This morning I headed to the port of Athens ahead of the team and served with the Greek Red Cross. I teamed up with them distributing food, clothes, toiletries and cleaning the port terminal. It was a little difficult communicating, but with broken English from them, little phrases in Greek I’ve learned and lots of charades and pointing and smiling, we had a good morning.
I went and met the group and brought them to the port. The high school seniors spent the afternoon playing with the children while a couple of the adults and I started organizing baby items, food, and water and milk, as well as handing them out. There was still very rough moments such as little kids, 2 or 3 year old that did not have any shoes with 40 degree weather. We fixed them up very fast, but just seeing it was heartbreaking.
Also, the owner of a very traditional restaurant we ate at talked with us and when he learned about our work, volunteered 50 rations and we bought an extra 100 at a reduced price to take to the university again.
Although it was a very full day of work (I forgot to eat and drink water, it was that crazy) and there were sad scenes everywhere, the smiles of the children when we gave them food and clothes made it easier. It was very touching to be thanked with smiles and a little happiness in their eyes when we gave them something and spoke a few words in Arabic.
I also worked side by side with 2 girls from Jordan. I took advantage of the fact that they spoke fluent Arabic to go inside the little tent enclaves to give food, milk and water. The conditions are really rough as we saw families of six living inside 5 person tents with all their possessions with them. Please keep praying for them and for the people that are so willingly donating their time in this huge task!
There is so much need! Lines of people seem endless when we start the work.
There is so much need! Lines of people seem endless when we start the work. So many of them also ask for more than we can give them saying it is for friends or extended family, but since there is a line of people waiting, we have to honor the rest and only give them enough for themselves or however much for their primary families, as they have printed information about themselves provided by the Red Cross.
A big grocery store chain (think Safeway rather than Walmart) brought a truck with at least 300 portions of food and a bakery donated boxes of individually wrapped bread. Individual families also brought lots of fruit and we started distributing them. The Volunteer group had another 500 portions that had been donated before. It’s probably a good detail to share that they have 4 or 5 ship containers where they store everything for distribution, and one of them is refrigerated for fresh food, fruits, bread, etc.
We served in my estimation about 500 people and gave 600~700 portions of food. This took a good 2 hours to have everybody served. It is heartwarming in the middle of this to see smiling faces and people trying to say thanks in any language they can think of. Currently there are approximately 4500 refugees here at the port and a good 40,000 in Athens, distributed in several camps, official and unofficial.
I decided to come back to the port to serve dinner and then do a little part of night shift, as there aren’t many volunteers at that time of the day. Dinner was smaller than lunch, we served about 300 portions of food and fruit. After we finished, more donations that needed to be sorted came. We spent a few hours sorting and storing the food, water and clothes. Also attending to the needs of the people that came coming to the warehouse. We had children up until midnight! Their schedules are really unusual for us that are used to children going to bed at certain times. This also explains why breakfast is smaller than lunch, as many people are still sleeping by 9 AM.
A gentleman from Philadelphia working with Merck Pharmaceutical was in town for business and gave 2 days of free time working here. He actually stayed to serve dinner. By this time it was raining fairly and we got soaked during dinner. Little discomforts compared to almost everyone around us has suffered. We served about 400 portions for dinner that day. My new friend graciously invited me to share a cab to his hotel, which happened to be near a metro station only one stop down from the station I get off to get home.
One of the things that I’ve noticed is that many of the young refugee men are eager to help us carry things, or to form a line to pass things to store or anything we need, really. Although not everyone around me agreed, I happily let them, because you can tell that they want to be productive rather than do nothing all day in the tents or walking around. I was happy to have them help and had the chance to talk to a few while doing it.
Most of them told me they would like to see Syria out of the war and be able to go back.
Most of them told me they would like to see Syria out of the war and be able to go back. But rather than feeling sorry for themselves, through their words I actually felt they were hopeful this would happen again in their lifetime. A couple of them actually let me pray for them and asked me to remember them in my prayers.
I’ll be sorry to go. My time here feels like it has been too short and that I gave too little. So many feelings! I’m fighting back the immense sadness I feel for not being able to be here longer to help the refugees. There is so much need!
I started early this morning and left for the port to serve one more time with the friends I’ve made here. Stopped by the Red Cross and said goodbye to the people that took me in and had me as a volunteer during this trip, spent a few minutes talking to the coordinators, and saying goodbye to the many friends I served with. As I was headed out of the port I stopped to say goodbye to the many faces of the refugees I exchanged words with and saw every day as we helped serve and minister to them. Some of them also helped me carting things around and translated for me as we served. I’ll remember their faces for a long time. So much hope even in this crisis!