A trip journal from #CTFAthensTeam8 member Jill Thomas highlights the beginnings of the Baby Box project:
"In April, I was part of a six-mom team that arrived in Greece to distribute baby carriers for Carry the Future and general aid to the mostly Syrian refugees who now called Greece home -- 56,000 refugees with more arriving daily. One of us had been to Greece with CTF months before, and she would be our leader over the next 12 days. We descended on Greece from the prairies of the U.S.; British Columbia, Canada; the East Coast of the U.S.; and the deserts of Arizona.
"We all arrived and met up at a hotel near the port that would be our base. We met for dinner, only having spoken on the phone in a group call and through messages we’d sent each other over Facebook. The fog of jet lag would not diminish the excitement we all felt to finally have met and to get started. We felt like forever friends already. Dinner was on the roof top hotel looking over the port area about four blocks away. Huge ferries and cruise ships were illuminated in the darkening sky. A painted mural on the side of a building was an easy focal point to which we kept returning. We could see little colored dots below the mural.
"A Greek local who works with CTF, Rita, met us for dinner. Introductions were made; ours was a talkative group from the get-go. We were all so excited to finally be in Athens. After dinner Rita asked if we would like to go down to the port area and meet some refugees. “Of course” we said. In minutes after loading into the van we were beneath that mural, the colorful dots in full focus now. The dots we had seen just 15 minutes before from the rooftop were tents. Hundreds of tents in neat rows under the constant light of the port area. The night was cool, the stars bright. And there were thousands of people -- mothers, fathers, children.
"Rita was well-known and obviously loved -- she was surrounded by children as soon as the van pulled up. She only had hugs and kisses to give, but this is all the children wanted. Soon our hands were filled with little hands wanting to walk with us.
"A toddler in a hand-knit white sweater who looked to be about 2 would go to each of us in turn, arms lifted to be picked up. She would take our cheeks in her little dimpled hands and kiss us many many times, smiling all the time, oblivious to her surroundings; a child wanting love and attention.
"An aid group was showing a children's movie on the side of one of the port buildings. People were lined up to get their dinner -- it was late, 9 p.m. People were milling about, groups would gather, children would run and laugh. In so many ways it was a scene all of us had seen play out in our own towns and villages, except these people were not returning to warm homes with electricity, running water or a roof. They were returning to tents -- the elderly, the new mothers, the child with the white sweater. Tents.
"In the days that followed, we visited many other camps, some in permanent buildings, each family taking up a room that was once a classroom or office. But mostly there were tents.
"On our third evening, we met with a French woman who now called Greece home. She herself was a mother. She was drawn, like us, to the mothers at the camps. Over dinner that night, CTF’s Baby Boxes for Refugees project was born.
"We would work in teams at the camps. Two of us would help fit the mom or dad in a carrier, and the other would hold the baby -- that was our favorite part. Even the babies screaming that crazy-mad scream would settle down in seconds once they realized how close they were to mom or dad. Everyone would admire the baby in the carrier, who then would get shy, often looking sideways at us with a sly smile.
"We saw things during these carrier fittings: small tents out in a parking lot with blankets and sleeping bags on the floor; rooms that held up to 15 family members in bunk beds that did not match the number of family members living in that space. “Where do the babies sleep?” we thought.
"Baby Boxes were our answer. All of us were familiar with the Finnish-style boxes every parent got in Finland. Why not here in Greece, we thought: a safe space for baby to sleep. These boxes could be filled with much-needed basic baby items -- many of the camps are in isolated locations, far away from cities or towns. These boxes would make a huge difference in the lives of these babies.
"We would return daily in the following days to the main warehouse in Athens that holds all of the aid donated from around the world - an old Olympic basketball stadium filled with items. We would fill our van with baby carriers and general aid. Our group leader Sara would have been in contact with camps that would give her a list of needed items. We would fill our van and head out each morning -- a new camp, same basic needs.
"This crisis in Greece, while being supported by the Greek government, is in actuality being run by volunteers from around the world: people who have put their lives on hold and are living in Greece helping the refugees. While fractured and not perfect, this loose affiliation of aid groups and independent volunteers uses Facebook to communicate with each other. SOS’s are sent out from the camps, and if you are able to help, you do. You fill your car or van with aid and deliver it.
"The refugee crisis is not going to go away. With war and famine happening in so many places, the mass migration of people looking for a safe place to live will continue. We were forever changed by what we saw in Greece, the good and the bad. We cannot unsee what we saw, and we all returned back to our homes changed. This “refugee crisis” is not just an image on a screen, but faces, real people -- the child in the white sweater, the new baby just born, having to sleep with its parents and siblings in a tent -- they could be any of us."
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