ATHENS—Thank you for your time, energy, blessings, and financial support in helping sending our team to Greece this summer. The team consisted of 11 members: five from Calgary (Eva, Matthew and Kimberly, Dan and Connie), two from South Carolina (Amy and Natalie), one from Florida (Sabina), and two friends from Toronto (Ashok and Joyce).
Because we were able to fundraise more than expected, secure a hostel/hotel months in advance and food costs were significantly lower than anticipated, we were able to spend roughly $5,000 CAD on humanitarian aid and refugee initiatives. This was done through a Canadian Global Response partnering organization that we started last year with refugees for refugees called “Syrian Breeze of Hope”, which Syrian refugees lead, reaching out to Iraqi, Syrian, and Persian people in transition. Thank you for making this team happen! Here are some of the highlights and stories from the trip:
Everyone bonded really well via our pre-team mixer activities and Skype calls for those not in Calgary. Our team was up to the challenge and showed incredible initiative in taking care of refugees whenever asked. Eva (a refugee herself for a few months in France) headed up cooking for hundreds and shared her story with other ladies. Kimberly loved playing games and making crafts/art therapy with the children, and Matthew befriended many of the men, attentively hearing their story and assessing what they might need as a family.
Considering many social, economic and cultural barriers, many of the Refugees were apprehensive about going to the beach. We rented a bus and brought 50 refugees to a safe location where they could enjoy the day. Our team prepared hundreds of pita wraps, played with the kids, and taught many women how to swim as they haven’t had the opportunity or freedom to do so. This day was unique as the majority of refugees had arrived on the very same shores months ago from these dangerous waters in small boats with flimsy to no life-vests at all. They were confronted with these memories and able to continue the journey towards emotional healing.
Many of the families have been in Athens for years, whether in cramped apartments or in refugee camps. We brought them to a camp outside of the city, where there was lots of space to play, good food, and beautiful scenery. When the kids first came off the bus, they were awestruck at the huge grassy field that they could explore. While there, we celebrated an engagement of a young couple too. There was so much joy and celebration that day, as they felt free away from their hardships in the city. One part that was hard for us to see was the kids and adults stopping their play every time a plane flew overhead. They were still experiencing fear from years of planes carrying bombs.
- Visiting 15 families, listening to stories, conducting needs assessment, purchasing items, and finding ways to meet their needs. This included purchasing things like diapers, formula, kids clothing, educational supplies, mattresses, calamine lotion, and more.
- Visiting a “squat” numerous times, an abandoned school that houses refugees who do not have resources for housing elsewhere. We made a meal that fed 200 people, and conducted reading glasses assessments, kids activities, listened to stories, and brought basic nutrition kits.
- Hosting a soccer tournament for the kids from the “squat”, including getting them some customized jerseys that had their names on them.
- Helping lead children’s class on two Sundays and cooking meals for the church of 150.
Connie and Daniel stayed in Greece for an extra week, which allowed us to continue relationships that were started. One man asked we remember his wife and daughter as they were smuggled into Italy the previous day—a constant reminder of how transitory life as a refugee is, and how important it is to connect with the nations as they pass through Greece.
Thank you so much again for your support, and we hope that our story inspires you to connect with refugees and those in transition both locally and abroad in whatever circumstances they might be facing. In the weeks to come we’ll be putting up some more reflections as we process our brief time working with our new friends and experience in Greece.
Summer Greece Team (Eva, Ashok, Joyce, Matthew, Kimberly, Joy, Amy, Natalie, Sabina, Connie and Daniel)