Many of you know I recently returned from a trip to Greece. I was there with a group called Carry the Future (carrythefuture.org) and we worked at the port in Piraeus, Greece outfitting refugee families with soft-structured baby carriers. The goal is to make sure baby is safe, warm and close to mom or dad during their long journey to asylum. It also frees up their hands to carry their belongings or hold the hand of another child on the journey. When we arrived, we were prepared to meet ferries full of refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. But with the recent EU-Turkey agreement, and many borders closed, fewer refugees were coming off ferries. So they were forced into makeshift camps at terminals at gates E1, E 1.5 or E2. So that’s where we met them. We wandered the camps looking for parents to outfit with baby carriers. We knew that even though they weren’t moving anywhere at the moment, that (hopefully) they would be moving soon.
We arrived in Athens in the afternoon. We had hundreds of pounds of baby carriers that we had checked and were having quite the time getting them from baggage claim to where our van would eventually meet us. We (my awesome teammates Kate Ruck, Kat Stroot and Sarah Gostenik) squished into the van (that had wifi!) and made our way to Piraeus. I should probably mention that we almost didn’t make our flight to Zurich because of all those pounds of baby carriers, but that’s a story for another day! So, we made it to the Piraeus Dream and met up with Cristal Logothetis, Carry the Future founder, Ann Cummings and Lily Kimbel. We rested for a bit, then went downstairs to acquaint ourselves with all of the baby carriers so we would know how to fit them.
So we were ready to meet our first ferry. I personally had some major butterflies. I had never worked with a few of the carriers and was having some major anxiety about it. But you learn by doing and so we set out to Gate E7. We met up with Rita Continakis (Carry the Future force in Greece) and her team and readied ourselves. The ferry arrived but no refugees came out. We found out that refugees on the ship had to stay the night. So Rita talked our way onto the ferry. We met several families and fitted them. A dad asked me if I knew where a doctor was. His baby had a fever and he was very concerned. I told him I didn’t know. That was one of the hardest things for me while I served my time there. Not being able to help in that way. Not having all the information. Not being a doctor, gosh darn it! I wanted to help them with so many things! But I could only do what I was there for. Fit carriers, hand out gloves and socks, and give hugs. So I did.
[Athens Team 6 with Rita’s Team]
The next morning we were ready. We prepared ourselves to meet a few more ferries at the port. No carriers to fit so we wandered around E2 and found some awesome families. (For some reason I remember this first day really well. All the other days seemed to blend together.)
This was the first carrier I fit on my own. This sweet momma wanted us to fit her a little higher since she’s pregnant. She has 4 sweet little girls. One of the daughters was barefoot so I gave her some socks. After I fit the momma, I noticed she, too, was barefoot.
More first (full) day photos…
I wanted to make sure that I was able to give out the carrier that I brought along and wore with Ella. We were walking back to our hotel and we met a family and asked if they wanted a carrier. Mom said yes and so I fitted her with Ella’s. I told her that I wore it with my baby (using all sorts of sign language since we don’t speak the same language) and she smiled. I think she understood. I’m so glad it will help her carry her sweet boy. I hope she loves it and it helps on her journey.
The rest of the days… (Seriously, I couldn’t tell you which day was which. I do know that we started out one of the days with this awesome pic below…)
[From left to right: Kate Ruck, Kat Stroot, Sarah Gostenik, Cristal Logothetis, Ann Cummings, Me, Lily Kimbel]
This little boy was so cute. He was with several other children that just wanted to play. I asked his mother if I could take a photo of him and she said, “yes” and handed him the baby doll. It made the photo I think!
These sweet kids at E1. They have my heart. We showed up and they immediately wanted to play and hug. I was amazed at how much they are like my own children. I imagine they have similar hopes and dreams. They were happy and beautiful little people. Whenever we came, they never wanted us to leave. So we sang songs with them and played games with them. We taught them words, and they taught us words. They tried to feed us (half-eaten) food. They have big hearts. My heart hopes they can find their way to a home where they can not only have a good life, but shoot for their dreams. They deserve it. Just like my kids do.
More port photos…
On the last full day I was at the port, I was there in the morning meeting moms at the Tea Line. (The organization Drop in the Ocean was there doing a tea service twice a day at Gate E2. It is a big part of their culture and I think this was a great service.) We usually did anywhere from 10-15 carriers in a given morning. One morning we were there fitting carriers and handing out socks and hats mittens too. I had fit some hats one some little ones and this sweet girl, maybe 11 or 12 years old came up to me and started rubbing her hands together, to signify that she wanted some gloves. I didn’t have any her size, so I gave her mine. It was a cold morning and I figured she could use them more than I could. I asked if she would take a selfie with me and she obliged. Such a sweet girl I will never forget.
Another story that sticks out to me…
We were coming into the port at E2 at night. We were hoping to meet up with a sweet nursing mom to check on her, but also to fit any other moms that we could find. I decided to leave my camera behind as I just wanted to the work that evening. And pictures are better in the light of day 😉 As we walked in, I noticed a mother and father bathing their 1 1/2 year old baby over a storm grate with a water bottle. I started to cry. It instantly became very real to me. That could be me. Bathing my daughter. Over a storm grate. With a water bottle. Their story could be mine. Now I don’t take it for granted. This blessed life I have. In an instant all of it could be taken away and I’m incredibly grateful for it.
The days were long, yet short. We worked a lot! None of us got very much sleep. We spent our days either at the port distributing carriers, helping in the Emergency Supply Room at E2, or at the warehouse at Elliniko helping there. At the warehouse we met Fadi who is an amazing individual. He pretty much runs the warehouse. The warehouse is actually an abandoned venue from the Olympics and it’s full of donations from around the world. Fadi and his team organize everything and then he fills up his eight-person van and takes it to the port for distribution. He is unemployed and essentially works full time as a volunteer. He rents his van for 800 Euro a month. Some of my awesome teammates are sponsoring a campaign to buy Fadi a van. If you’d like to help Fadi get his van, click here.
There is so much more. I have over a thousand photos. This is just a drop in the bucket. But I wanted to share a little bit of my experience. I have so many stories, but this will have to do for now.
Some final thoughts…
I am home but I’m having a hard time adjusting. The jetlag was brutal but it’s not really that. Things are a little surreal. I’m having a hard time getting back into life, the daily grind. I feel like I left a little bit of my heart in Greece, with those sweet families. I hope the politics changes soon. That borders are opened and these families I met (that I wanted to take home with me!) are able to find a permanent place to call home. I pray for them. That things will change and they can make it to Northern Europe and create wonderful lives for themselves.