We arrived in Athens about noon yesterday- a short 35 minute flight.  We went immediately to two IKEA’s in Athens to collect children’s potties.  CTF will be launching a new initiative to provide potties to camps.  We’d already cleared the airport IKEA of potties last week and they had not received a new shipment since.  The Athens IKEA had 40 potties so we cleaned them out too!

Last night we went to One Stop, and initiative that feeds unregistered refugees and the

homeless in central Athens. Two nights a week One Stop provides dinner, medics for people to see if they are sick and a van with washers/dryers so that people can wash their clothing.   Dinner prep was in full swing when we arrived at 6:00pm, but a school had donated home cooked meals and salad with messages on the lids that we distributed to those around the area.  We went out in all 3 times, carrying the food between us, finding the most vulnerable and offering them food.  Our leader was a Greek social worker, a vision of grace and beauty.  She spoke to them as if she were speaking to a dear relative.  Her voice full of respect, a smile on her face.

We returned to help the other 20 or so volunteers hand out over 400 meals.  I had worked with this group a year ago and at that time they were feeding 200’ish a night.  The need grows.  So many of these initiatives/NGO’s run on a shoe string.  Their impact is a tremendous necessity to such vulnerable populations.  We helped to clean up around the area and finished about 10:00pm.  A quick dinner around the corner from our hotel finished off the day.

This morning we drove about an hour to a camp that houses 1500.  The unofficial camp

“mayor” (a Greek volunteer who has worked at this camp for 3+ years) met with us and the Army representatives who officially run the camp about a possible collaboration with CTF.  It was  great meeting and many ways CTF teams can help.  We went on a tour of the camp- in addition to the ISO boxes there were 2 new buildings- permanent that had been build recently.  An indication that Greece knows that this is the future for many refugees.  Isolated camps.  No country.  No citizenship.

Dotted around the camp were other NGO’s and their ISO boxes- one was a school where
teachers from the Netherlands taught English.  “The children are so eager to learn- they sit on the edge of their seats eating up the lessons.  I wish my students at home were the same!”.   “No kidding” says every teacher, everywhere!

We were invited into the home of the resident “artist”.  His box the center of many activities including art and music- he gave us a snack of flat bread, ghee and homemade apricot jam and played his sitar – a traditional song.  Haunting and multi-layered.

We saw the “boutique” where residents can shop for 3 pieces of clothing every 3 weeks and the women’s center where women were doing yoga stretches and movement class.

The mood was light, the children were laughing.  A couple children drove bikes around
the fenced and barbed wired perimeter.  The fences not to keep them in as they were able to come and go as they liked.  But more likely, the fence to keep people out who want to harm the residents.

We drove the beautiful drive back to Athens and stopped along the way collecting

diapers at 2 different stores, we even found some potties at Jumbo!  We also stopped at the main market to get bulk goods for our distributions tomorrow.  The van was loaded!!!

We went back to CTF storage and organized the bins, added labels and grabbed the last of the baby beds.

The super moon watched as we made our way to dinner- a vegetarian place not far from our hotel.  A great way to end the day.  Good food, great company.





The day dawned to still seas.  Our plane did not leave the island until noon so we hadimg_1582

img_1586time to have a more relaxing breakfast.  We had dinner last night with the volunteers and interpreters from Iris House.

These boys are so much like our boys at home.  Full of life.  Silly.  Oh so tired when they are not being silly.  Quick to kid around.  Willing to work hard when needed.  I cannot help thinking what their future holds.  My heart hurts thinking of their uncertainimg_1533-1.jpg
futures.  Thankful that there are people like those at Iris House that are looking out and supporting where they can.

Many of these young men have already had multiple rejections to resettle in Greece.  It now is a waiting game.  Some have as many as 4 rejections.  Those have been waiting in Vial for over 3 years.

Our time in Chios has gone quickly.  But I know we each leave a piece of our hearts here to return.  Tom will be returning in April and it will be good to get a first person account of how everyone is doing.



The morning broke with cloudy sky heavy with rain and a forecast that said “90% chance of rain”.  Not the best forecast when we were going to do toiletry distribution!  We communicate with CTF and their partners mostly on Whats App and Messenger.  All day long the phone dings with notifications of updates.  Plans change the day of a task, as well as we are constantly looking ahead in the week to keep things moving smoothly.

Today at breakfast we got notice from Iris House that a 40′ container of goods sent from Norway 15 months ago, tied up in transit had miraculously appeared at the container area and needed to be unloaded before we sorted and loaded our cars for the toiletry distribution.

We arrived at the container area fully expecting to unload the truck in the pouring rain.

No rain.  And there were about 30 volunteers from many of the other NGO’s on the island and all of their interpreters and volunteers.  The interpreters live at Vial camp or in Chios- boredom is stifling.  Unloading a truck of aid gives them purpose, people worked with smiles.  Happy to be helping.

Interpreters sprang into action and climbed up into the truck and started unwrapping the pallets of goods and we began the process of putting the already sorted boxes of aid into an empty container.  I was put in charge of organizing  and with tape marked where all the aid was to go- “men”, “women”, “children”, “hats, mittens, scarves”.

It was if a “start” button was pushed.  Soon lines were formed and the unloading began.

Pallets of aid soon became piles in the once empty container.  It only took about 30 minutes and just as the last boxes were put into the container the skies broke and it started to pour.

Everyone rushed to their vans/cars and headed back to the never ending work.  We loaded our van and Iris Center’s vans with hygiene aid (shampoo, deodorant, washing powder, toothpaste, diaper).  Since the center has closed the aid has had to come to the camp.  Not convenient or the best delivery method.

Tickets were handed out by the interpreters by area and soon a line formed.  The rain, while looking threatening, never materialized the 3 hours distribution took place.  Kids img_e1576and mother’s we had given aid to were back in line for the third day.  The ground was muddy, it was cold.

It was bittersweet knowing this was our last day working on the island.  New friendships have formed and I was lucky enough to see friends from my last trip.

Dinner was at a family run restaurant in a beach town not far from Chios.  We were a table of 13, volunteers, interpreters, friends.  The founder of Iris House told us the the story of how she came to the island 3 years ago for 10 days………MAYBE 2 weeks.  And is still here providing essential items that without her distribution would not happen.

We will be sad to fly to Athens in the morning, and hope that if we do return our friends are not here in Chios.  But are instead resettled into their new countries.

Childrens distribution

Over 150 children received clothing to day- once again we met at the container area and loaded the vans with already sorted aid.  On the hill past the Vial Camp we gathered to go over img_1536our game plan.  This is a very well oiled machine- after working on Chios for 3 years Iris House is very good at what they do.

Tickets were given out at “C” camp first as they were the last area to pick aid last time.  Today I got to hand out clothing sized “2-4”.  We knew there would be babies so grabbed some baby kits from the container and had them handy.  For the next 6 hours we were swamped.  2 volunteers escorted the families to collect 4-6 pieces of clothing per child- patiently the mothers (and some fathers) waited in line up to 2-1/2 hours.  Thankfully the weather was perfect.

This being a Norwegian NGO there are img_1540 (1)TONS of hand knit items we put out- all beautiful and amazing!  Many of the hand knit items have these little tags in them with the name of the child and a phone number.  So cute!

The last of the clothing left was loaded into the vans and we set off to the city center to run some errands.

We had been invited to one of the interpreters houses for dinner yesterday so we headed over to his families apartment.  His mother had set on the floor piles of food for us and a

handful of interpreters.  His sister, mother and little brother joined us for an amazing Afghan meal.  We heard the stories of their lives in Kabul, Universities attended and jobs had.  Mom had graduated from University in Business and worked for years at the Afghan post office.  They shared with us their journey that got them to this speck of an island in Greece.  Typically after 6-9 months families are resettled into apartments from the camp.  It is a step up from the containers called home in the camp.  But still reek of impermanence as their future is still unknown.

It was a good day.


Fruits of the labor….

After 2 days of sorting we distributed women’s clothing near the entrance of the camp.  We would be out distributing for 5-6 hours so our van had snacks and water if we needed to grab something.  We met with the interpreters and Iris House founder and volunteers at the container

area at 9:00am.  All of our bags had been packed and were ready to load into our cars from the other day.  In all 64 bags of aid was squished/smashed into our 2 vans.  Before we left for the camp Janne (founder of Iris House) has us all gather and go over how distribution was going to happen.

We would lay the aid on 1 of 2 tarps with a walkway in the middle.  Our vans would form 1 wall, and picnic tables another wall.  The tarps would be labeled “S/M/L” and we would take out the coats, pants, sweaters, hats, gloves and socks for every one to take one of (except for the socks- there were 100’s of them so everyone got to pick 4 pairs).  I got the corner with the socks/hats/gloves.  Each resident would register with Janne so she can keep track of where/to whom the aid is given.

One of the interpreters went and handed out tickets for 50 people at at time to come line up to pick aid.  There are 3 areas at Vial “A”,”B”,”C”.  Each area would get a chance to pick out items.  Only 5-8 people were allowed into the shopping area at a time.  We had interpreters around us and other volunteers to help with any questions we had.  I got to hold a couple of babies while their mothers shopped (1 was a 10 day old baby) highlight of the day!!

The women looked weary, their lives so topsy turvey.  No end in sight.  But is was happy, the mood upbeat and light.  We gathered from around the world, in many cases a smile or gesture the only shared language.  But we laughed, talked, made faces to the kids, shoed away the naughty boys who kept walking on our clean tarps (with a smile), it was a good day.

Over 1,000 pieces of clothing were handed out- tomorrow we get to distribute the children’s items we sorted.

Sorting aid….

It just might be the worse thing to do in aid work.  Sorting aid.  Today we spent our 2nd day sorting.  Iris House’s founders story is like many people who are drawn to this crisis.

She saw what was happening in the news 3 years ago and came to Chios on a 2 week holiday to see for herself.  Fast forward 3 years and she is 1 of 2 organizations  that distribute aid directly to Vial Camp residents.  She is still here.

Today we sorted the children’s container of aid- many of her donations come from img_1506Norway and boy can you tell those people are knitters!  We opened box after box of hand knit sweaters, mittens, hats, leggings……..all amazingly beautiful.

The container was emptied and every box was sorted and bagged for distribution on Friday.  There were 2 very large tarps that we placed everything on and piles were made byimg_1509 size, bagged, labeled and put back in the mostly empty container to be picked up in few day.

We were reminded what NOT to donate like the nasty dirty img_1510unicorn head rest, or the Prada shoe bag, not to be outdone by the make up kit!

The sky had cleared and the sun was out.  In the shade it was cold, but under the sun perfect!  There were about a dozen of us sorting, 1/2 volunteers, 1/2 refugees .  But today we were just working to an end.  Happy knowing that this aid was going to be much needed and appreciated by the receivers.


Cold and windy- CTF Team 51

Well, cold and windy doesn’t begin to describe how we started the day!  “Hurricane qtss9149Force” and “Freezing” are more appropriate.  3/4-ths of Team 51 made it on time to Greece yesterday.  The 24 hour travel time is numbed with time as the travel day progresses.  Jen missed her connection in Germany- never a dull moment traveling.

Making the most of all of our time in Greece, Tom and I ran to the Ikea by the airport to grab baby training toilets.  We were able to purchase their whole inventory of 37 potties.   Some brilliant angel on a CTF team thought it might be a good idea when she saw how many size 6 and 7 sized diapers teams were purchasing.  Bathroom facilities are rarely good in camps, besides the safety issues, traversing darkened walkways with a toddler who “HAS. TO. GO. POTTY. NOW.” cannot be easy.  We would be visiting a camp later in our 10 day trip and wanted to get this task crossed off our to do list.

We returned to the airport to pick up Cielle who had flown in from the WA.  The 3 of us drove the van to the center of Athens to deliver a Dimpa of baby carriers and the potties to where CTF has their storage.  Inside of “Love and Serve Without Borders” (a fantastic NGO that is run by a dynamo Kenyan woman who offer classes in their multi classroom facility) CTF has a storage space .  Maria and her team were just wrapping up a long day of English classes led by NYU students on Winter Break- not partying in Mexico, but doing aid work in Athens.   Maria offered us tea and cake and the 15 or so of us went around the circle telling a little about ourselves.  Our ages ranged from 17-65.  From around the world with one common thread.  Seeing our brothers in sisters in their greatest hour of need and being able to help.

We returned to our AirBnB near the airport – met the landlord’s sister, dropped our bags and followed the sister to a nearby restaurant.  Our 1st Greek salad of the trip.  Tired and jet lagged we returned to the rental in time to see Jen arrive about 11:00pm.  We all quickly retired to our rooms as we had to be up at 4:30am to catch a 7:00am flight to the island Chios.

Like a well oiled team, we were out the door at 4:45am and at the airport and settled behind security eating Greek yogurt and spanakopita within an hour.  The prop plane was full as we flew the 45 minutes in the dark, in a rain storm East towards Chios.  This is the island I was as at in October with Sara – one of the 4 islands smugglers launch their boats filled with hopeful refugees from Turkey.   We were going to spend the week working with Iris House, where Sara and I spent our week.  Except their landlord had

shut the doors on this amazing Norwegian based NGO Nov 3- so Iris House, not deterred moved their work into containers located at a storage facility near the airport runway.  We spent the next 5 hours working sorting aid for distribution tomorrow.  Women’s winter wear was sorted into sizes and bagged and we knew each piece of clothing donated would find a new home.  All the while the rain was going sideways.

As we were finishing- the rain stopped and the sun began to peek out.  The sea was

roiling – Turkey was visible in the distance.  White capped waters framing where so many start their journey to a better life.  Safety.  Hope.  For others this becomes their final resting place.

The team of about a dozen of us went to a near by restaurant and spent he next 2 hours getting to know each other.  Asking questions and listening.  The stories and dreams came from 18-22 year old Afghan and Iraqis young men.  Most who had made the crossing on their own.  Hoping to be reunified with a brother, sister or aunt already settled in the EU.  They volunteer like us- to help their brothers and sisters.  Bringing light in a very dark place.