends helped load the salt and sugar that we purchased with CTF funds.  We had to make 2 trips to the storage container Ruhi has rented about 1/2 a mile from the grocery store.  Every month Ruhi distributes a food package to all of the families in the camp.

Since we were in town we raided for the 3rd time a grocery store of basically all of their diapers.  This time we filled 4 carts of diapers and wipes.  It is so important to support the Greek economy and purchase as much aid in country as we can.

We did not say goodbye to our new friends at the Center as we will return tomorrow morning after we meet the ferry from Athens at 5:00am.

Center.Soup Kitchen.Warehouse.

Everyday the Iris Center keeps tap of the families that arrive.  There are morning and afternoon groups of people who either walk the 1.5 mile walk to the Center, or one of the

volunteers will go and pick up those who need a ride.  Shoes are left at the Center’s door, the kids race to take toys out and the older kids will sit at the activity table and paint, draw or make jewelry.  Today there were over 60 people that visited.

Sara and I have settled into a familiar rhythm, helping where we see there is a need, doing what is asked of us and whenever a baby comes in making sure that Mama has a baby carrier and a swag bag of baby items.  The Center is really a little UN- today visitors hailed from:  Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria and Lebanon.  Faces to the horrors of wars that are plaguing the planet.  But they are really just moms, dads, sons, daughters.  Looking for a better way.  Wanting to live without war.  Wanting more for their children.

There is a small restaurant owner at the beach town we are staying at who also runs a free vegan kitchen for the 7 different NGO’s working with refugees on the island.

Everyday a big pot of food is prepared, dished into buckets and picked up by the various NGO’s so that the volunteers and refugees can eat something.   We went to the kitchen to IMG_0715pick up todays meal for our Center and also went to a warehouse a couple of doors down that distributes aid at the camp.

Baskets of aid lined the walls and big bags were being prepared for todays distribution.  The weather has turned since we arrived a week ago.  Where the days were warm and the nights just a little cooler, now the nights are cold.  Jackets are needed.

We did a big aid run to the biggest grocery store on the island to purchase diapers.  We filled 3 carts to the brim with diapers and need to return tomorrow to do the same.  Learned that each family is given 10 diapers every 5 days in the camp.  The Iris Center supplements an additional 10 diapers every 14 days.  The math does not add up to anything but diaper rash and crying babies.

There was a rumor that about 200 refugees were going to be transported to Athens today.  This is a step closer to resettlement for many.   At dinner we saw about 100 refugees making their way to a ferry.  Carrying their worldly possessions in boxes and in bags.  Heading off to the next step.

Unfortunately for every person that leaves, there are more to take their space in the camp.  This week alone there has been a beach landing everyday.  At the center there are a handful of translators- 2 of them have been in Vial for over 3 years.

One of biggest underserved populations are the 18-22 year old single men.  Boys really, who have left family to find a better life and eventually settle and be able to send money back home.  For me they remind me of Max and his friends, their mannerisms and the way they kid each other.  I cannot imagine Max or any of his friends alone- having crossed countries in search of a better life.  It hurts my heart to see their brave faces when telling us bits of their story.  We know we are only hearing snippets because the real stores are pock marked with horror we cannot imagine.

We are so thankful to know that there are so many NGO’s working to make lives a little better in this hell on earth.  A limbo that has no end.  Far from perfect, and not meeting all of the needs but at least a slice of humanity.




We went to bed early last night…….before 1:00am and got up refreshed.   We had been told the Iris Center and most of the island is closed on Sunday so we’d made arrangements to visit a Syrian family we’d met.  Mom and Dad and the worlds cutest baby girl- 22 days old.

Because Vial camp is NOT a place for babies most of the babies and their family are housed outside of the camp.  We met at the young Afghan families efficiency and also had an interpreter from Yemen meet us.  The Afghan family could speak a little English, but the Yemen interpreter was working on his PHD in English Literature before the war so he did most of the interpreting for us.

The 20 unit apartment building housed refugees from around the Middle East and Africa.  French was being spoken by most of the households and there was 1 other family from Syria living in another unit.

I got to hold the baby  most of the visit and like a Auntie took about 35 pictures of her.

Mom had dark circles under her eyes but both Mom and Dad would gaze lovingly at the baby when ever she made a sound.  Because Dad had left the Army (Syria has manditory military service for 2 years) before his discharge date he was wanted by the military police.  Imagine fighting for a regime you do not support, killing in the name of a dictator who rules your country and not having any choice in the matter.

We learned the Yemenis interpreter was a father of 6 working on his PHD in English dystopian literature (living that!).  He was a professional soccer player for 20 years and his oldest daughter is graduating from dental school in Yemen next year.  This year it is estimated that 3 million people will starve to death in Yemen.  3 million.  To add insult to

injury their family won the “US immigration lottery”.  In addition to applying to the US as a refugee, most refugees and really just any other person with non-US citizenship can apply for the citizenship lottery.  It literally is like winning the “Mega Bucks” lottery statistically.  They won- but because Yemen is on U.S. Muslim ban list they are not able to take immigrate.

We said goodbye and drove the 15 minutes the city to see if indeed “everything” was closed.  Everything was closed.  Have made a list of the NGO’s we still need to visit, the jobs we still have to do, the aid that still needs to be bought we know that it will be a VERY busy next couple of days.

Hoping magically there will be about 10 hours added daily in the next 3 days before we leave the island.

The other 1/2 of Team 48 is Sara (with an “a”) that was the team leader on Team 8 the 1st CTF trip I went on in April of 2017.  Without a doubt it was that trip and the amazing job she did leading that team that has me still going on trips for CTF.    I was lucky enough to work with her a couple trips ago to Northern Greece last year and jumped at the opportunity to work with her again.  Sara is wicked smart, has a heart as big as the Aegean Sea and gets to say she is Canadian (she actually is from Nebraska but recently moved to Hamilton, Ontario, Canada).

She is my navigator when driving around this crazy island and in this unbelievable  life as an aid worker.

Running around.

We are exploring options for future CTF teams so our first stop was at CESRT (Chios Eastern Shore Response Team) to meet with the founder Toula about possible collaborations.  In addition to having a warehouse this NGO is in charge of meeting the boats that come over almost daily from Turkey.  CTF had sent them baby Moses baskets a couple of months ago and we wanted to check in as well about the beds.  Toula was not in as she was at the beach meeting a boat with her team, so we made arrangements to return in the afternoon.

When this crisis started it literally was all hands on deck for the first 6 months- anyone with a pulse was needed to collect, sort and distribute aid as over 1 million refugees landed in Greece and in most cases walked to Germany.  Now fast forward 3 years and all NGO’s have minimum time commitments for their volunteers, require a signed Code of Conduct and rarely are any of the NGO’s allowed into the camps anymore.  Instead they distribute aid, have classes and support the refugees from buildings within walking distance of the camps that have been rented and outfitted as necessary to fit the needs of the NGO.  Today all volunteers working the beach need to be registered with the police.

Just before noon we met the manager of the Center and 3 of her interpreters at VialIMG_0640 Camp entrance to see the registration process for the newly arrived.

We saw some faces of people that were making appointments to return to the Iris Center for showers and more clothing (many people arrive with just the clothing on their backs-they can come to Iris Center every 2 weeks).  Many more had just arrived to Chios and were scheduling visits for the first time.  The scene looked hectic with Courtney bent over her computer inputting the information the translators were giving to her.   Children ran around, siblings squabbled, babies were passed around.  These are people on the cusp of a new beginning with ample time on their hands.

Currently when a boat is crossing from Turkey the Greek Coast Guard will let CERST know that they are coming which gives CERST the time to get their volunteers on the beach to meet the refugees.  It is usually at night, and the vast majority of the refugees are not able to swim and know that most of the life jackets they purchased in Turkey are defective and most likely will expedite their drowning if they end up in the water.  They are given warm clothes, blankets and a helping hand to a new life in the EU (hopefully!).

CERST is exclusively meeting the boats and currently have a team of 25 volunteers working between the beach landings and sorting aid in the warehouse.  Toula said she could easily have double the volunteers.

We met an Afghan family yesterday.  Mom, Dad and 3 sisters (15,12,5).  They had 2 failed crossings (most people pay the smugglers $1000USD per person for a seat on a boat, boats are overloaded, crossings happen in the dark of the night.  They only pay once and can have multiple tries crossing before they have to pay again.  On their first attempt the boat did not sink buy broke down and they were able to make their way back to Turkey.  On the 2nd attempt the boat capsized, the girls said they were so thankful that the Greek Coast Guard was there and able to see and collect them before they drowned.

This afternoon we were in the downtown area of Chios and ran into the volunteers from IMG_E0646the Iris Center heading back to their respective apartments.

The kitties were in their carriers, the volunteer team works 6 days a week and were looking forward to having tomorrow (Sunday) off to rest and run errands.

We visited the Women’s Center run by Action from Switzerland.  English classes, legal advice, art classes and even yoga are offered 6 days a week.  A bus at the camp entrence picks up people who want to go to this Center by a big bus.  There are also buses leaving 6 days a week to the school the older kids can attend.  If they don’t take a bus the walk is 90 minutes to the city center.

Chios is a really not that small but we ran into a couple of people we’d met at the Iris Center this week.  It really is a small world.


H an interpreter from Afghanistan has been helping out at the Center this week. Every morning and afternoon refugees arrive from the nearby Vial camp- and H is there to greet them in 1 of the 5 languages he speaks. Always

A family arrives at the Center.

joyfully and helpful and with a large dose of humor. Today I got to talk to him and hear his story.

Today H is 19 and when he was 15 he left his family to find a better life. The Taliban had taken over his town and life became unlivable. Imagine the life circumstances that has a mother sending her 15 year old across countries and seas because the life at home is so unbearable.

H crossed borders and finally the sea to arrive in Chios 3 years ago, he was sent to Vial camp and was almost immediately resettled in Norway because of his “unaccompanied minor” status. For over 2 years he thrived, he worked hard and became fluent in Norwegian and English. He studied hard and was preparing to attend University.

Walking up to the Center-

After his 18th birthday he was walking home from school one day and was picked up by the police, and placed in jail for the night. He was not allowed to go home and collect his things. Thankfully he had his phone and computer with him. After a night in jail in the town he had come to call home he was put on a plane with 3 Norwegian police men and was flown back to the country that has just a memory to him.

No money, dropped in a city he had never been to, and no connections as his family. He lived on the streets for months before he scraped enough money together to make the journey overland once again.

A few months ago he landed for the 2nd time on Chios and was placed in Vial camp. This time he applied for asylum in Greece and it was granted last week. Soon his paper work will clear and he will go back to Norway, not because they want him, but because it has become his home.

His dream is to continue his education- there is a small NGO that runs school for children in the Chios city center, an hour walk 1 way from the camp. Sorter if you can catch the bus. But because the demand for school is so great, and there are not enough hours in the day the maximum a student can attend school is 3 times a week.

H is the same age as our son Max. Similar in stature and tenacity their lives are as far apart as can be in so many ways.

Diaries of an aid worker.

Carry the Future sets up all of the hotels and arranges the transportation within Greece.  Typically our hotels are 1-star hotels, sometimes a 2-star hotel.  All are very basic, clean and include a buffet breakfast.  We are the only guests at our little hotel on the hill in Chios,

Greece.  Each morning we start our day with an amazing view and have breakfast in the hotel lobby.  Not a typical US buffet breakfast, MUCH better.  We linger over coffee and 2nd helpings of the amazing Greek yogurt and talk about upcoming day and well, life.

In main land Greece I’ve only driven 9 passenger vans, here on the island it is a 7

passenger van which because of the narrow roads really couldn’t be anything bigger.

Most days we head over to the NGO we will be working at that day.  This trip we are working mostly for the Iris Center and later in the trip will do some work for other local NGO’s.  Typically we are helping hand out aid, sort aid, play with the kids, see what has IMG_E0616to be done and do what we are asked to do……this Center offers showers to the 60-ish refugees visiting a day and because lice is a big problem we have been on lice duty, checking if the resident thinks they may have lice, and if they do treating and combing out their hair.  It is not especially glamours or earth shaking.

We help make sure the parents have their tea or coffee cups filled.  There is an easy camaraderie between the volunteers and refugees.  A smile and hand gestures can speak volumes and if needed, there are interpreters around to help.

We typically work with people in their 20’s, but sometimes peers.  Everyone with the same commitment to putting a face to this crisis and helping out where we see we can help the most.  Today driving around saw the cutest dog and visited a bakery with like 25 different baklavas!

Many volunteers are here a minimum of 2 weeks and often share space with the long term volunteers (3+ month).  They usually all get around in an impossible small European car, so getting aid from say a warehouse to a camp can be difficult without a

van.  So, almost daily our van is needed to help get goods from Point A to Point B.  Today we returned to the post office we’d been to yesterday.  The 12 boxes of Winter aid from Norway was sitting in the post office/mini mart in the town/village center.  Today Courtney the Center manager was able to get the 12 boxes released and we somehow got them all in the van.  This took 90+ minutes.   We are totally on Greek time.

With a budget from CTF for certain items like diapers, or donated to us from our family and friends we almost daily are out purchasing aid.  Today it was bath towels as the Center had gotten very low on towels- and if you have 20-25 people showering a day you need MANY towels!

Dinner was at a small family run restaurant about a 10 minute walk from our hotel.  The food was amazing and we try and imagine how busy and packed we know this island is in the summer.





You know you are near a refugee camp when the road goes from 1-1/2 lanes wide, to basically a goat path.  Vial is no different.  Located up on a hill in the middle of the island Chios is Vial Camp.  Originally built as a prison for 800 people, it now houses over 3,000 refugees that arrive in dinghies, ransoms paid to leave Turkey to smugglers in hopes of a better life.

Vial is one of 5 islands that the dinghies (or “death boats” as the refugees often refer to them as) arrive on from Turkey.  Mostly Syrians but also people fleeing war and unimaginable oppression from the Middle East but also from as far away as Africa.    On Vial there are a handful of NGO’s that support the residents of the camp that is run by the Greek Police.  This week we will mostly be working at The Iris Center which supports mother, fathers and children with clothing, showers, baby necessities and toiletries.  But most importantly, a respite from the horrors of living in a camp.

The closest mini-market is a 20 minute walk away, as is the Iris Center.  Located next to farm is a warehouse space that has a children’s play yard, 4 showers, a “store” (a place in the center where people can “shop” for clothing every month, much more dignified then being handed a bag of clothing) and a place to escape the daily horrors of living in a camp.

Two times a week volunteers from the Iris Center go to the gates of the camp and register the newly arrived and after that the residents can sign up to come to the Center 5 days a week in either an AM or PM time slot.  Each time slot approximately 30 women, children and husbands will come to the Center.  In the camp there are 20 showers, 20 bathrooms and water 1 hour a day.

for 3000+ people.


The first group of people to arrive were 5 or 6 families, each was checked in- given a number as each family gets their own time to shop and take showers.  The rest of the families are able to sit inside, the children can play within eye site at 2 different play yards and often tea/chai or coffee will be offered as the weary moms and dads sit for just a minute or two.

People are at this camp living in metal boxes called “ISO boxes”, sleeping in tents or hard sleeping (on the ground without any shelter) for up to 2+ years.  Food is provided by the police but is often rancid.  With winter approaching the volunteers have had the winter clothing out for weeks now.  Each winter people freeze to death in these island camps.  It is a race against time.

The Centers volunteers were a mini United Nations:  Singapore, Norway, Switzerland, US and Canada.  The Center uses volunteer translators from the camp – a huge help with communication but also equally important giving the translators purpose.

The highlight was a 22 day old baby that came in the its parents.  A first baby for the couple from Afghanistan and a girl.  Mom had the tired look of not enough sleep but such a sweet smile and love for this tiny baby whose name means “interlocking hearts”.   The parents were so proud and we all took turns holding and cooing over the baby.   Sara fit the the Mom with a baby carrier – a donation we’d brought with us from the US.

Like magic, the baby had even the toddlers attention. Dad had studied English at university in Afghanistan for 2 years, his English was excellent.  His wife also spoke English.  There was talk of imprisonments and sea crossings, hopes of a job in Athens and a dream of settling in Canada.

God willing.

Kids will be kids.

CTF Team 48 is myself and Sara who was the Trip Coordinater for CTF Team 8- in April of 2015. CTF now has storage space in Athens so we dropped 2 of our 4 bags of aid to be distributed by future teams. We will bring the other 2 bags to the island Chios we go to tonight.

We found the warehouse easily, directions on

how to get into the space had been forwarded to us by a previous team.

For all the aid CTF delivers- there are so many steps and volunteers that make these distributions possible. Each step of the way we are mindful of how these baby carriers, beds, diapers and baby necessities make a real difference to the families that receive them.

Today we waited for a one of our partners NGO in Athens to open. We waited with about 40 mostly mothers and their young children. In so many ways it was a normal gathering of moms, babies were held, children played with what they found in the empty lot next door, we all kept an eye on the crazy Athens traffic feet away, making sure no children entered the street. A wall of safety and love….

We also saw the worry in the mothers eyes, the desperation of needing but not being able to feed, clothe and diaper their children. One mother spoke of her life as a middle school teacher in Syria. As we passed her 6 month old daughter between us she showed us pictures on her phone of their home in Syria, the beautiful garden and the 5 month old son that died because of the bombing.

We were able to purchase 3 grocery carts of diapers, pads, and baby shampoo from

donations we’d received. Sara was wondering where our dream organizer Amanda from CTF Team 8 was when we needed her!

Our plane for the island Chios left at 8pm. It was an easy 30 minute flight from the main land. We will spend the next week working and helping where needed.