2 vans.

With our van and Iris House’s van we are able to split up and deliver/pickup aid twice as

Yes it’s true……max has “Zero Sugar”…and yes those are white sneakers Max choose to wear to work in a refugee camp.  Proud mama.

fast.  Max and I started our day by walking the the office of the legal team- the one I’d worked at yesterday.  Jo needed my computer to help load the cards so we dropped that off at 9am and headed to the container area.

First we stopped at the “China Store”.  Discount shops run by Chinese nationals- very strange to hear a Chinese person speaking Greek with a Chinese accent!  We bought shorts and t-shirts for the prisoners that we will meet with tomorrow

Right now Iris House is renting 4 containers- each has a purpose:  hygiene, children’s clothing, adult clothing and over flow-currently strollers + cookers.  Abu is in charge of the refugees in Chios City.  Vulnerable cases like unaccompanied minors and newborn babies are supposed to be put up in Chios city proper in apartments.  Abu arrived from Somalia 7 months ago.  The day after he and his VERY pregnant wife arrived on the island she gave birth to their son.

For 21 day Abu and his wife lived outside – no shelter within the walls of Vial camp.  With a new born baby.  I remember his case- a SOS went out to the aid worker community no the internet.  Like many, I assumed that someone, anyone would figure this out.  No one did for 21 days.

Today Abu is the Chios City coordinator- making sure that those who have been resettled into the apartments in the city have the help they need.  Today we delivered aid to an apartment of unaccompanied minor girls.  Went to the hospital to give a stroller and new born aid to a 4 day old baby and to an apartment with a 4 day old baby.

I finally asked Abu if he knew how to drive a car after the 10th time JUST today he had me drive the wrong way down an impossible narrow lane.  “No” was his answer.  And also “No Problem” is something he literally says 100 times a day.

On one of the many times we ended up in dead ends we stumbled upon the Turkish Bathes- remnants of a bygone time.

Food ready for delivery or pick up.

Janne had us pick up the food at “Chios Peoples Kitchen”.  It was once again yummy rice and spinach.  Over 1/2 of the 10 person Iris House team is fasting for Ramadan but those of us who are eating get to have a yummy vegan lunch everyday.

We stopped to eat at the containers then headed back to Chios City to pick up the rest of the 130 cookers that are going to be distributed next week.  The 2 vans miraculously found 2 parking spaces in front of the store and we quickly loaded the vans with the cookers.


Next we drove up to Chios’s former television station which is on top of a hill overlooking the ocean and Chios City.  Iris House’s Janne is thinking or renting it for theIMG_2484 new Iris House.  It would be amazing and fantastic if she is able to pull it off!  Max  got his drone out and took some footage for the video he is doing.IMG_E2490

A quick trip to the grocery store to purchase food and hygiene items for the prison run tomorrow was the last thing we had to do today.

It was almost 8pm when we pulled into the lot across from our hotel.

Tired but feeling good about what were were able to accomplish today.  We walked along the sea front to find a place to have dinner.  It really is a beautiful island and we both can see ourselves returning.

Sunday fun day. Mothers Day!

Sunday dawned sunny with zero chance of rain and a high of 75.  In other words….perfect.  Max had arranged with Davade a volunteer from Switzerland to go to IMG_2442the beach and maybe bowling with some of the interpreters.  We had a quick breakfast at our hotel and headed grab the car and go to a neighboring village to pick Davade up as he was going to drive the van to pick up the others.  Well, i’d left the lights on so the car was dead.

Using the Universal drivers language of a raised hood….we soon had someone who jumped the car.  Today we’d planned to also do the shopping for the prison/jail run we are doing on Tuesday (more about that later) but literally every.shop.was.closed.  But my favorite bakery was open so in addition to beautiful flowers from Max for Mother’s Day I also got to get an iced coffee- a Greek specialty.  Super yummy and very refreshing!!! LFOY0773

After coffee bakery stop we went earlier to pick Davade up.  The guys dropped me off in Chios city central and I went to work with a legal NGO called “RefuComm” while they drove to Vial Camp to pick up a couple more interpreters and they ultimately not only got to go to the beach, they also went bowling.  It was the interpreters 1st time bowling and they all beat both Max and Davade!  There were 5 interpreters along with Max and Davade and Max said a great time was had by all.  To get out of the camp and just have a relaxing day hanging out with friends is something that does not happen very often for the interpreters.

RefuComm is a fantastic organization that provides legal help to refugees especially when their asylum application has been rejected.  While there are VERY clear EU laws about this process, unfortunately daily refugees are being sent back to war zones.  It’s a really big problem- hence the prison run later in the week.  The police are usually tipped off when an application is going to be rejected for a 2nd time and what usually happens next is the refugee is picked up and either held in jail for a minimum of month or deported.

Jo Chen is a volunteer I met maybe 2 years ago- she is originally from Macao but has IMG_2446been mostly here in Greece for the past 3 years.  In a past life she was a lawyer in the UK for 10 years.  Today she works helping sort out deportation cases for RefuComm.  The NGO got some funding to make and distribute on mini drives in 8 languages the refugees legal rights.  But this fantastic tool needs to be downloaded onto the cards so Jo and I spent 5-1/2 hours downloading on 3 computers these very helpful videos.

Most refugees have Android phones so it is very easy for them to load the drives into their phones.  Information is can be the difference between life and death for those whose cases have been turned down.

Yet another area of expertise that happens on a daily bases by volunteers all over the world helping refugees.

2 Norwegians and a Swiss guy.

Today was a toiletry distribution to new arrivals as so many boats have landed on Chios these past weeks.  Most everyone stayed in the container/storage area getting ready and Janne and I had to go to 3 stores to find enough men’s deodorants to pass out to up to 500 people.  We finally found the last 200 and headed back to the containers about 12:00pm.

David from Switzerland was packing up diapers in packs of 10 with Ulie from Norway (and i’m the 2nd Norwegian, claiming it since i’m 50% Norwegian!)  soIMG_2427 I worked with them for about 30 minutes and we packaged over 500 diapers.  The mothers in the camp only get 10 diapers for every 7 days so what Iris House hands out is critical.

The interpreters who are usually like puppies goofing around are still high energy but an edge has been taken off because they all are fasting during day light hours due to Ramadan.

Their 1st bite of food all day was at 8:16pm as this is when the sun set.  Those of us who are not Muslim have been told repeatedly NOT to worry about eating or drinking around those who are fasting but my midwestern sense of hospitality makes me only drink sips of water when no one is looking and to snarf down an energy bar when i’m alone.

Plus all the interpreters are tired, so they eat at say 8:15pm, sleep for a couple hours and get us at 2:15am to eat again for the 2nd of 2 meals every 24 hours.   So everyone is hungry AND tired!

Loaded both vans with so much aid we couldn’t see out the back windows.  AKA the usual.  Drove to the outskirts of the camp and set up for distro.  One of the interpreters who lives in Vial handed out tickets to new arrivals in the camp.  The rest of us met and discussed

everyones job during the distribution.  I was a floater, filling bins with back stock of:  toothpaste, tooth brush, shampoo, deodorant, pads for girls/women, soap, diapers and diaper cream if needed for the babies and clothes washing powder.

We were in the sun for over 4 hours and had to cut the distribution short as the line was getting unruly.  It was hot and no one had eaten for 20 hours.  We will return later next week to finish.  But we were able to give aid to almost 100 people.  One of the 1st people in line was a mom with a 1 month old baby boy.  I of course asked to hold it and got to for the 15 min it took for her to register and get her items.  Since it was hot and she was carrying things I mimed/offered to carry the baby to the gate of the camp.  She readily let me and without a shared language she let me know how tired but happy she was and I was in turn able to tell her I LOVED HER BABY!!!

It was almost 8pm by the time we’d unloaded the aid at the containers, I brought 2 IMG_E2435interpreters home in the city and parked the car.  Max and I ate dinner at one of the restaurants on the harbor.  A beautiful sun set lit up the sky.

Chios seems to be filled with every middle schooler for a 10 island radius.  Well, it sure seems that way.  As I write this I can hear their screams and giggle, thanking God for ear plugs tonight.

Team work.

Such a fantastic team working this week at Iris House- it is amazing how the new volunteers are instantly welcomed and feel useful.

Our first task was to grab 62 cookers from another warehouse.  Iris House is the only one of the 3 warehouses that distributes directly to Vial Refugee Camp.  We grabbed the cookers in

the 2 vans and returned to the container area to sort aid for tomorrows distribution of hygiene items.  We were only there a short while until a couple of us drove the 2 vans to the “1€ Store”.  Similar to our “Dollar Stores” Chios’s version was jam packed with everything you didn’t know you needed.

In our case it was shampoo, soap, deodorant and washing powder.  We stopped at the famous Chios Windmills for Max to shoot some video.  The interpreters LOVED the drone and I imagine Max will be making one of them.

We got 12 cookers ready and went to Vial to give to newly arrived people.  The interpreters had told the new arrivals that we were coming and we parked up the road from the camp.  Soon about 100 people had arrived.  With an increase of new arrivals they all wanted the cookers.  Janne and the interpreters did a great job registering all the new arrivals.  Most had arrived in the past 24 hours.  The camp is busting at the seam with many tents with 7-9 people crammed in them.  Picture a space maybe 10’X10′.

It was almost 7 when we dropped off one of the interprets that lives in town near our hotel.  We quickly dropped some items at our hotel and went and picked up Jo and her friend Sandy.  Jo is an independent volunteer i’d met in Athens about 18 months ago.  She was raised in  Macao but has traveled the world and is often here in Greece volunteering.  This time she is working at a NGO that helps with legal issues for the refugees.  It’s such important work  and it was really interesting to talk to both of them about the asylum process.

We drove to Karfas a sea side village about 15 minutes from Chios center.  We met David the Swiss volunteer with Iris House who is staying in Karfas.  It was a lovely dinner decompressing from the intense day and getting to know other kindred spirits.

Back at it.

Iris House has a handful of regular interpreters/refugees who work with visiting volunteers.  From around the world this weeks interpreters arrived to Chios shores from:  Cameroon, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.  The volunteers from the US, Norway and Switzerland.

Janne started Iris House 3+ years ago.  Chios was the island she and her family visited from Norway every summer.  She watched with increasing horror the humanitarian crisis happening in a place that was her home away from home.  She come to Chios for a 2 week holiday to help where she could and has been here since.

This morning Max and I drove the 15 minutes to the neighboring seaside village she lives in.  She’d already collected the interpreters from town and Vial Camp and we drove the 2 vans to the next seaside village to meet a new mother she’d discovered last week.

Having just arrived to Chios a week before her twins were born, this Cameroon mother had a C-section at the Chios hospital.  Not knowing anyone, and only speaking French a social worker dropped her 3 days later at an efficiency apartment.  Just mom and the babies.  No diapers.  No wipes, No clothing for the babies.  Nothing.  Not even food for mom.  Janne happened to be at the apartment complex and someone told her about the twins mom.

Today we visited her, like most new mothers she was tired.  But a special kind of tired IMG_E2394that happens when you have 10 day old twins (both weighed just under 5lbs at birth) and are all alone in a country that is not home.  Thankfully for mom, there have been 2 Norwegian grandmothers volunteering these past weeks and they have stepped gladly and willingly into the grandmother roll for this young mom.

Both are boys and I held one for 20 minutes.  Gazing into the face of a miracle – the baby would back arch every 5 minutes or so.  Content in the sleep world where baby is not all quite here on Earth.

We reluctantly set the babies down and IMG_2395caravanned to the container area where Iris House now has their aid stored.  We spent the next couple hours collecting aid to be delivered to new arrivals.  In the past 2 days alone over 130 people have arrived on Chios.  Another NGO meets the new arrivals on the beach having been told where to go by the Coast Guard.  The new dry clothes given on the beach is the only thing these families have.  Most of the smugglers make them leave what ever they’ve brought from home on the beach in Turkey.  We prepared hygiene kits for the newly arrived:  shampoo, a sponge, dish soap, clothing soap, deodorant, tooth paste, pads, tooth brush and soap.

We took a van full of aid to Vial Camp to distribute to the new arrivals and Janne took a

van to the apartments with children to hand out clothing for children.  We all met back at the container area and repacked for a 2nd distribution – this time clothing for 10 single females who’d arrived this week.  Usually people get to pick their clothes out at a regularly scheduled distribution but for new arrivals it’s best to get them clothes as soon as possible and they will be able to hand pick out items during the next distribution.

At 6:30pm we dropped off the last volunteer.  It was a good day.  Ramadan (Muslim’s observe a month of fasting sunup to sundown, prayer and reflection each year) started on Monday and the volunteers from Vial were starting to drag by the end of the day.  Not even a sip of water did they take.  MUCH more self control then I could ever have.

We met Hasib an Afghan friend i’d met in October for dinner.  He reminded me so much of Max when we first met and wanted them to get together.  The fast ended at 8:20pm, we met at a restaurant in the port area at 8:00pm.  At 8:20pm Hasib excused himself to find a quite place to pray.  He returned to the table just as the waiter brought his food.  In that moment he was just like Max and his friends.  19-20 year olds digging into a plate of food- histories so different yet so much the same.

Back at it….

Just like Zach and I three years ago when he’d finished his first year at NAU, this week Max I went to Greece as independent volunteers after Max had finished his first year at ASU.  Max is going to film a video for Iris House, a Norwegian NGO based on Chios Island that I visited in Oct. 2018 and January 2019.

This is Max’s first time volunteering with refugees and he is super excited to use his video making skills to help where he can.  Between a couple of trips to Goodwill, donations from family and friends and left over aid from the Phoenix Refugee Baby Shower- Max and i were able to collect 3 clear plastic Ikea Dimpa bags of aid.  We also brought over a double stroller that Max had found on a curb in Arcadia with a “free” sign on it.  A huge shout out to Kirk a neighbor who was able to figure out the VERY confusing stroller that had been put together wrong.

Aegean Air (TO name names) lost the stroller between Frankfurt and Athens, but thinks it may catch up to us in a day or two on Chios.  We had already pre-paid for 4 checked bags so when Iris House asked if we could get some Abayas (traditional Muslim women’s coverings) during our 18 hour layover in Athens at the main warehouse and the warehouse just happened to have 2 big boxes of Abayas.  We arrived on Chios with a total of 4 HUGE bags of aid.

The big warehouse in Athens had been a Olympic basketball venue- i’ve posted pictures

of the crazy amount of aid here.  But I am SUPER happy to report that the warehouse currently has maybe 10% of the aid it did 3 years ago when I first visited the warehouse.  It is truly amazing that this much aid was distributed in 3 year.  Speaks to the huge number of refugees still arriving and those still stuck in Greece.  It also should be noted that this whole area (originally the Athens airport but rebuilt as 4 venues for the Olympics) has been sold and will be developed into high end housing and shopping with sea access.  The warehouse will have to move within the year.

We delivered a car load of  aid to a Carry the Future (CTF) partner.  We’d stored our 3 huge aid bags in Athens when we arrived early this morning.  It was 3am by the time I turned off my light this morning.  Thankfully i’d slept about 5-1/2 hours on the flight from Phoenix to Frankfurt!  Thankful for adrenaline and Athens drivers who never let you relax!

Max and I had a couple of hours to pass so we parked near the Acropolis and walked up

for a look see.  It was not an original idea but always an amazing view from the top.

Knowing that Chios’s Jumbo (a huge store that is a mixture of Walmart, Ikea and a dollar

Mom “Max…..you have something on your upper lip.”

store but the size and layout of an Ikea) was crazy small, we stopped at a Jumbo on the way to the airport.  This is a right of passage for all aid workers in Greece.

Our flight to Chios was 25 minutes, a prop plane and beautiful views as we flew and IMG_E2345landed during sunset.  With only 1 gate, Chios airport is a step back in time.  As you walk down the steps of the airplane to the tarmac and walk the 30 so odd feet to the airport building, the door is filled with locals meeting arriving friends and family.  No TSA, no security.

Just smiles and cheers as loved ones enter the area.