Volunteer story: Anne (Feb 18 – third trip)
Exhausted and satisfied, it felt like coming home today working in the shop distributing food with the dignified point system. Camp residents from more than 10 nations speaking a multitude of languages, found healthy fruit and veggies, whole grains, beans, yogurt and milk etc. to feed themselves and their families. With gratitude and respect they came and went, children by their sides smiling and helping pack up and carry it back to the container houses they now call home. I saw multi-national groups of refugees who have traveled together protecting and supporting each other with kindness, creating a new family group in the absence of their own kin. These vulnerable people are a just a very few of the millions of refugees and migrants fleeing war, hunger, climate change, and economic hardship, searching for safety. To all of us blessed enough to be at peace in our homes with warmth and full bellies, remember caring is sharing. Letting our government know that we will not shut our hearts to these fellow humans and it is a shame to do so. ❤🌏❤
Today we worked a half day, got back to our place at 2:30, still beat at 56, I am feeling it, but it is the good kind of tired that comes from satisfaction. We cleaned and organized, filling the clothing boutiques with abundance for next week when we continue to cloth the some 350-400 residents of the camp. The rain kept folks inside and brought snow to the mountains. I am able to take time to nap, then make a home cooked meal, while sipping Ouzo, roasting local cauliflower with mayo and lemon zest, sautéing cod fish with grated carrots and onions, red bell and garlic rice, yum. It is so very sweet to have a kitchen.
Monday morning and we are back to camp, riding the bus through this lovely Greek town in nice cozy warm buses, getting picked up by a volunteer on the other end and then driven to camp. Today I worked in children’s clothing distribution in the morning. Two young lovely Portuguese cousins joined our team today and together we played with the children, circle games and drawing, we played with trucks and balls and topped it off with dancing. Some of the young girls from Iraq have learned a few dances on YouTube and with a small speaker and cell phone streaming the music they giggle through their routines and entertain the children and volunteers alike. Last but not least a group of us volunteers along with three young girls serving as interpreters wind our way through the camp dropping off tickets for clothing and food distribution for tomorrow. We are greeted by smiling faces of gratitude at the doors of the containers they now call home. Another day in Katsikas camp 🌞
Clothing distribution at the camp is a crap shoot. In the morning all my recipients were able to find suitable outfits, not perfect by any means but they were grateful and left satisfied. Then came the afternoon and nobody was happy with the offerings. A few large families came in, one with 3 adults and 6 kids, too many at once pulling the place apart with a grumpy attitude, by the end of their shopping experience all of us volunteers were pulling our hair out. But wouldn’t you know it in the end the older guys were trying to make light of the situation and were singing away, throwing off the tension. Later we gathered as a group and one of the gals gave us a pep talk about how well we all handled it and shared that it is actually good that they are able to express themselves and their disappointment with the old clothes that were unfashionable and didn’t fit them. It is better than holding it inside.
Happy Valentines Day even in Katsikas Camp. Today was the last day of clothing distribution smooth and steady it was. In the afternoon we only had a few children in the play session but there was no shortage of Valentine enthusiasm. It was fun to pass on the tradition to these beauties. They were so excited to bring them back to their parents we did not even have to shoo them out at the end of play time. Two of the daddies brought in their little ones who were so very shy they would hardly look at us. They were so patient and kind as they helped them make their Valentines. By the end the little ones were so pleased with their handy work they were even willing to smile. Love was felt all around ❤ Happy Valentines to you my dear friends out there. Feeling the One Love vibe here in Greece ❤
Cathy and I are now comfortable with taking the bus. We smile and chat with regulars, the ticket patron knows our stop and has our ticket ready before we even ask. This is a sweet town and the Greek people are a national treasure. We are now seven women volunteers and we rock our Refugee Support tasks. Supporting each other with kindness and skills we move through the day learning as we go. In the morning I helped shop at two markets for food stock, from Cash and Carry stores just like home, only cheaper. There are so many details to the work we are doing and such amazing financial support that keeps us going. Today I went to the warehouse for the first time, wow, we have some work to do. Next week we will tackle shoes!
Sunny from start to finish, today was a fabulous day. In the morning I worked in the food shop. It is great fun because you get to interact with whole families and they are happy for the good wholesome food they receive. Afternoon play with the kids was so very wonderful. We had 5 sets of kids plastic toys, a play food/tea set and the like and a crate full of toy trucks. Cathy set up a tea party, adorable. They shared and cooperated and had fun. All the toys had to stay in the playroom and not go home in their pockets, difficult as this was they were able to work in the rules and have a great time. I was so proud of them, sharing many high fives for their outstanding behavior. In addition we continued to make Valentines. Several asked me to write “I Love You Mama” and then they copied it themselves, simply lovely. We topped the play off with frisbee in the brilliant sunshine. Tomorrow our dear Anne will be heading back home, she has been a solid steady force a huge asset to any team. Days like this make me grateful to be a part of Refugee Support❤
Finally we got into the warehouse and began to process umpteen boxes of shoes. There has already been much shoe work done from previous devoted volunteers and much more too come. By the time we are finished we will have a shoe selection for the approximate 400 men, women and children living in Katsikas. A few sheep were lead by as we worked in the sun on the warmest day so far, a nice change as tomorrow rain is predicted continuing for the remainder of our stay, no drought here. On Saturdays we work a half day, so after a lunch on our balcony of Cathy’s delicious soup I headed out for a walk around town, later meeting up with volunteers for talk, food and wine, enjoying the sunshine. This weekend Greece celebrates Carnival, many dress in costume, there are parades, music, fire works and bonfires. Today and tonight we will have the full experience. We are so lucky to be here at this time. It is good to get a break from work, time to refresh and renew for one more week of volunteering.
After a relaxing and entertaining weekend walking the streets of Ioannina during Carnival. We are back in the swing of things again. Fatima and Nabill arrived yesterday, they got a full briefing as we walked through the castle and the streets of town, stopping for coffee and bakery delights. Today we continued shoe sorting, a seemingly endless task, and later played with the kids, stocked up opened up the clothing shop for a few Ethiopian men who miss the clothing distribution. The Ethiopian men were very upset, they said war has broken out their country this past week and many people have by killed. Amazing I was completely unaware. There is so much suffering at the hands of government. It was a slight reward to be able to clothe him in these dark times.
Warehouse work, this is my calling, preparing these shoes for weary feet in need of support. Some days back a young Kurdish girl asked me what the pin on my sweater said “World Peace”, I told her. She said “we no have peace, Kurdish have no peace”. This bright beautiful girl already feels that peace is not possible for her family and her people. This is a burden she already carries. I wish I could just put my arms around her and help her manifest a peaceful world for herself and her loved ones, but alas, I will just process shoes for weary feet in need of support. Feeling very privileged that my family believes world peace is possible, even if it is only a dream.
On the right face of the Refugee Support Quonset hut there is a bit of Arabic graffiti. Today Nabeel told me that it reads “Please remember us”. After 6 or more years of war and the subsequent limbo of living as a refugee, I cannot even imagine the fear they have of being forgotten. For my small part I will not forget you. At one of the speaking events at HSU last year in effort to drum up volunteers, one young woman said that her mother was afraid for her to go. Tony replied, “ the biggest trouble you will face is becoming addicted to serving these Refugees” He was right. I am, and the opportunity has helped me grow in ways I never dreamed of. I will not forget you ❤
I was gratefully working in the shop today, watching satisfied customers walk off with their bags of nutritious food. Without Refugee Support on the camp life would be even more difficult for theses folks and the kindness and concern we volunteers give them is a sweet bonus that helps to ease their daily concerns. Three of our crew members have been driving one hour each way, twice a day for the last 2 days to Filippiada to empty out our old warehouse there and bring its contents here to our Katsikas warehouse. It is funny to see my writing on so many boxes that I processed in Alexandria last year that keep moving around waiting to be distributed or boxes that are reused. There is so much work to do to separate out, size and distribute. I wonder when I will return? My reality back home in California is so different from my life here. Even the life I have in beautiful Ioaninna is so different from life just down the road at the Refugee Camp. The freedom I have to fly in and out of the country is such a contrast from the life of a refugee. Inequality and injustice suck.
A full day in the warehouse again. The bee boxes on the hillside are buzzing and the sheep baaing. Too many baby clothes and not enough small men’s, such is our plight. I am trying my best to leave this place on Monday well organized with clearly labeled sections. There is no way I can complete my goals so when it comes time to lunch I don’t want to go, at the end of the day I don’t want to go, at the end of my time in Katsikas I won’t want to go. The need here is so great it is difficult to grasp, but alas, I miss my husband and my children and grandchildren, and after a good cry I will return to my beautiful life with memories that will haunt and delight me.
Feeling very satisfied with this weekend. On Saturday at the warehouse our usual half day that ends at 1:30 to my joy ended at 3. With 8 volunteers we literally moved a mountain of boxes, sorted hundreds of shoes, and cleaned up and brought to the store lots of random foods that we did not have enough for the whole camp that we will offer for 0 points a little at a time. Now I can go home on Tuesday feeling good about the condition of the warehouse. Great job team! Then Paul suggested that on Sunday, our day off, I go to the camp with him and our new volunteer Emily from Australia to work with the kids and make art to expand the “Hope is on the Way” exhibit that I initiated last year, created by the youth of Alexandria Camp. We had the Quonset hut all to ourselves and on a rainy day, the kids were totally into it. It was so rewarding to explain hope and peace to these little guys. Peace is the opposite of war, we can start to make peace here today with Kurds from Iraq and Muslims from Syria, and if the world catches on we will have peace in the world and you can all go home. “Hope is on the Way” exhibit will continue to move through the US. If the art of babes cannot move us into action, what in God’s name will?
Another chapter comes to an end, efforts were made, hearts were touched, and human resilience never ceases to amaze me. I came here as a volunteer to share with these refugees my love and compassion and love and compassion was also what I received. Why is this simple exchange so lacking in humanity? Hate and injustice only brings on more hate and injustice. Why would anyone want to promote a world like this? Today the children of Katsikas Refugee Camp made paper hands in the shape of their own. May these small hands reach out and touch humanity, make it known to the world that if we have it in us to share with those who are lacking we will be rewarded by their gratitude. Ours lives will be richer and so will theirs. Refugee Support, www.refugeesupporteu.com is a sustainable model only as long as volunteers show up and donors contribute. Consider yourselves invited, we can change the world ❤